A Landmark Ruling?

You may have spotted this piece in the Times yesterday on a Church of England Vicar sacked for being a swinger.

A female vicar who told colleagues that she went on swinging holidays in the South of France and who turned up drunk to church services has been banned from practising for 12 years by the Church of England.

The Rev Teresa Davies, from Daventry, Northamptonshire, was found guilty of inappropriate conduct at a tribunal in London yesterday.

Mrs Davies was said to have told two church colleagues at a Christmas lunch in 2006 that she and her husband had spent holidays without their children in the South of France, in an area that she said was noted for “the casual exchange of sexual partners”.

The tribunal also heard that Mrs Davies, 37, and her husband had posted under the name “Tess and Mick, Daventry” on swinging websites. After the lunch Mrs Davies sent an e-mail to one of her colleagues, the Rev Canon Owen Page, saying that she had “probably loaded you with too much information”. She told the other clergyman, the Rev Peter Davis, who gave her a lift home after the lunch: “I think I have said too much.”

Later she told her archdeacon that she had been drinking and was trying to be shocking. She also said that she had never had any sexual relationship outside her marriage. She admitted to the tribunal that this was incorrect.

Naughty. Here’s the killer paragraph.

The tribunal said: “Clergy who commit sexual misconduct have to be dealt with firmly and in a way which would protect those who could be harmed if the respondent were otherwise allowed to remain in ministry."

You can read the full determination of the tribunal here, but here is the main ruling paragraph.

With regard to the first limb of the Complaint, the Tribunal ha absolutely no doubt that on the 18th December 2006 the Respondent made the claims attributed to her, namely that she and her husband had an open sexual relationship and engaged in sexual activity with others outside their marriage. Bearing in mind her admission that she and her husband visited the particular resort in the summer months without their children and the evidence of the personal website profiles entries reflecting their claims, the Tribunal has determined that her behaviour was scandalous, and a serious breach of the Guidelines and the provisions of Canon C26(2) and that it was conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders.

Interesting. Was the guilty action the scandal or the actual activity of having sex outside of the marriage relationship? I think one must come to the conclusion that the crime was not the scandal and rumour, but the actual act that led to the scandal. Here’s the relevant Canon:

C 26 Of the manner of life of clerks in Holy Orders

1. Every clerk in Holy Orders is under obligation, not being let by sickness or some other urgent cause, to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer, either privately or openly; and to celebrate the Holy Communion, or be present thereat, on all Sundays and other principal Feast Days. He is also to be diligent in daily prayer and intercession, in examination of his conscience, and in the study of the Holy Scriptures and such other studies as pertain to his ministerial duties.

2. A clerk in Holy Orders shall not give himself to such occupations, habits, or recreations as do not befit his sacred calling, or may be detrimental to the performance of the duties of his office, or tend to be a just cause of offence to others; and at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.

So, a question. Would another clergyman, brought up before a tribunal on the grounds of his manner of life being that of one involved in any sexual relationship outside of marriage, be equally barred from ministry based on this ruling above as precedent?

Can you see where I’m going with this?

27 Comments on “A Landmark Ruling?

  1. Peter, you seem to be clutching at straws.  You seem to have been undone on Dudley in that the diocese of London clearly did not do what you wanted it to do, and as a result Dudley is secure in his parish without fear of any tribunal, and so now you seek another example to give you hope.  In the end though, this is false hope because very few members of the Church of England view what you describe in the above example as coterminous with same sex relationships nor the blessing of them in Church.  If they did, they would be merrily reporting people to the bishop, who would be taking them to courts which would be making judgements against them – why are they not doing this Peter if it is as clear has you think?  Why are you not doing it? 

    Oh, by the way – I wonder if you think many an evangelical clergyperson ought to be found guilty of behaviour unbecoming of a clergyperson in that they are in breach of the following canon:

    ‘Every clerk in Holy Orders is under obligation, not being let by sickness or some other urgent cause, to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer, either privately or openly; and to celebrate the Holy Communion, or be present thereat, on all Sundays and other principal Feast Days. He is also to be diligent in daily prayer and intercession, in examination of his conscience, and in the study of the Holy Scriptures and such other studies as pertain to his ministerial duties.’

    Why?  Well, I walk past many an evangelical Anglican Church in London, and there is no eucharist advertised for Sunday, nor for the great feasts of the Church, nor is there any indication that morning and evening prayer is being said.   Should I be reporting the incumbents of said churches?

  2. Go ahead and report them!!!! That’s not the issue I’m addressing.

    My point in the post wasn’t whether we should go on a witch-hunt, but rather has a legal precedent on sexual activity and the clergy been set?

