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NHS withdraws gay husband’s job

08 August 2014

JEREMY PEMBERTON

Honeymoon period: Canon Jeremy Pemberton (left) and Laurence Cunnington after their marriage ceremony in April  

Honeymoon period: Canon Jeremy Pemberton (left) and Laurence Cunnington after their marriage ceremony in April  ...

AN NHS Trust has withdrawn its offer of an appointment to an Anglican chaplain, after his bishop refused to grant him a licence on the grounds that he had defied the House of Bishops' pastoral guidance by marrying his same-sex partner.

The priest, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, is Deputy Senior Chaplain and Deputy Bereavement and Voluntary Services Manager in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. He married Laurence Cunnington in April (News, 17 April), and the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, then withdrew his permission to officiate (News, 27 June).

On 10 June, Canon Pemberton was offered a new job as Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This was conditional on the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham's issuing him with a licence.

On Tuesday, Karen Fisher, executive director of human resources at the Trust, said: "This licence was not granted and regrettably the Trust has withdrawn the offer of employment. We wish Jeremy all the very best for the future."

Last month, Bishop Inwood said that he was unable to grant the licence "in light of the pastoral guidance, and for reasons of consistency" (News, 11 July).

On Monday, Canon Pemberton said: "I am not accepting this, and I am not going to go away quietly. This needs to be looked at in a formal context and tested."

It was, he said, "very evident that there is a gaping chasm between where the country is, and where the Church of England is. . . It seems odd to me, from an NHS point of view, that what is a matter of my private choice should become an insuperable stumbling-block to employment."

It is not a legal requirement that Anglican chaplains have a licence from a bishop, but they are required to be "in good standing" with their faith community. For Anglicans, the licence is an external validation of this. Canon Pemberton suggested that it might be appropriate to establish a national registration process for chaplains.

On Monday, Mr Cunnington expressed concern that other gay chaplains in the NHS might be afraid to convert their civil partnerships into marriages because of the precedent set by Bishop Inwood.

"The danger is that, even if all these chaplains keep their current jobs, the whole system grinds to a halt," he said. "People are not able to move careers or develop specialisms, as well as the personal impactof people fearing to get married at all."

On Tuesday, the Revd Mark Burleigh, President of the College of Health Care Chaplains, which is part of the trade union Unite, said: "I am saddened by the effect that this decision is having on Jeremy's personal circumstances and his hopes to move to a more senior health-care-chaplaincy role closer to his home.

"The College of Health Care Chaplains will support Jeremy and any of our members who find themselves in related situations. Where appropriate, this would include legal representation through Unite."

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