Shortly before the opening of what is set to be, for Anglicans, a wearingly divisive Lambeth Conference, comes the fuss over a "gay wedding" of two clergymen officiated by the rector of a well-known City of London church. Martin Dudley, rector of "St Barts" – as St Bartholomew’s is affectionately known – denies that he was celebrating a marriage, which, he says, can only take place between a man and a woman. But in a forceful New Statesman article just out, he explains why he had no hesitation in using the traditional Anglican formula. "We were in unchartered territory, seeking to find the words that would express the love of Peter and David and their commitment to each other. New words could not carry the burden and we turned to the old, to words shaped by centuries of use, redolent with meaning." Interestingly, Dudley is not gay. The married father of two begins his article, amusingly, like this:
Robustly heterosexual since early adolescence, unable to see that any love surpasses the love of women, and once branded by the odious Daily Mail as ’Dud the Stud’, I may seem miscast in the role into which I have now been thrust, that of the turbulent rebellious priest who defies bishop and archbishop to bless two gay men, also priests, in their civil partnership.
But for Catholic observers of the swirling tides of Anglican disintegration, the main significance of this is ecclesiological. A Catholic priest who defied the rules of the Church like this would be simply removed from his parish by his bishop. But Anglicans with "tenure" have nothing to fear. This is the real source of the Church of England headache, just as it is the source of the current disarray in the Anglican Communion -- the structures simply do not exist to implement the kind of communion Catholics take for granted. For many Anglicans, of course, that is a source of pride, not embarrassment –although it is hard to find an Anglican these days who is not mortified by the global schisms and spats over women bishops, gay bishops and same-sex blessings, typified by the boycott of the Lambeth conference by 200 traditionalist bishops meeting at a counter-summit in Jordan. But the kind of defiance Dudley has shown in response to the investigation announced by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, is breathtaking to Catholic sensibilities. "You can’t sack me because you don’t employ me, " he tells the Evening Standard. " As the rector of St Bartholomew the Great, I own the church, I own the freehold -- not in the sense that I can sell it, but in the sense that it gives me tenure." There may be more of a grey area here than he reckons. But he cites a 2004 book, Churchwardens: A Survival Guide, which, he says, spells out his legal rights. Its author? One Martin Dudley. Austen Ivereigh

Comments

Anonymous | 6/23/2008 - 10:10am
When Martin Pendergast refers to Catholic priests celebrating blessings and Masses of Thanksgiving and midday prayer liturgies etc. for same-sex couples, he is talking about something quite different, in both Anglican and Catholic Churches, from a nuptial Mass (and its Anglican equivalent), which canonically can only take place between a man and a woman. Any Catholic priest who attempted to celebrate what in canon law is the rite of marriage for a same-sex couple, would be attempting something canonically invalid. In the Catholic Church such a priest would be reprimanded, and if obstinate, removed. I merely wished to point that out, and explain why in the Anglican Church such a sanction does not exist. I'm sorry if Martin read that as proof of my ''prejudices''. But whatever my views (which aren't important), what I said remains true.
Anonymous | 6/21/2008 - 8:54am
It should be pointed out that Austin Ivereigh's opinions represent his own personal prejudices. In spite of his previous career in high ecclesiastical places, not all UK Catholics would agree with his analysis. It is quite disingenuous to suggest that ''a Catholic priest who defied the rules of the Church like this would be simply removed from his parish by his bishop.'' Following the UK Civil Partnerships' legislation a number of couples have held celebratory liturgies in Catholic churches. These have included Masses of Thanksgiving and Services of Prayer and Blessing. These may well have been private occasions, but there has often been some recognition within the parish context of such events taking place. When my partner and I celebrated the 25th Anniversary of our relationship in 2001 with a Mass of Thanksgiving, while the two Catholic bishops who were due to preside were requested not to by the local Ordinary, interestingly as a result of a breach of our privacy by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, the priest who stepped in suffered no such recriminations. When we celebrated our Civil Partnership in 2006 with a Liturgy of Midday Prayer in our parish, again no penalties were enacted either against the presiding priest, or the homilist, or our parish priest at the time. Indeed on the Sunday after, our names were included in the list of intercessions at Mass. Instead of ''swirling tides of disintegration'' LGBT people, their pastors and families, are delighted that the vast majority of people in the pews, across many mainstream Churches, have enough common sense, commitment to justice, and not least Christian faith to recognise love when they see it and support it being celebrated.
Anonymous | 6/23/2008 - 6:40am
Discussions or comments regarding "Anglican Schism" fail to cite the actual reasons for the schism, focusing instead on matters sexual as the cause. A new book: "Steeplejacking" (as in 'car-jacking') and an article by Jim Naughton, "Follow the Money" lay out the actual blueprint of the schism and those behind it.
Anonymous | 6/20/2008 - 2:36am
I rather doubt that the freehold is the real source of the C of E headache. Nor do most Anglicans want (I'd venture to say) the kind of communion that Roman Catholics take for granted (where a priest 'is simply removed from his parish by his bishop'). The headache, if it can be called that, is how a church discerns God's will in on issues where there is serious theological disagreement, and where, if one 'side' is right, there is also serious, damaging and potentially sinful discrimination; and where, if the other 'side' is right, there is a serious misreading of the meaning of human sexuality that could lead us in the wrong direction entirely. These are the sorts of real heart-breaking issues that are bringing the Anglican Communion under pressure. They have little to do with freehold; rather they have everything to do with their raising of fundamental theological questions. Are we able to change our minds on this issue, just as we did on usury, on the dignity and role of women (including women's ordination), on slavery, on the ends of marriage, or is this different? How do we decide? What do you do in the meantime? What if we get it wrong?
Anonymous | 6/19/2008 - 1:36pm
As an American Anglican/Episcopalian, I resigned my church membership a few years ago when approval was given to gay priests and bishops. In private life, perhaps being gay is between the individual and God. However, how can a person who lives in violation of scripture properly and adequately lead a congregation or diocese? How can they lead us in confession, then grant absolution when they do not truly repent their own sin? Sadly, A.
Anonymous | 6/19/2008 - 1:34pm
As an Anglican/Episcopalian in the United States, I resigned my church membership. I do NOT feel that I left the church, but that the church left me. With gay priests and bishops in the U.S., the church has abandoned the basics of the Bible. How can those who are in violation of scripture lead their congregations? How can they lead us in confession and grant absolution when they live in sin? Sadly, A.
Anonymous | 6/19/2008 - 10:56am
An interesting article. But I do have one comment for the author. He describes how a Catholic priest would be simply removed from the parish for such an act of defiance; this strong control over the clergy, he says, allows for the Catholic ''communion''. But I wouldn't call this situation a communion, in the full and meaningful sense of the word. Active prevention of dissent sounds closer to ''coercion''; it destroys opportunities for meaningful disagreement, especially important when the church hierarchy might actually be wrong about something, but does not yet realize it. On the other hand, the article does a great job highlighting how enabling such active dissent can snowball into horrifyingly gigantic disagreements, and potential schism. So it appears that, one way or another, an extreme approach leads to problems.