Monday, 28 November 2011

Registering civil partnerships in CofE churches

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…”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 28 November 2011 at 9:58pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

From the 'Changing Attitude press statement concerning a church where CPs are blessed - ‘Fees are charged, sent to the diocese saying they are for the blessing of a civil partnership, and are banked by the diocese’.

I just love it. The Church of England either at its wackiest or most incompetent. Money talks, so that one cannot but assume that since they take the money they accept, if not apprvove, blessings of CPs in church. Since this is the case it would be interesting to know what the law has to say about this. Can the church actually accept money for an action which Mt Fitt would have us believe is ‘illegal’?

Isn’t there a parallel with sex workers paying income tax? (just a thought)

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 9:37am GMT

Would it not be pertinent for the General Synod of the Church of England - in view of the fact that clergy 'Civil Partnerships' have already been recognised through the clergy Pension scheme - to now prove the Church's magnanimity (with a degree of integrity) to allow some form of religious rite for the recognition of Same-Sex partnerships, that do exist, in actuality, in the Church? Or are we to continue with the 'nod-wink' culture that once existed in the military?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 10:09am GMT

Richard - the church in question, St. Martin in the Fields, used to be in the jurisdiction of the Royal Peculiar of Westminster Abbey. If that's still the case (*), then there's no wackiness nor incompetence involved - simply that this church is outside the jurisdiction of the Bishops, and their pastoral statement prohibiting blessings of civil partnerships doesn't apply there.

(*) There are some indications that it _may_ have changed in the late 17th century.

Posted by: Feria on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 1:22pm GMT

According to Crockford's, patron is the Bishop of London

Posted by: John Roch on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 9:06pm GMT

Feria- My point was not about the policies of the church in question, it was about the diocese accepting monies for an activity which is forbidden by the bishops. Isn't that either wacky or incompetent? Surely at the very least it compromises any hardline about the blessings of civil partnerships in church. I would have thought that the principled thing the diocese should be doing is returning the fees, otherwise it is surely living off 'immoral earnings'!

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 9:28am GMT

John - that's one of the "indications" I was talking about. But it's not conclusive, because AFAIK, being Patron doesn't necessarily imply being Ordinary. The other "indication" is that marriages at St Martin in the Fields stopped appearing in the Westminster Abbey registers around 1669. That's not conclusive either, because peculiars often borrow the registers of a neighbouring diocese, which might also explain the payment of fees that Changing Attitude noticed.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 12:00pm GMT

Given the usual shrillness which this subject tends to ellicit, I am astonished that no protestations of dismay have been made inspired by a decision which many will accept with relief. I do not see how the bishops could have come to any other conclusion. But what I don't understand is this thread about fees. Surely no self-respecting cleric would charge fees for a ceremony they were not allowed to conduct? Presumably such 'blessings' would be informal? But I wonder if fees were charged by the rector of St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, when he conducted a fiasco of a wedding of two clerics a year or two ago. I understand that one of them subsequently renounced his orders.

Posted by: John Bowles on Thursday, 1 December 2011 at 10:09am GMT
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