Clergy conduct and the doctrine of marriage

Andrew Goddard writes: The question as to whether it would be right for the Pastoral Guidance to change the current teaching and discipline of the Church of England in relation to clergy (and in some places licensed lay ministers) is one of the challenging questions still left unresolved.  The latest paper for General Synod (GS 2346) considers this in some detail in Annex B in relation to allowing clergy to enter same-sex civil marriage and makes clear how limited the options are for the bishops, particularly given their commitment not to change the doctrine of marriage.

Despite this, the draft proposed commitments include “we commit to exploring the process for clergy and lay ministers to enter same-sex civil marriages” (Commitment 8). What follows sets out the various options to show how difficult it is to proceed without a change in doctrine, either the doctrine of marriage or the doctrine concerning what is expected of those who are ordained. Appendix A below this article collects together key elements of the 2014 House of Bishops pastoral statement; Appendix B summarises key statements from the past; Appendix C contains the key paragraphs from the judgement in the 2018 Pemberton case.

1.  The current situation is as set out in the 2014 HOB Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage where the key points on clergy and ordinands are in paras 22-28 at the end (see Appendix A below). Any change from these as regards clergy discipline and its rationale would need to be explained and defended theologically and legally, particularly in the light of the successful defence of its argument in the 2018 Pemberton case (Court of Appeal decision, note, in particular, paras 23-24, 26-28; see Appendix C below).

2.  The underlying principles for this bar on clergy entering same-sex marriage are based on Scripture, Tradition and the doctrine of the Church of England as set out in the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal and are thus themselves part of the doctrine of the church. In his 2007 paper (so when all bishops were male) relating to whether divorced priests could become bishops Oliver O’Donovan summarised this in these terms:

1.3.1 Why should the appointment of Bishops present a special problem in this context?  The question is parallel to that of why the conduct of clergy should be considered as a special question apart from the conduct of the laity. The functions of ordained leaders include “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).  The BCP Ordinal asks would-be deacons, priests and bishops to promise to frame themselves and their families to be “wholesome examples”. In this respect Christian leadership within the church differs from most other paradigms of leadership current in secular society, which tend to concentrate on certain technical competences and bracket out the wider life-context. The seriousness with which the church maintains its understanding of priesthood and episcopacy will be judged on its readiness to maintain this, albeit unfashionable, aspect of its historic understanding of Holy Orders.

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