C. of E. Bishop acts against married gay priest

A report in today’s Mail on Sunday  by Jonathan Petre says that Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who married Laurence Cunnington in April, is to have his rights to operate as a priest revoked. Jeremy was the first clergy person, so far as Changing Attitude knows, to marry following the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.

Jonathan Petre’s report says Bishop Richard Inwood removed Jeremy’s ‘Permission to Officiate’. The diocesan See is vacant at the moment and Richard Inwood, an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese, is acting for the diocesan. Richard Inwood wrote and asked Jeremy to return his licence (in effect asking him to resign) shortly after interviewing him and after consulting John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, whose instructions Richard Inwood has followed.

Jeremy also holds a licence in the Diocese of Lincoln where he is at present a hospital chaplain and this has not been revoked. Following an interview with the Bishop of Lincoln Jeremy was given a slap on the wrist for getting married, a note being put on his file and his name sent to Lambeth Palace.

The House of Bishops’ guidelines released in February said that clergy should not enter into such unions because they undermined the traditional Church teaching that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman. The Archbishop of York has required this action to be taken against Jeremy despite the message that has gone out from Lambeth Palace – bishops, let be, take no action. The Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, has been asked to keep a watching brief on developments. I’d be very interested to know how he is reacting to this news.

The Diocese of Southwell said it was a private matter. This is not a private matter. The action taken by Richard Inwood and John Sentamu has huge implications for lesbian and gay clergy in the Church of England, for any lesbian or gay person exploring a vocation and for every lesbian and gay ordinand. It has implications for the friends and families of these people and those whom they are already serving in parishes and chaplaincies or seek to serve in the future.

The action taken by the bishop and archbishop has implications for the place of the Church of England in English society and for the teaching of the Church about marriage, intimacy and same-sex relationships.

The majority of members of the House of Bishops (including some who would be indentified as conservative evangelicals) are quietly or actively supportive of those lesbian and gay clergy who are partnered and open to their bishop. There are of course many lesbian and gay partnered clergy who are not open for fear of the repercussions that might ensue. Bishops actively support lesbian and gay clergy living together either as a co-habiting couple or in a civil partnership. The Archbishop of York and Richard Inwood take action against a priest who legalizes his relational status and marries.

As Father Andrew Cain, who married his partner yesterday, told Jonathan Petre: ‘Making a lifetime commitment to another person is what we preach. Simon Sarmiento, speaking for Inclusive Church, said: ‘If the bishops continue to take disciplinary action against clergy getting married they must expect a backlash.’

It’s very difficult to be 100% accurate in reporting events in the Church of England. There are several inaccuracies in Jonathan’s report and there may be inaccuracies in this report, and I’d welcome corrections if there are.

The Bishop’s action against Jeremy is intolerable. Jeremy and Laurence have married because they love each other and are totally committed to each other. Jeremy has a vocation to the priesthood and a particular vocation to hospital chaplaincy. The Church examined Jeremy and recognized his vocation. Now that Jeremy identifies as gay and is in same-sex relationship which has been legally formalized, the Church reneges on its original evaluation of Jeremy’s vocation and demands that he resign.

This is about the most fundamental of Christian qualities – love and fidelity. The Gospel we proclaim is of the grace of God pouring into creation, exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as he lived on earth God’s gracious, infinite, unconditional love and fidelity in creation.

I’m not sure what Changing Attitude will do in response to the action and any further action against lesbian and gay clergy who marry. We will stand with our sister organizations in the LGBTI Anglican Coalition in supporting those who are angered by what has happened and who may be fearful for their own future in the Church. We will engage with bishops and archbishops in whatever ways we can to persuade them to change the teaching of the House of Bishops guidelines. And we will encourage people to follow their hearts and open themselves in love to the intimacy of a faithful relationship, and will challenge those who want to impose a legalistic, unloving version of the Gospel on LGBTI people whom God has always been creating and calling into faithful personal relationships and loving service for the Kingdom of God.

The Reverend Colin Coward MBE
Director of Changing Attitudes


This article by The Revd. Colin Coward, Director of ‘Changing Attitudes’, who was recently awarded the MBE by H.M.The Queen for his services to LGBT people in the United Kingdom, gives clear notice of the furore that will undoubtedly emerge in the Church of England with this delayed reaction to the first civil marriage of a gay licensed clergy-person in that Church.

This initial disciplinary action has not been taken by a diocesan bishop – there not being any such at the moment in the Southwell Diocese – but by an assistant bishop, Richard Inwood, who, after consulting with the archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, has demanded the return of the diocesan Licence to Officiate in the Southwell Diocese, where the priest, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, lives and worships with his marital same-sex partner.

This action was not entirely unexpected!

However, as Canon Pemberton is actually employed as a N.H.S. chaplain in the Diocese of Lincoln and, at the moment, retains his licence to operate in the Lincoln Diocese; there could be some embarrassing  dialogue forthcoming between the Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Dr. Sentamu, (as well as the Bishop of Lincoln) over the situation, which clearly will be a problem for the Church of England at the present time – especially in light of the fact that another same-sex clergy-person’s Civil Marriage has already taken place.

