Comments: Sham marriages

Now the bishops need to get down to caring for vicars caught up in this mess. Their neglect of their ministers is a disgrace. I am speaking of human suffering.

Good conscientious people almost by definition in inner city areas and let's face it, not supported by their bishops as a generalisation.

Left to rot. And not supported by judicious well thought out press statements either.

Parish priests are being hung out to dry at this moment.

What in Christ's name are they doing in Chelmsford diocese ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 11:13am BST

Is the Church becoming big brothers little helper?

Posted by David at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 12:46pm BST

I had no idea one could refuse marriage to those who would not turn up to a preparation class!

That would have difficulty holding up - even if the cleric in question escaped ecclesiastical discipline.

A great deal to question here - and much of it - as can be seen, is bluster. Note the section dealing with those who insist on their lawful right to be married by Banns (if they are so qualified). I see at least three further Church of England clerics have been arrested and may, like my mate Alex Brown, end up in jail, but in his case and perhaps others too, Alex was part of an organised group using marriage to help people stay in the country who might otherwise be expelled.

I am not too sure clerics should be seen as investigators!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 1:49pm BST

So there now £100 tax, sorry, 'common (sic) licence' for marriages between (or to) non-EU partners. Rather than a presumption of innocence and the normal level of scrutiny, the registrar will open and maintain a case file for each prospective spouse from outside the EEA. Copies of passports and documentary evidence proving parish residency will be kept.

In the first-century, the Temple hierarchy decided that its tax could only be paid in Hebrew currency. It forced foreign worshippers to pay conversion charges to the avaricious moneychangers.

These measures turn the Diocesan Registrar into a policing extension of the UKBA, impose a suspicion levy and an added burden of proof on any non-EU Anglican. The fee is as extortionate and unjust as the Temple tax that Jesus castigated.

I hope someone has the courage to kick over the 'common licence' coffers and declare, 'It is written,...'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'

But who are the precious few among the C of E clergy will emulate the young rabbi from Nazareth?!

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 7:53pm BST

Would you explain marriage by banns and by common license?

Posted by Chip Chillington at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 9:08pm BST

I can't answer for the whole of Chelmsford Diocese, where I currently serve. However, last year we had five people who tried us out and went away, and I have married two genuine couples where one or both were non-european, and I have had exemplary assistance from the diocesan authorities and others from whom I have sought advice. I am not in inner city London. I think it is clergy who try to go-it-alone, and imagine they know best until they are caught out, who have problems. And when clergy fail to register marriages correctly or don't make proper returns of fees, then they are in trouble. Help is there if you need it.

Regsitrars (I went to the local training) routinely require evidence of identity and residence. That was not something which formed part of my training. I now require couples to sign a statement that the information that they had given me was correct - this was not a procedure I found when I came to this parish.

However, it remains the case that people resident in the parish have the right to have their banns read, and that they have the right to get married, provided they meet the legal requirements.
This guidance is welcome, but may be subject to legal challenge. The fact that the Home Office and UK Border Agency have been involved is helpful, because it brings apparent clarity to a murky area. The guidance can't, however, change the law.

I want to marry genuine couples, and I don't want to be exploited by criminal fraudsters. In any human system there will be errors, but we must have a good balance where the error rate (and human cost of errors) is near minimum.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 10:04pm BST

We have occasional comments from politicians about marriages intended to bypass immigration regulations. However, because we don't have establishment and related marriage regulations, most such marriages are civil marriages.

So, how big an issue, really, is this for the UK? And in the UK, how big an issues, really, is this for congregations of the Church of England?

Posted by Marshall Scott at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 10:38pm BST

'Ithink it is clergy who try to go-it-alone, and imagine they know best until they are caught out, who have problems. And'

You do not sound very sympathetic, and neither do the Church authorities.

People do not 'try to go it alone' and know they do not 'know best'--but are abandoned to get on with it. (Many years ago I was left to burn out in a parish and two busy hospitals. I received little care from the official Church of England).

I was, and am raising, the issue of the failure of care of ministers in Chelmsford diocese in particular and the Church of England generally. Even now, clergy who have been arrested in this regard, are NOT receiving pastoral care.

Nor is the Diocese and its Bishop putting out press releases supportive of their ministers. Ministers who are persons who are under UK Law 'innocent until proved guilty. This is the least that the Bishop of Chelmsford and colleagues could do. 'The King' will want to know why not. (Greeted by superior smirks from the TA sophisticates ?).

LET alone give interviews on radio and tv. Maybe be photographed and filmed with such ministers to show support for their faithful service over many years.

This is too important, too much about personal suffering and stress of clergy, to be greeted by the usual Anglican complacancy.

~ Talk about the least of my brethren - sheesh

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 10:40pm BST


There is a summary of the different preliminaries to marriage here:

and I am sure that you can find similar information elsewhere.

In the present context I think that the important features of a marriage by common licence are

1) that the common licence requires one of the parties to swear an affidavit as to his/her identity and the identity of the partner and as to their freedom to marry, and

2) the common licence is issued by the bishop (or his deputy) so that it is not for the person conducting the marriage ceremony to decide whether the parties are entitled to marry.

Banns are a notice read out in church in the parish where the wedding is to take place, and (where different) the parishes where the parties reside. If no one raises a valid reason in law why the couple cannot marry then the marriage can go ahead. It involves less checking than a common licence and clergy can be pressurised into performing marriages about which they are suspicious.

But do bear in mind that I am not a lawyer.

Posted by Peter Owen at Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 11:37pm BST

I think this is very necessary and the Church in Wales (who also have the privilege of marrying without the presence of a state registrar) should also institute the same safe guards.

