Same-sex marriage ‘certainly irregular’, Inwood tells tribunal

19 June 2015

PA

Complainant against bishop: Canon Jeremy Pemberton

Complainant against bishop: Canon Jeremy Pemberton

THE Church of England has published a partial transcript of evidence given by the former Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, at an Employment Tribunal this week, after criticism of his reported comments on social media.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who is Deputy Senior Chaplain and Deputy Bereavement and Voluntary Services Manager in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, claims that Bishop Inwood unlawfully discriminated against him by refusing the licence he needed to take up a new job as Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in June last year.

Bishop Inwood said that he had been unable to issue the licence "in light of the pastoral guidance, and for reasons of consistency" (News, 11 July 2014). He was referring to Canon Pemberton's marriage to Laurence Cunnington in April that year (News, 17 April 2014).

Bishop Inwood was defending his decision not to grant a licence to Canon Pemberton. Asked by Sean Jones QC, counsel for Canon Pemberton, whether entering a same-sex marriage was a sinful act, Bishop Inwood replied: "I think at this point, because the Church has not changed its canons or legislation, it is certainly irregular, and some may say it is sinful, yes."

Asked whether he personally felt it was sinful, the Bishop said: "That's a very difficult question to answer. I'm not a judge of what is sinful in the sense that I would claim to understand the mind of God.

"We are currently engaged in discussion to see what the mind of God might be. It may be that there would be a change on the Church's position, in which case same-sex marriage would not be a problem."

He continued: "I think Canon Pemberton ought to have had regard to the teaching of the Church and held off on his marriage at this particular point and had regard to the Church's teachings."

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The tribunal heard that the C of E communications unit sent an email to bishops setting out the line that would be taken by Lambeth Palace if asked about the case. The email made reference to the House of Bishops pastoral guidelines and the facilitated conversations and said that "in each individual case, and this clearly won't be the last, it is a pastoral matter for that diocesan bishop".

Judge Peter Britton asked Bishop Inwood if he agreed that the email "is not indicative of any strong disapproval". The Bishop replied that the email showed that "the Archbishop of Canterbury had other things on his priority list at this point."

The tribunal hearing began on Monday at Nottingham Justice Centre, and was expected to last until today. A ruling is not expected until next month.

Thomas Linden QC, representing the Church, suggested that Canon Pemberton had gone against the Church's teachings, the BBC reported. Canon Pemberton replied: "No, because I have had a civil marriage. I believe that was the moral thing to do."

The Daily  Telegraph reported that Canon Pemberton had described being "embarrassed and humiliated" by the removal of his licence.

Illustrating the inconsistency of disciplinary action, he cited the case of the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain, who married his male partner shortly after Canon Pemberton's wedding (News, 27 June 2014). Fr Foreshew-Cain was reprimanded, but retained his licence.

On Tuesday, the tribunal heard from the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, PA reported. Asked by Mr Linden whether he thought that clergy "should accept the teachings of the Church", Dr Wilson said "Yes."

Asked about the Church's teaching on "holy matrimony", he said: "It's not that I don't think it's true, or the canons of England should not be followed; all I say is it's a lousy definition, if it cannot tell you who is and who is not married."

The reference in the canon to marriage being between one man and one woman was "entirely coincidental because of the time it was framed. . . They weren't making a doctrinal point, but a statement about the position of marriage as it existed in that time, in 1938."

A spokesman for the Church of England said: "The Church supports gay men and women who serve as clergy in its parishes, dioceses, and institutions. Jeremy Pemberton is one of many who currently serve and receive that support. . .

"The Church of England's doctrine on marriage is clear. The Church quite reasonably expects its clergy to honour their commitment to model and live up to the teachings of the Church. Clergy do not have the option of treating the teachings of the Church as an à la carte menu, and only modelling those with which they personally agree.

"The Church is currently involved in a process of shared conversations about a range of issues on sexuality, in regions across the country. It is regrettable that this case risks undermining that process by invoking legislation which does not even apply to this situation."

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