Bishops and Clergy

More responses to the House of Bishops’ Statement.

First, the Bishop of Oxford.

John Pritchard, Bishop of OxfordThere’s a link here to the House of Bishops Pastoral Letter in response to the forthcoming change in legislation to permit same sex marriage. As the letter makes clear we aren’t changing the long-established understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, and we expect our clergy to live in a way that is consistent with the Church’s teaching.

The letter recognises that there is a range of views across the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, and these views are reflected in the House of Bishops.

It’s important to recognise that this letter will be difficult for some people, and that, as I said last December, we are committed to the ongoing conversation recommended in the Pilling Report. I hope that those conversations (of which more will emerge in the summer) will demonstrate respect for different perspectives and show kindness and humility as we wrestle with these questions and continue the journey towards understanding. Love and prayer are the most important gifts we can bring to the task.

Next the Bishop of Lincoln.

Christopher Lowson, Bishop of LincolnThe House of Bishops met last week to discuss the implications for the Church of the forthcoming change of legislation which will next month allow same-sex marriage. After its discussions, the House issued a statement which outlined the position of the Church in respect to same-sex marriage. The statement comes as an appendix to a pastoral letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York addressed to the clergy and people of the Church of England. The text of the letter and the statement are reproduced below.

As Bishop of Lincoln, I must draw your attention to the statement, and particularly the parts which affect current or potential congregation members, clergy and ordinands.

The House of Bishops recognises the strongly held and divergent views on this issue, both within the Church of England and across the Anglican Communion. These differences are also reflected within the House of Bishops. We are committed to the recommendation of the Pilling Report that the subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations, ecumenically, across the Anglican Communion and at national and diocesan level and that this should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture. The Report recommends that these conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing.

I would be very pleased to receive your comments and opinions on the statement, and on the issue generally. For some, the statement might be considered too weak; for others, too strong. As I lead the Diocese with a vision of growing in faith, confidence and joy, it is important to know how individuals and communities see the issue of same-sex marriage, as well as the many other issues which impact on our ministry and mission as the Church seeks to be an effective, relevant and respected force for good, both now and well into the future.

And finally, here’s someone who appears not to have read the Bishops’ Statement.

I suspect a conversation with the Bishop of London may occur shortly….

One more thought. The arrival today of my annual Church of England pension statement (feeble as it is) reminded me that the Church of England allows spousal pension arrangements for civil partners. How will it approach same-sex marriages? Will the same-sex spouse (marriage) of a priest be entitled to a spousal pension in the event of the death of the priest? Think about it…

26 Comments on “Bishops and Clergy

  1. Facilitated conversations while threatening gay priests who marry with unstated penalties? Yeah, good luck with that.

    Events have overtaken them, as I’m sure they’ll know when they, or their creatures, go check out the liberal haunts. That long (very long) suffering crowd are in open rebellion. They simply won’t accept anything but equal treatment now. Trust has well and truly broken down.

    It might — might — be possible to rebuild it, but only if the bishops go back to the drawing board. Any way forward is going to have to acknowledge the decades of dishonesty & realpolitik, the harm they’ve done, and personal responsibility on the part of the bishops.

    Even then, putting it back together will be a longshot.

    • I’m not sure it’s correct yet to say that events have overtaken the Bishops. All we have so far is talk. It’s when clergy actually defy Bishops that we will see how events unfold. So far it’s just bluster.

    • So, the alternative is to hold facilitated conversations, while the de facto stance of turning a blind eye makes a mockery of that process?

      I still can’t believe that you think that the CofE have miscalculated this. While many politicians voted for same-sex marriage, they also voted for the ‘opt-out’ protections that would allow religious organisations to continue to exercise religious freedom. Any attempt on the part of the government to legislate an ‘opt-in’ is treated as a violation of the church’s Article 9 rights.

      We are now in a different era. The broad coalition gets civil marriage and, of course, you can continue to campaign for change in the church. Sure, a story of a gay clergyman censured for converting his CP to a marriage will gain a few tabloid and bradsheet column inches, but like the Anglican couple who are planning to sue the church for not solemnising their marriage, it will blow over.

      Most people in this country think that you now have what you want: marriage. The secular majority that you courted couldn’t care less about what they view as an added religious ‘song and dance’ in frocks.

      • Exemptions to a law are one thing: footage of priests thrown out the church for getting married another entirely.

        Or no action is taken, and the bishops’ authority is gutted. Or it’s a lottery depending on the diocese.

        It might not occupy the frontpages, but the church is always good for a scandal, and this will be a whopper.

  2. Peter, you inspired me to look up GS1770b (there’s a lot going on of an evening down here in Devon).

    In that, +John Packer as chair of DRACSC makes clear that: “The legal requirement for the provision of surviving civil partners’ pensions for contracted out schemes was introduced when the concept of a civil partnership was created by the Civil Partnership Act 2005.”

    In other words, the church was obliged to make provision, although it chose to go further and except the Bratton motion (GS1170a) making service pre-2005 count towards a surviving civil partner’s pension. (As an aside, this led to the CofE having more generous arrangements for civil partners than the NHS pension scheme, though that may have changed since, I don’t know.)

    This is a long way around to saying that I would presume the CofE will again be obliged, de minimis, to make the legally required provision available. I believe that under the marriage (same sex couples) act, that requirement is the same as for a surviving civil partner (ie only applies to service post 2005 – although there’s debate as to whether it should extend to equal that of a surviving spouse, ie all service counts).

    Whilst the CofE undoubtedly has legal freedom to decline to ordain candidates who are in same sex marriages and are legally obliged not to conduct same sex weddings, I don’t believe there is any legal basis for the church to discriminate on pension provision.

