Monday, 12 December 2005

civil partnerships: a further legal opinion

Recently we published here an opinion on civil partnerships issued by LGCM and written by Derek Belcher.

Anglican Mainstream has now published a response by James Behrens which you can find at A Further Opinion regarding Civil Partnerships. He begins:

This further opinion is a response to a paper by Canon Belcher for the LGCM which comments on my written opinion of 30 June 2005 published by Anglican Mainstream. Canon Belcher and I are not as far apart as may be thought. Some people have read my written opinion as saying that the mere fact of entering into a civil partnership is a matter for ecclesiastical discipline. That was not my intention, and it is not my opinion. I am sorry that confusion has been caused. I make it clear now that it is active homosexual practice which is a matter for ecclesiastical discipline, rather than the fact of civil partnership itself. If the relationship between the parties to a civil partnership is chaste, the matter is not one for ecclesiastical discipline.

I annex to this note a slightly revised text for my written opinion which, I hope, makes my position clear. I have underlined the differences from the original version for ease of reference.

Unfortunately the AM web page has lost Dr Behrens’ underlining. Perhaps this will be rectified soon. Meanwhile the original version, of which this is a revision, can be found here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 12 December 2005 at 6:38pm GMT
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Even after his attempt to "fix" his original opinion, James Behrens' produces a piece of work which is disappointingly superficial.

Having first made the mistake of suggesting that ALL same sex civil partnerships were equally "conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders", he now suggests that all same sex civil partnerships "involving sexual activity" are "conduct unbecoming".

He does not explain what he means by sexual activity. Nor does he draw any distinction between (on the one hand) monogamous, lifelong, faithful, loving, committed relationships and (on the other hand) promiscuous or casual sex; or between conduct by (on the one hand) clergy who believe in conscience that they are responding to God's call to them and who defend themselves by reference to the arguments with which we are familiar, and (on the other hand) those who do what they know to be wrong "through negligence, through weakness, through [their] own deliberate fault".

The really interesting questions of ecclesiastical law and discipline will arise in the first of each of these two cases. The two examples Dr Behrens picks ("the cases in which priests have been disciplined for drunkenness" and "a married priest" who makes "sexual advances to an unmarried woman") are not at all apt to such a case.

Dr Behrens does not address this. Indeed, in his selective quotations from the various Anglican documents on same sex attraction and relationships, he makes no reference to the arguments which might justify such clergy relationships. He does not acknowledge the existence of such arguments - although some of them are respectfully set out in the documents which he does cite. Such arguments have been advanced, not only by gay clergy, but by such distinguished and independent theologians as the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, who is a married woman and a Cathedral canon.

Posted by: badman on Tuesday, 13 December 2005 at 10:17am GMT

I'm glad of this clarification from James Behrens. But it doesn't predict how the approach will pan out as far as how pressure will be put on individual clergy. I'm sure it will be very sensitively controlled. Pressure will be sensitive to the culture of the host parish and the individual's popularity and many other political factors. All will be excellently spun and handled. We have come a long way since Salem.

The good Reverend Lance Pinchcolt will do good business in the coming years:

http://frontparlour.blogspot.com/2005/12/calling.html

Hurrah the CofE!

Posted by: Augustus Meriwether on Tuesday, 13 December 2005 at 12:17pm GMT

This is good progress. One issue that remains is the consistency and how this position would manifest in the the day-to-day living. How do we ensure the appropriate sexual conduct of a same-sex relationship? Monitoring or interrogation? And if we are going to do it for same sex "for the sake of their health", why shouldn't we be doing it for heterosexual relationships? After all, there are men who sodomise their wives, there are spouses who rape their partners as part of bullying (including defiantly impregnating women already suffering ill health, adding even further to their burdens). Again, I go back to Jesus and trust in his divine judgement; whilst humanly encouraging people to live in life-long mutually reverential relationships, only intervening where help is sought or the boundaries of safety are clearly in jeopardy. Unfortunately many strategies could easily lead to an Orwellian 1984 culture. As we know from history, such cultures take on a life of their own and continue expanding their repression until God raises up sufficient witnesses to turn the tide against repression.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 13 December 2005 at 9:20pm GMT

Unrelated (directly) to this topic but you may be interested to know that the Australian Broadcasting Corp' are running a discussion "Jesus: History or Myth?" on their Religion and Ethics website. I am arguing for myth with an opening article, "Escaping the gravitational Pull of the Gospels" while Professor Bill Loader is opposing. Your members should be interested in the evidence and might care to comment. Find at http://www.abc.net.au/religion Kind regards, David (Presently in UK)

Posted by: David H Lewis on Wednesday, 14 December 2005 at 12:23am GMT

Dear Badman, Cheryl et al, I think we all agree that Civil Partnerships have created a ridiculous situation for the CofE. Clergy (and laity) living in publicly recognised same-sex relationships that may be sinful! It makes it look like the question about sex is only applied to homosexuals !!