While these two marriage situations might seem to have been ‘jumping the gun’, so to speak, in terms of pre-empting any outcome of further discussion in the Church of England about the applicability of the married state for same-sex couples among the clergy; there were almost bound to be instances where – impatient with the process of acceptance of monogamous same-sex relationships being blessed in the Church – some couples, including clergy couples, are anxious to free the Church of prejudice against what they see to be their civic right to be married according to the law of the land, as now established. The Press have been quite busy in their coverage of this story – a factor that will no doubt encourage the Church hierarchy to act swiftly – one hopes justly – on the matter.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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5 Responses to C. of E. Bishop acts against married gay priest

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    Canon Pemberton shall remain a priest, whatever “paperwork” + York has initiated.
    The Cof E ought to tread very carefully in these matters,in England it would be sad to see breakaway formations occurring in the manner of North America.
    Apart from fundamentalist groupings within the C of E,I cannot see the laity being in favour of penalising priests.
    These days there is a lot of chatter on BBC Radio concerning LGBT matters,interestingly centering around “revelation” religion versus other thinking on God’s creation.
    Meanwhile let us all continue to pray,especially around the matters discussed recently between Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby.Poverty is not only material,we must recognise that we can be guilty of a Poverty of human making if we limit God’s purposes to the binary chosen.

    Jesu mercy. Mary pray!

  2. Michael Primrose says:

    Hi Father Ron,

    Here in Aotearoa, the Church seems ready to add a further cruel twist to its possible, but hitherto undefined, “Service of Recognition” for same-gendered couples of the faith community, who have been previously united by the State, and who are in monogamous, long term relationships.

    The couples also seem to be required to be in “right-ordered” relationships. After some interesting digging on the Web, it would appear that, according to Church teaching, there are two sorts of relationships that people can be in Either, a couple is married, presumably by the Church, in which case sexual relations between the partners is allowed to occur, or a couple has to be celibate.

    Given the Church is not going to marry same-sex couples etc., and that the Church also doesn’t appear to be very happy about the situation, when the same-sex couples do have civil marriages, it would appear that “marriage” doesn’t form part of the thinking about right-ordered relationships in this case

    This leaves celibacy!

    If celibacy is taken to mean “a voluntary renunciation of marriage”, then I’m not sure why a same-sex couple, who have just been married in a civil ceremony, would want to voluntarily renounce marriage just to get a Recognition. It seems to be a rather illogical and foolish hope, on the part of the Church , and therefore, can probably be removed from further speculation.

    Which leaves us with celibacy, in its common usage, as “an abstinence from sex”, and I may seem somewhat cynical, but I would have thought that the number of truthful same-sex couples of the faith community, previously united by the State, who were in monogamous, long term relationships AND who were both totally celibate, would be vanishingly small. The Church is presumably not going to bowled over in the rush of couples eager to be “Recognised”, it they set such a narrow filter to begin with. Which may be the point of the exercise, of course.

    I will admit that I am not terribly certain what the clerical definition of celibacy is, when applied to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gendered couples, since the same “catch-all” phrasing isn’t going to hold for all the airs and variations that such couplings imply. I do wonder if the Church has worked out, in any practical detail, what celibacy actually means in these cases, or is it all still theoretical and theological as yet?

    And if it has worked it out, why same-sex couples have to be so blessed above all other couples?

    I look forward to asking the question, over a cup of tea, of any passing Bishop I may see.

    Michael Primrose, Christchurch

    • kiwianglo says:

      Hello, Michael. Good to hear from you here in Christchurch.

      Regarding the Church’s understanding of the word ‘celibate’, I understand this to be ‘devoid of sexual activity’.

      The Church does entertain another sort of relationship – even amongst heterosexual married couples – which they deem to consider to be ‘chaste’ – that is, sexual activity contained within the specific marriage bond. However, for homosexuals, this is not considered by official Church teaching to come under the classification of ‘chaste’. This seems to me unfair.

      You will have noticed that, in the English situation, the Church – having at first opposed any same-sex relationships, including Civil Partnerships provided by the State – is now (in the light of the possibility of possibly needing to accommodate to same-sex marriage) seen to be opening up to the possibility of ‘Recognising’ Same-Sex C.P.s. I know personally of at least one same-sex clergy partnership (C.P.) in the Church of England that is tacitly acknowledged by the local bishop. The parishioners know about it and the parish thrives!

      Like you, I believe that most monogamously partnered Same-Sex Couples – certainly those who have already sustained a faithful partnership – will just ignore whatever the Church may be disposed to offer – short of full recognition of Same-Sex Marriage – which is offered by the state. What this does for Christians in this situation, I believe, is less than what the Gospel might demand of Christ’s Church.

      Apropos of Trans-gender couples, I know of one transgender person who is currently (by my encouragement) an active member of an Anglican Church community, and is also a member of her diocesan synod. So at least ACANZP has at least one openly transgendered active layperson. In the present situation, sad as it seems, LGBT people seem generally not encouraged to be open to the Church about their innate sexuality. This seems to me to be tantamount to hypocrisy. I pray God that situation may change, very soon.

      Agape, Fr. Ron

  3. Michael Primrose says:

    Hi Father Ron,

    You may possibly be aware of an interview with Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the history of the church at the University of Oxford, which was given at the Adelaide Writers Festival earlier this year. The interview was related to his new book “Silences : A Christian History”. During the interview he makes a number of interesting points about the issue of celibacy in the clergy and how that was enforced, and also about the slowly changing attitudes of the Anglican Church to homosexuals.

    The interview can be found at

    and if you want to download the Podcast to listen to it in detail, the link is

    [audio src="http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2014/04/bia_20140415_2005.mp3" /]

    The author is amusing in a High Anglican, Oxbridge High Table way, so the interview is both witty and erudite. Some of his comments, e.g one about Anglicans and Choral Evensong, may raise a knowing chuckle.

    Michael Primrose, Christchurch

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