Earlier, we reported on the outcome of the government consultation on allowing civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises. In particular we noted that a statement had been issued to the press (not a press release) which said:
“…The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches.”
In June, in evidence to the consultation, the Church of England had said:
“…In the case of the Church of England that would mean that its churches would not be able to become approved premises for the registration of civil partnerships until and unless the General Synod had first decided as a matter of policy that that should be possible.”
Changing Attitude has questioned the accuracy of that press statement Changing Attitude questions whether the C of E has made a decision not to opt in to CPs in church.
…William Fittall says the Church of England has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in our churches because it would be inconsistent with the 2005 statement from the House of Bishops.
He is of course right when he says that he and his colleagues are expected to have regard to official reports, resolutions and decisions of authoritative bodies within the Church. Therefore, the matter is not entirely open as we implied. He gently reprimands us for suggesting that anyone at Church House might turn their personal opinions into official statements, thus questioning the professionalism of the staff team.
His general point that different bodies exercise authority in different areas is true – they do. The question we raise is whether or not they should or if they have the authority to do so. The Archbishops’ Council has been given a great deal of executive authority but we are not sure they have the authority to determine policy issues like this. Mr Fittall’s basic premise is that the Church of England will not opt in to CPs in church as it would be inconsistent with the House of Bishops’ statement, 2005. As a prediction this may be accurate but we maintain it is for General Synod to decide, and the matter has not yet been put to Synod…
The House of Bishops Pastoral Statement in 2005 did not of course contemplate the possibility of registration of civil partnerships on religious premises since at the time that was forbidden by civil law. What it said was:
…the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.
Much more recently the House of Bishops issued this statement, announcing a review of the pastoral statement.
“It is now nearly six years since the House issued its Pastoral Statement prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The preparation of that document was the last occasion when the House devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. We undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review. We have decided that the time has come for a review to take place.
“Over the past five and half years there have been several developments. Consistent with the guidelines in the Pastoral Statement a number of clergy are now in civil partnerships. The General Synod decided to amend the clergy pension scheme to improve the provision for the surviving civil partners of clergy who have died. More recently Parliament has decided that civil partnerships may be registered on religious premises where the relevant religious authority has consented (the necessary regulations are expected this autumn).
“The review will need to take account of this changing scene…”