  3. Yes, Peter, I would say it is fairly obvious where you are going!  But forgive me if I am being a bit denser when it comes to why you call this a landmark ruling – has it not always been the case in the CofE (and indeed most other denominations too) that it is more common for clergy to be removed from office for serious sexual misconduct than for any other reason, especially if the behaviour is causing scandal (traditionally the two “stock” cases I suppose would be adultery and molesting the choirboys)? I may be missing something of course but I don’t really see what is new in this case except for the term “swinging”, which I take to be a version of what ancients like me would call “wife-swapping” (although I suppose nowadays many of them wouldn’t actually be wives …).

  4. Robert,

    Thanks for being slightly more reasoned in your approach than Winston.

    I think the reason I think this is more important than Winston thinks because:

    i) It is the first ruling that I am aware of under the CDM that deals with sex outside of marriage
    ii) It clearly states that it is a disciplinary offence
    iii) I can’t see how you could possibly make a distinction between a “committed gay relationship” and a bit of swinging as a defence, given that the official doctrine of the Church of England sees no difference between the two when committed by one who is ordained (i.e. both are forbidden as being sexual activity with someone who you are not married to).

  5. Oh, I see. Being a layman I had forgotten that the legal basis for dealing with this sort of thing has changed. But I still don’t think it was very surprising that action was taken in this case! How far it would affect other kinds of case I am not really in a position to guess, although I would be surprised if the general pattern of disciplinary decisions altered all that much (unless perhaps there was a significant alteration in the pattern of complaints, for example).

  6. Peter, my provoking you to act, to test the waters is based on a number of things:

    (i)  Your preoccupation with canon law, and its affects on the life of the Church of England
    (ii)  Your desire to find a precedent which might be used to removes those from office that do not agree with your stated position on sexual relationships

    If these two things are as important as your posts on them seem to suggest, it seems to me that you would be as good as anyone to test out your suppositions.  At least in your acting, all of this would become more than intellectual exercise, and would indicate how serious you thought your own arguments were.

    On a few other matters, it seems to me that the Church of England might in words state what you say about sex before marriage; however, it does not necessarily in reality uphold such beliefs.  Take the laity, for example, there is no requirement made upon them to repent before marriage if they have been cohabiting, there is no barr to cohabiting couples holding somes offices in the Church that I am aware of, very few churches would withhold communion from such couples or individuals.  With regards to homosexual couples specifically amongst the laity, the Church, likewise, makes very few restrictive prescriptions about their life in the Church; in fact, there are some positive comments about such relationships in Issues in Human Sexuality.  Additionally, the Church of England does not forbid Civil Partnerships for the laity, nor even for the clergy.

    Can you imagine the Church affording such rights to openly confessing ‘Swingers’ – no call to repentance, allowing to hold office, affirming their rights to legal provisions.  So, on the basis of this, it seems to me that the Church does differentiate between different forms of sexual activity outside of marriage. 

    By the way, I would welcome an answer to my minor, but again provocative, point about other examples of behaviour unbecoming of a clergyman in the Canon you quoted; particularly, in relationship to the eucharist.  Clarity would be great in that I might try to make my own test case – I have a very specific church in mind!

    Pax, Winston.

  7. Peter, rereading you comment above, it does seem that you make your points on sex before marriage specifically in relation to the ordained.  However, I think my point in my last post still stand which is that ultimately that the Church does differentiate between different types of sex before marriage as exemplified with regards to lay people.  The question is why it inconsistent when applying this to the ordained and the expectations on the ordained back to the laity.  I suspect you personally would not want to differentiate between the laity and the ordained in the standards expected of them with regards to sex before marriage. 

  8. Winston,

    Canon C26 has nothing to say at all about the manner of life of the laity. Not sure why you brought it up, if only to muddy the waters.

    Would love to know the “specific church in mind”. Care to share?

  9. As regards your follow-up comment, well that’s the stance of “Issues” isn’t it? You need to take that up with the House of Bishops. I’ll concentrate on the law as it stands.

  10. Peter,

    No desire to be muddy.  However, what do you think?  Are you happy that the Church you have been ordained into does not uphold supposed ‘biblical’ standards on sex outside of marriage for those who are not ordained?  It seems to me that today liberalism for the laity, tomorrow the clergy?! 

    On the eucharist, doesn’t this look familiar:


    Of course, there could be an 8am lurking hidden somewhere?  You may though tell me you have some exemption!  Whatever next, exemptions to the canons of the Church relating to the conduct of an individual in Holy Orders, especially when these relates to the key sacrament of the Church?

    I guess I am being provocative again, Winston.

  11. Aah Winston, you cheeky (and provocative) pup. I had a sneaky suspicion a url similar to that might turn up. Can I suggest that your first port of call would to indeed check the existence of 8am BCPs, and then if you’re *still* dissatisfied (I don’t think you will be) to speak to the incumbent or the Archdeacon. Us humble curates are so far down the food chain, so to think that we have any authority (or more importantly, responsibility) in these matters…

    I think you misunderstand the nature of the Church of England. Since everybody is by default a member, we have little control over their private lives. Clergy on the other hand make much more specific vows and in doing so place themselves specifically in a position of accountability. I would expect a member of the laity to live to the Biblical standards of morality if they held any position of responsibility or leadership. I would expect the clergy to always be accountable by the very nature of their vows.

