Sunday, 6 June 2010

bishops and divorce

Jonathan Wynne-Jones reports for the Sunday Telegraph Divorced bishops to be permitted for first time by Church of England.

Divorced clergy are to be allowed to become Church of England bishops for the first time in a move which has been condemned by traditionalists.

Critics described the change in Church rules as “utterly unacceptable” and warned it would undermine the biblical teaching that marriage is for life.

Conservative and liberal bishops have been deeply divided over the issue, which they have been secretly discussing for months.

While Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, supported relaxing the rules, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is understood to have fiercely argued against a change.

But The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the change was agreed at a meeting of the House of Bishops in May.

The Church is set to issue a statement announcing the new policy next month after legal advice made clear that there is no obstacle to a divorcee, or a priest married to a divorcee, being consecrated.

It means that a number of clergy who have been rejected in the past by the Crown Nominations Commission, the body responsible for appointing bishops, will now be put forward for consideration.

The first beneficiary of the change could be the Rev Nick Holtam, vicar of St Martin in the Fields in London, whose supporters want to propose as the next Bishop of Southwark.

Despite having gained a reputation as an accomplished preacher and a formidable fund-raiser, having masterminded his church’s £36 million renovation appeal, conservatives had warned that his name would be blocked because his wife of 29 years had a brief marriage as a teenager.

Senior figures in the diocese of Southwark were angered by the prospect of not being able to appoint a man they saw as an outstanding candidate for the post. They have welcomed the change in the Church’s position…

…Under current rules, trainee clergy who are divorced, or are married to a divorcee, are required to obtain permission – known as a faculty – before they can be ordained, but priests with such a personal history are currently blocked from becoming bishops.

Now the moratorium is to be dropped in favour of clergy being considered for promotion on a case-by-case basis, a Church spokesman said…

The Press Association has what appears to be the full quote from the CofE spokesman:

“The House had asked previously for clarification of the relevant legal background and, in the light of that, has now agreed that a statement setting out its approach to these issues should be prepared.

“It is expected that the statement, addressing the relevant legal and theological issues, will be available in July when the General Synod meets.

“There is no legal obstacle to persons who have remarried after divorce, or are married to spouses remarried after divorce, becoming bishops. The agreed policy is to pursue a discretionary approach on a case-by-case basis. It is a clarification in an area where there has previously been some uncertainty both about the legal background and the policy.”

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Comments

At last.

Posted by: Frances on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 8:01am BST

Finally the Church of England seems prepared fully to implement Article XXXII: "...it is lawful for [Bishops, Priests and Deacons], as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion..."

Of course marriage is intended for life. But clergy, like lay people, are capable of making mistakes in life and have access to the Grace which would give them a second chance. Clergy may be called to live exemplary lives (though I emphatically reject any suggestion that might put them on some pedestal), but they are not required to live infallible or perfect lives - nor can they be as long as they are human. Nor should the presence or absence of divorce in the past of the cleric or her spouse be any measure of her call to serve in the Church in holy orders.

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 11:28am BST

So, now one is still eligible to become a bishop after a failed marriage, but ineligible with a successful marriage to someone of one's own sex.

makes sense to me.

Posted by: Counterlight on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 12:36pm BST

So, Archbishop, it's NOT lawful for two people of the same sex to form a lasting union, but it's OK for straight people to discard their marriages? And I say this as a divorced and remarried priest.

Posted by: Fr. Orear on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 12:46pm BST

I welcome this. But shouldn't we check it out with the rest of the Communion first? As the Bishop of Gloucester said recently, we can only move at the pace of the slowest. And those who don't agree will certainly need a 'complementary bishop' to look after them - perhaps even their own province or 'society'. And if not, why not? It is good enough for women and gay people. This is a matter on which Anglicans of conscience disagree. And certainly we are not being selective? (And I trust readers of TA will recognize irony when they see it.)

Posted by: Grumpy High Church Woman on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 2:16pm BST

The late, and much missed, Anthony Crockett was the first divorced and remarried person in the UK to become a bishop when he became Bishop of Bangor in 2004. The appointment, made by the Bench of Bishops because the (diocesan) electoral college were unable to reach a decision, caused some controversy in the diocese.

Posted by: Leslie Fletcher on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 2:47pm BST

Here is something else to consider. Archbishop Rowan liberalized, quite rightly and pastorally, the rules for marriage under what is called an Archbishop’s Special Licence to allow clergy to marry people with a former spouse still living. For many of us in ‘sector ministry’ a Special Licence is the only legal way we have to conduct weddings in our chapels and this has allowed us to exercise the same pastoral care as colleagues in parish ministry. This is a good thing. We must follow the House of Bishops’ Advice to Clergy, seeking the permission of our diocesan and giving assurances that the present relationship was not a factor in the dissolution of the first.

