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Archbishops review law on ordinands and divorce

11 August 2023

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THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York are reviewing canon law that requires divorced ordinands whose former spouse is living — or ordinands who are married to divorcees — to seek a faculty before they can be admitted into holy orders. Canon C4 currently requires this.

A notice from Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Cottrell circulated last week said that the two provinces were working together to seek “consistency” on faculty applications through the relevant canon (C 4.5). This is to be done in three phases, two of which are under way.

On the first, their notice explains: “The process for handling Canon C4 Faculty applications at Lambeth Palace has been streamlined, simplified, and brought into line with the process at Bishopthorpe without undermining its rigour. This means there is no longer a backlog of applications, and you should expect any Canon C4 Faculty application to have a known outcome within four to six weeks of it being received.”

Second was their notice, which clarifies three “pressing” issues: that the General Synod’s approval of the (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure means that the Archbishops can deal with C4 faculties during a vacancy, and allows diocesan bishops to make an application; second, that the consideration of an application if a marriage is less than three years old is at the Archbishops’ discretion; and the direction that former spouses should be interviewed by the diocesan bishop or their representative about the marriage.

On the last, the notice explains: “Some dioceses never interview former spouses, and some dioceses continue with a very formal process of investigation. It is important to be aware of safeguarding issues around cases where marriages have broken down due to domestic abuse. In such cases it is likely to be inadvisable for a former spouse to be interviewed for example where there is evidence or allegations of domestic abuse.

“There may be other examples of cases where it may not be necessary to interview a former spouse, for example when the relationship broke down many years earlier. This is at the discretion of the Diocesan Bishop who may consult the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer.”

The third phase of the “streamlining” of Canon 4 faculties is to be a revision of the Archbishops’ Directions and Guidelines into “one new set of Directions/Guidelines” in 2024. This would be informed, the Archbishops explain, by the Pastoral Guidelines that are expected to result from the Living in Love and Faith process.

The notice concludes: “We are grateful for the care you take with the Canon C4 Faculty application process. We hope that this interim update will be helpful as we look ahead to a more wide-reaching review next year.”

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