Posted by robert ian williams at Wednesday, 13 April 2011 at 6:29am BST

There is this undated document on the Church in Wales website.

There is also some brief advice at the end of this webpage.

Posted by Peter Owen at Wednesday, 13 April 2011 at 10:13am BST

The last, best defence against emigration fraud ... the local vicar! Things are a bit better in the Republic of Ireland. Due to changes in the law a few years back, the legalities are handled by the government registrar; the priest can only solemnise the marriage if the couple presents themselves with the right paperwork in hand. Making it even easier in my diocese, our bishop is very keen that his priests understand their part in the process properly and provides both training and guidance:

Posted by Fr Levi at Wednesday, 13 April 2011 at 6:06pm BST

Surely the best thing would be to require everybody to attend a registry office and to sign all legal documents and certificates in front of a secular registrar and to leave people free to then attend a church for a religious ceremony should they wish to. Many other countries do this, ministers of religion would not have to worry about falling foul of the law and then we may also see a way forward for people who have entered Civil Partnerships to also have their union blessed in churches.

Posted by Andrew at Thursday, 14 April 2011 at 7:32am BST

There seem to be very different stories coming out of Chelmsford about the circumstances surrounding the accused clergy. So I don't want to comment on that.

But what strikes me from Laurence R's posts is the need for a thread about pastoral care of clergy. Is this website the place, I wonder, since most comments are in response to news stories?

The notions of clergy 'left to rot' and 'out of sight is out of mind' are all-too-common as experiences. Bishops seem now to have washed their hands of any responsibility for clergy deployment and 'market forces' prevail (with hidden agendas skewing the process in too many cases). But that's only part of the bigger issue of pastoral care.

Posted by Lister Tonge at Thursday, 14 April 2011 at 8:26am BST

It is very easy to point the finger at others in these debates, but the structures of the Church of England have evolved beyond recognition over the last few decades. Fewer stipendiary clergy are each in larger roles with greater expectations and therefore under more pressure than before - this includes Bishops and Archdeacons who have more to do than ever before, not least because the Diocesan administration of most Dioceses has been cut to the minimum. This leaves people, I would suggest, on the whole, needing more support, but getting less.

The Clergy Discipline Measure has brought new challenges to the pastoral care of the clergy who are facing complaints, and means that for all that a priest or deacon might expect their own bishop to be giving personal pastoral support at a difficult time, this is not always possible - and indeed is heavily discouraged in some circumstances to avoid prejudicing the outcome of the complaint. I brought a motion to Chelmsford Diocesan Synod to make this point, and this led to a debate in General Synod about the measure. The possibilities are now better understood, but the expectation of personal pastoral care from the bishop still cannot always be met. The CDM will apply to many cases of clergy accused of conducting sham marriages.

The other side of the coin on bishops washing their hands of any responsibility for clergy deployment is that parish representatives now have a say in who is appointed to the parish. It isn't just down to the patron and the bishop to stitch it up between them, and that has gains for parishes as well as losses. And the days of posts with lighter duties which can be suggested to clergy who need an easier time for a while are long gone. In any case, it was not all clergy who appreciated their bishop's more active role in their deployment.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Thursday, 14 April 2011 at 12:34pm BST

In as much as our poor clergy are the main focus of sympathy in recent posts, is there an iota of compassion towards the desperate 'strangers' within our borders?

In spite of the political priority of church collaboration in ridding our country of all non-EU people except genuine asylum seekers, much of our scripture narrates the migration of a desperate 'stateless' people into a new land with hostile inhabitants, called Canaan.

However ill-advised their efforts, it's strange that the lingering 'Christian' thoughts In this thread are with our mistreated clergy who lack proper pastoral care, rather than those languishing in immigration removal centres (aka prisons) awaiting deportation to an uncertain future.

Of course, some would say it serves them right. I wonder what Christ would say.

Posted by David Shepherd at Thursday, 14 April 2011 at 6:36pm BST

Last July my eldest son married Serra, a young woman from Turkey, in the UK. I was outraged by the demeaning process through which they had to go to obtain permission to marry and the implied suspicion of their intentions - "guilty until proven innocent". I have suppressed beyond recall most of the details, though I do remember that, at one stage in the process, a whole collection of forms &c. was returned because one of the photographs they submitted was 1mm too wide. None of Serra's relatives was able to attend the wedding because none was granted the UK visa they applied for in ample time. I was, and am, embarrassed by my government's policies and several times felt the need to apologise to Serra and to make it clear that she was most welcome to join our family.

For every alleged "sham marriage" are there not dozens or hundreds, or even thousands of couples like my son and now dearly-loved daughter-in-law? Does this bureaucratic rigmarole serve any other purpose than to pander to populist prejudice?

Posted by Leslie Fletcher at Friday, 15 April 2011 at 3:45pm BST

'those languishing in immigration removal centres (aka prisons) awaiting deportation to an uncertain future.' David Sheppherd

Yes, thank you David. You are right. A vital matter. Absolutley heart rending.

Prevented from working and ineligible for state benefits, many go hungry...

Here in Newham, food is distributed in Sebert Road centre E7 to families and indiviudals who are desperate.

Who live in fear and threat of starvation

in the capital city of England, UK

in the year of our Lord 2011

and it was no different under the last Government

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 19 April 2011 at 3:55pm BST

Hi Laurence,
I'm happy to discuss involvement in your Newham initiative on- or off-line.

Today's worrying mediation was 'in as much as you did not do it to the least of these my brethren'. A bit bored of my Christ-less consumption patterns.

Posted by David Shepherd at Wednesday, 20 April 2011 at 9:02am BST
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