So, an Archbishop's Special Licence form now asks the applicant ‘have you been married (or entered into a civil partnership) before?’ If a former spouse is still living, the applicant is told that the minister must follow the House of Bishops’ Advice to Clergy (as indicated above). So, my question, and no doubt everyone can see it coming, just what *is* the House of Bishops’ Advice to Clergy for conducting the marriage of a person or persons who have been in a civil partnership?

Posted by: Judith Maltby on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 4:29pm BST

If you allow for the possibility of re-marriage after divorce (which is a Scripturally ambiguous proposition), the biblical standard for bishops is that they be the husband of one wife, which always has been my chief objection to bishops like +Gene Robinson and +Barry Beisner of Northern California.

In the case of Nick Holtam+, there really should have been no issue in light of the current teaching of the Church of England on divorce. And so his case is not an excuse to open up the doors to divorced and remarried episcopal candidates generally.

Posted by: Caelius Spinator on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 4:50pm BST

'...conservatives had warned that his name would be blocked because his wife of 29 years had a brief marriage as a teenager.'

No wonder church participation and respect for church is declining (we're told) with nonsense like this, wasting good people,in this way.

AND it will of course, make gay and lesbian bishops the very next logical step. More good people to bring in from the cold !=

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 5:32pm BST

welcome this. But shouldn't we check it out with the rest of the Communion first? As the Bishop of Gloucester said recently, we can only move at the pace of the slowest. And those who don't agree will certainly need a 'complementary bishop' to look after them - perhaps even their own province or 'society'. And if not, why not? It is good enough for women and gay people. This is a matter on which Anglicans of conscience disagree. And certainly we are not being selective? (And I trust readers of TA will recognize irony when they see it.)

Posted by: Grumpy High Church Woman on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 2:16pm BST

Yes GCW and not on the anglican communon but also the FoCAs, the Partnership(s),Canon Sugden and Dr Giddings, and then Rome, Constantinople and the Southern Baptists !

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 5:35pm BST

Kenneth Woolcombe (of Oxford) married a divorced deaconess too I seem to recall.

What dearer people could one hope to find ?

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 5:38pm BST

Bishop Mark Santer, then a widower, married a divorcee while Bishop of Birmingham with, I believe, the blessing of Abp Carey.
More interesting perhaps is how small the pool for bishops has got in the C of E. No women priests of course despite their growing numbers ( 30%??),age range usually 40 to 60 (and mostly 45-57);at least 10, usually more, years in orders ( despite average age at ordination being 41); I think 99% trained at residential colleges when 55% of ordinands are trained on courses ( and considerably more from some colleges than others),scarcely any without a degree when perhaps 25% or more are undegreed.. extremes of churchmanship probably rules out others.Hardly a huge talent pool at a time when I would have thought the Church really needed able leadership...just compare the bench now to,say, the inter-war years or the period immediately post war....

Posted by: Perry Butler on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 5:47pm BST

About time. But this just goes to make the whole of the church's stand against gay and lesbian laity and clergy look even more complete nonsense. How much longer can the church hold on to its completely untenable position?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 6:22pm BST

"How much longer can the church hold on to its completely untenable position?"

Probably for as long as the episcopate is in the hands of straight men -- and those passing for straight men. Until then, relaxation of the Church's discipline concerning divorce will be a legitimate pastoral approach, while relaxation of the Church's discipline concerning gay people is damnable heresy, undisguised paganism, and veritable ickiness.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 6:34pm BST

I wait with bated breath for the fulminations of +Tom Wright. And the Primates of Nigeria, Uganda, the Southern Cone, et al. Don't worry. I'm just slowing my breathing, yoga style. Otherwise, I might turn blue and depart this existence.

Posted by: karen macqueen+ on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 8:46pm BST

There's something about conservative doctrinaire Christianity that makes my head hurt. According to the writers of the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth scorned those who strictly adhered to the letter of Law while ignoring the underlying meaning of the Law or ignoring the humanity of the people to whom the Law was applied. St. Paul also condemned the Law, which he saw as a burden.
So why are the conservatives so legalistic? To reject a candidate for bishop because of something his wife did almost 30 years ago is absurd. It's the height of Jesus' complaint against the Pharisees: Their strict adherence to rules without looking at the people behind them.
Bill Dilworth, how much longer can the church hold on to its completely untenable position? For a long time I'm afraid. First, we have the "If it was good enough for the 17th Century, it's good enough for me" crowd. "We've always done it this way!" Then there are the closeted gay priests and bishops in positions of authority. To the outsider, the closet may seem cold and inhospitable. But these men have lined their closets with the finest tropical hardwoods. There are Oriental carpets on the floor, crystal chandeliers, well-upholstered leather chairs, and a bar stocked with the finest French wines and well-aged single-malt scotches. These gentlemen feel they earned their place precisely because of their discretion and secrecy – because of the closet -- and openly gay priests and bishops blow the doors off their closets and make them scared silly. Those people are even more formidable opponents than doctrinaire conservatives.