I think the HoB was right to advise clergy against entering a CP. In fact I think that they should, on pastoral grounds, push for a widening of CP legislation so that any two people living together interdependently can enter one.

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 16 December 2005 at 8:08pm GMT

Been there, done that. It was rejected for the very good reason that civil partnerships are designed for same sex couples and use marriage as a template. Thus, dissolution is part of the legislation.

How about widening marriage to any two people living 'interdependently', then, Dave? After all, marriage is a civil institution - most marriages do not take place in church, and most of those which do are not between those who believe the same things as you about marriage.

Andrew Sullivan said that it was these sort of partnerships which would really upset the conservatives - and wasn't he right. You just can't bear the fact that gay couples now have legal status - because it makes the homophobic stance of the conservative evangelical religion look all the more extreme.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 16 December 2005 at 10:29pm GMT

Mike, CPs should be extended to provide cover for many other arrangements than just same-sex partnerships! My concern is for just tax and inheritance etc treatment for interdependent people not in married relationships - not for legal parity for the relationships themselves. I believe in monogamous marriage or celebacy!

It is hardly surprising that I reject recognition of any other form of sexual partnership(s). Active homosexual practice is contrary to scripture, traditional church teachings and all the authoritative Church of England and Anglican statements: General Synod 1987, and HoB 1991, Lambeth 98 1.10, Primates meeting 2005, and ACC 2005.

The RC church explains that homosexual practice is disordered (among many other "variations" I hasten to add). Marriage of one man and one woman is a basic building block of human families and society - that was created and blessed by God. Sexual relations are, according to the Christian scriptures and teachings, sinful if not within the confines of marriage. The question of whether other options possess some qualities similar to marriage - such as romantic love and life-long faithfulness - does not negate their sinfulness!

Posted by: Dave on Saturday, 17 December 2005 at 2:40pm GMT

Just to balance Dr Behrens' characterisation of same sex relationships as "conduct unbecoming", it is interesting to see the Secretary General of the General Synod of the Church of England suggest that a bishop who offers episcopal care to Anglicans outside his diocese and province "without the authority required under the law of the relevant province" might be engaging in ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders’!

See question 22 at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/about/gensynod/agendas/watn05.rtf

Posted by: badman on Monday, 19 December 2005 at 3:21pm GMT

22. Mr Gerry O’Brien (Rochester) asked the Secretary General:

Is the Secretary General aware of any legal or other constraints which might inhibit a diocesan bishop in the Church of England from offering episcopal care to those outside the area of his territorial jurisdiction?

The Secretary General: Canon C 18 provides for every bishop to be ‘the chief pastor of all that are within his diocese’. The effect of this is to make it unlawful for a diocesan bishop to minister in another diocese of the Church of England without authority, normally from the bishop of that diocese. There is no restriction under the law of the Church of England on the ability of a diocesan bishop to offer episcopal care to Anglicans outside the provinces of Canterbury and York. Were he, however, to do so without the authority required under the law of the relevant province, the question could arise whether he had, under our own law, engaged in ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders’.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 December 2005 at 3:54pm GMT

I would be interested in an answer or comment on the following issue.

Well, marriages performed by clergy of the Church of England are official in the eyes of the British state. So what happens if a CoE clergyman (who does not recognise "civil partnership" as a marriage) goes on to perform [regular] marriage involving someone ("converted and repented") who is already a party to a legally valid "civil partnership"?

There appears to be no obstacle in the church law to marrying that person - since "civil partnership" is not marriage at all in the eyes of the church, is it. Yet the CoE cannot grant him/her a marriage valid in the eyes of the state. But on what ecclesiastic basis marriage can marriage be refused to such a person? And if you do refuse to marry such persons, then ipso facto you admit that the CoE ecclesiastic law on marriages does recognise "civil partnerships" as marriages.

Posted by: Curious on Friday, 30 December 2005 at 2:35am GMT
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