  12. I do like a bit of provocation!  I was so looking forward to a court case – we could have done your possible case with me as the accused in the morning, and could have turned the tables in the afternoon with regard to your church and the eucharist.  Of course, since you have 8am every week, and all the priests attend, I am undone. 

    I find your answer with regard to the laity and the Church of England fascinating.  I think I need to pray for you; you may be coming over to the relativist side after all.  The scenario you describe seems so at odds with the New Testament model of the Church – not inquiring into people’s morality, everybody members, ‘expect’ rather than demand – what would St. Paul say?

    Just back from Deanery Synod – the delights of the Church of England!

  13. Dear Rev Peter.
    Am not meaning to be polemical here, and first of all lets offer a prayer for Teresa Davies and her family, and her former parish, that she, and they may enter into the fulness of all that God has for them, in the fulness of time.

    I can see where you are going in terms of wondering this will be a precedent, but it seems that the issue being ajudicated in this tribunal is Adultery, rather than premarital or homosexual sexual activity by clergy; Davies is married, and yet she engaged, or sought to engage, in sexual activity outside her existent and current marriage, and although her husband consented, this does not negate the adultery and hence offence against Christian Marriage.

    What this tribunal upholds is the sanctity of marriage and more specifically, marital fidelity ‘forsaking all others’. And, of course, she incriminated herself. I suspect that were she a single woman who’d had a ‘one night stand’ with a single man, she’d have been treated more leniently- maybe a rebuke, a reassignment or a shorter ban. I think it is highly unlikely that any ‘Gay’ clergypeople in relationships will get censured under the CDM. The maxim of ‘dont ask-dont tell’, is pretty much the order of the day, and one finds this in FiF, as much as liberal Catholic circles.

    So arguably all this proves is that married clergy should not commit adultery, and that if they do, there are consquences. And of course the tribunal focussed as much on the alcohol issues as it did on the sexual ones.

  14. Peter, have you read the reference to sex before marriage in ‘The Body’s Grace’ – Rowan is certainly willing to differentiate different understandings of sex before marriage in the way that you are not for anyone lay or ordained.

    Sorry, moved deanery – not so exciting!

  15. Good point Rob, but then you’d need to demonstrate a moral distinction between one form of sex outside of marriage (adultery) and another (same-sex activity). Classically, the Scriptures have been understood to not make distinctions between one level of sin and another, and in terms of the formal view of Synod and the Canons, such distinctions equally don’t exist. The traditional view would be that “forsaking all others” is something that we commit to as clergy when we take our vows, forsaking all others except the spouse we will be (or are) married to, if we are to be married in God’s design.

    I agree with you that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is pretty firmly ingrained, but it is not the actual legal stance of the CofE and it could all unravel if someone wanted to go on a witch-hunt.

    Winston, you’re absolutely right about Rowan, but let’s remember that The Body’s Grace does not constitute an official advisory to the interpretation of the Canons.

  16. Perpetua,

    It’s a moniker given to him by the Daily Mail a few years ago. I believe (though I am happy to be corrected) that Martin Dudley has been through a divorce and second marriage and that there was some fuss around the circumstances. He is, as the Times have described, “vigorously heterosexual”.

  17. Peter –

    in haste, but just to respond to:

    “Good point Rob, but then you’d need to demonstrate a moral distinction between one form of sex outside of marriage (adultery) and another (same-sex activity)”

    …even tho’ I know it’s not addressed to me! Surely one moral distinction is that adultery involves betrayal of promises / commitment made, whereas same-sex sex of itself doesn’t (unless it’s adulterous of course…). It may be that, “the Scriptures have been understood to not make distinctions between one level of sin and another” but in the context of bringing cases to tribunals etc, surely such distinctions have to be made in order for sentencing to take place?

    in friendship, Blair

  18. Peter – indeed, but surely it’s the sentencing / tribunal process that’s at issue here, not the “theological judgement” – it’s the former that Rob was addressing in the relevant paragraph above…

    In friendship, Blair

  19. PS – what Scriptures would you cite to support your statement that, “Classically, the Scriptures have been understood to not make distinctions between one level of sin and another”? I realise there may be some – am not trying to imply there aren’t, but am curious as to how you’d build a case.


  20. It’s a good start, disciplining a clergyperson for sex outside marriage with the consent of her husband (is that adultery… or fornication?)!
    But it’ll be a brave Bishop who, in the face of the hatred of Stonewall and the liberal elite, sack clergy for being in a same-sex sexual relationship… or even for being involved in casual same-sex sex (which I, recently heard, is not uncommon among some single clergy).  Assuming, that is, that sufficient evidence can be provided.
    I’m not holding my breath!

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