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 9:37pm BST

"If you allow for the possibility of re-marriage after divorce (which is a Scripturally ambiguous proposition), the biblical standard for bishops is that they be the husband of one wife, which always has been my chief objection to bishops like +Gene Robinson and +Barry Beisner of Northern California."

While Beisner has had three wives, Robinson has had only one "wife." Biblical literalism cuts both ways ...

Posted by: dr.primrose on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 12:25am BST

What a terrible, terrible idea.

I actually don't have strong feelings about ordination of women and gay people. I don't think homosexuality is a sin, and I think it's a good thing that the Anglican communion is becoming more tolerant of homosexual relationships. And my experiences with receiving the sacraments from women priests in the Episcopal church persuade me that a woman can be a perfectly fine priest or bishop. I wish that the church of England and the Episcopal church had waited longer before ordaining women and gays, to allow more of the communion as a whole to come round to their point of view, but I don't think they are wrong on the merits.

On the matter of divorce, however, they are absolutely wrong on the merits. The plight of a divorced person who wants to enter a new relationship is indeed tragic, and we should all feel for them, but Jesus was absolutely clear that remarriage after divorce is always a sin, and that people who are separated from their living spouses are called to abstain from sexual relationships. Of course many of us, maybe most of us, will fail at that, and I'm sure God will have mercy on divorced and remarried people; and we should remember that a lot of second and third marriages, even though technically adulterous, can have genuine love, affection and spiritual growth at their core. However, as loving and spiritually life giving that such second and third marriages may be, they still fall short of the ideal that Jesus gave to us, and they are not appropriate for bishops. Marriage is a sacrament, just like baptism, confession and the Eucharist, and just as your sins once absolved are absolved permanently, so marriage is permanent during the lifetime of the other partner.

Posted by: Hector on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 1:32am BST

Comment on Judith Maltby's (yes, guys, now you can say 'O these American women') So, we can't bless civil partnerships (legally) BUT a former civil partner still alive would bar a clergy person from .... what? marriage? another (unblessed) civil partnership? Tying themselves in knots (as usual?)......

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 7:30am BST

Hector:

"I wish that the church of England and the Episcopal church had waited longer before ordaining women and gays, to allow more of the communion as a whole to come round to their point of view, but I don't think they are wrong on the merits."

The Episcopal Church first ordained women more than 30 years ago. In all that time, only a handful of other provinces--notably the "western" ones (CoE, Australia, NZ, etc.)--have followed suit. How long would you have had us wait for "more of the communion" to come round? Two generations? Three?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 11:20am BST

"Bishop Mark Santer, then a widower, married a divorcee while Bishop of Birmingham with, I believe, the blessing of Abp Carey."
- Perry Butler -

From his post-ABC position we have Lord Carey campaigning against any rights in the Church for the LGBT community - and yet he accepts the humanity of Bishops in the Church when they seek to contract marriage with a divorced person. One might ask: "Does one's view of divorce change when a member of one's own family is involved?" If so, it's a pity more Bishops in the Church are not more aware of the presence of L.G.B. or T. persons within their own extended families - there are bound to be some, somewhere.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 12:03pm BST

Richard Ashby - A little OT, and not wanting to take anything away from LGBT persons but I think the laity has a difficult enought time of it in attempting to be involved in any event.

As alluded to elsewhere in this thread, it's about hierarchy and position, and those 'closet' gay folk who have made it will keep a tight hold on the reins they have been able to snatch, as much as the straight ones will. Wanting to realize one's talents in the CoE is unfortunately to have to play the long game, for the committee structures are slow, moribund and actually, pretty irrelevant - of course not in the eyes of churchpersons - but in the eyes of those who would dearly like to find that their place of worship had become a centre of activity for Christ, rather than being part of a time-serving chore, in order to get to the position of being able to do anything.

For me, and again, not in any way wanting to undermine the views of gay, lesbian or transgendered people out there, the issues around sexuality are just symptomatic of an organisation that is fundamentally and straightforwardly hidebound. In my short journey, I have never really felt that Christianity was irrelevant to and in the 21st century but by golly, I have often thought the CoE is. Unless there's a root-and-branch revolution in the way the CoE does business, it won't matter whether we have a straight man, passing straight man or a so-called screaming queen at the top of the pile. Let's just level the pile, shall we?

Posted by: Achilles on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 12:31pm BST

"I wish that the church of England and the Episcopal church had waited longer before ordaining women and gays, to allow more of the communion as a whole to come round to their point of view, but I don't think they are wrong on the merits."

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 7 June 2010 at 3:57pm BST
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