    So:

    – if a stipendiary priest defies the bishops’ guidance and gets married to someone of the same sex, they may incur their bishop’s wrath, but their spouse will qualify for a CofE pension if they outlive them;
    – unless synod passes a specific measure, a couple converting their civil partnership into a marriage will, however, reduce the survivor’s pension payable to the spouse if the priest has been paid by the church since before 2005.

    This does rather underline the sense of it all being a bit of a mess.

    • Fun isn’t it?

      We could end up with the ludicrous position that the CofE has an explicit pension provision for a situation that it forbids its clergy to ever attempt to achieve.

      • Indeed Peter, I think we’re essentially already in that situation.

        One correction/update to what I wrote above, though. The government is due to report by 1st July as to whether or not pension provision for same sex spouses should be equalised with other married couples, rather than the current position (only service post 2005 counts, as for civil partnerships). Apparently there has been an ET ruling based on the ECHR which determined that different provision for civil partnerships is illegal, so it seems most probable that the government will require equalisation for all couples – marriages same sex or otherwise and civil partnerships – and the CofE will then obviously adhere to that.

        • Personally I think it (pension rights for spouses) should be equalised with traditional marriage for both same-sex marriage and Civil Partnerships. Can’t see a reason not to. Smacks of genuine discrimination frankly.

          • Yes, I absolutely agree. The financial impact is not going to be significant in the scale of a pension scheme – the only argument against would be if it could put some schemes into difficulty, but that’s not really credible.

      • I’m imagining the conversation between bishop and priest:

        “Don’t, whatever you do, marry your partner. That’s absolutely forbidden. And if you do, I’m warning you, we’ll give your partner a pension.”

        I guess you have to have a certain sense of the absurd to work in the CofE.

        • ‘But a pension based on your service until the day of your “marriage”. On that day you will receive a wedding certificate…and a P45.’

          • Sorry, pensions lawyer can’t resist this!
            1) It is true that legislation only requires Civil Partners’ pension rights to be backdated to May 2005, any further is at the choice of the employer. However, there is a case (Walker v Innospec) currently going to appeal where the court will be asked to decide whether this legislation is discriminatory and Civil Partners should recieve the same pensions rights as married couples.
            2) The government has not formally announced the position as regards same-sex marriage but it is highly likely that it will adopt the same position as with Civil Partners and only require backdating of pension rights to May 2005. Although, if Walker v Innospec finds that pensions for civil partners should be backdated then this approach will pretty much have to be followed for SSMs.
            I didn’t realise that the Clergy Pension Scheme had granted Civil Partners with pensions in excess of those required by statute. I wonder how that one slipped in to the pension scheme rules!!

              • As I wrote this the judgment hit my emails. I haven’t read it fully but the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that it was legal to limit civil partner pensions to service accrued since May 2005 (i.e. that it is legal for pension schemes to give civil partners lower pension rights than spouses).

                • Just another thing. The relevant date for accrual was 5 December 2005. I’ll try not to leave my attention to detail at home in future.

                • Thank you for the update. In that case (and assuming that the EAT decision doesn’t get overturned by the Court of Appeal), as you suggest, I suspect that the government will keep the statutory requirement the same for same sex spouses as for civil partners, at least for now.

                  I doubt synod would adopt a motion to vary that at present, so, if all those assumptions are correct, a stipendiary priest with service dating back before December 2005, currently in a civil partnership, would by marrying reduce the pension payable to their spouse in the event of their death.

                  I suspect in time a government, of one hue or another, will act to align terms for all spouses and civil partners, so it will probably be a temporary and largely theoretical anomaly.

                  • Interesting point. I’m trying to think through the legalities of that and would imagine that it will be impossible for the Clergy Pension Scheme not to equalise the benefits of Civil Partners and SS – married people. To do otherwise would almost certainly raise legal challenges, challenges which I would need to spend quite a few hours thinking about!

                    • I’d certainly favour the benefits being equalised, but I wonder on what grounds a legal challenge could be brought.

                      Presumably any case would argue discrimination on the grounds of marital status, but that normally suggests that a married person or someone in a civil partnership is being treated less favourably than a single person because they are married/in a civil partnership. Would it not break new ground to separate out marriage vs civil partnership and argue that an employer is not permitted to provide more favourable treatment than the statutory minimum to those in a civil partnership unless they also extend the same to those in same sex marriages?

                      It would certainly be an interesting case. I suspect the broader framework of law would have changed before such a case would be finally resolved.

                    • It may depend on how the regulations have been drafted. An intelligent draftsman would only allow SSM rights to be not backdated if CP rights were also not backdated. BUT I doubt the draftsman has been that intelligent.
                      The issue a court would have to decide is whether it is a breach of the Equalities Act (and potentially EU law) to discriminate between Civilly Partnered and SSM’d couples. That’s a tough question and its tough because having both doesn’t make sense (well, unless you have both for different sexed couples too). A court could go either way but I would imagine that it would prefer equalisation for policy and potentially indirect discrimination issues.
                      I don’t think a court has ever had to look at this kind of an issue so it is impossible to predict.

            • Thank you for that James.

              To answer your question, the church, in the form of DRACSC, had not proposed to go beyond the statutory requirement, however a private member’s motion which required it to do so, GS1770, was proposed and approved by a majority in all three houses of general synod in February 2010.

  3. The law of the land requires the Pensions Board to treat those who marry in register offices as legally married and entitled to be treated identically whether or not their “marriage” is heterosexual or homosexual. It was just the same with Civil Partnerships. The Church had no say about eligibility where pensions are concerned. Sadly.

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