The announcement that, after all, churches would be able to celebrate ‘same-sex marriages’, has come in the past week. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, justified this move as something which forces no-one, but allows those churches who wish to celebrate such ‘marriages’ to do so.
The situation in the Church of England will be very similar to that of the re-marriage of divorcees. As soon as the State changed the law to permit second (and subsequent) marriages, every beneficed Anglican clergyman could celebrate them in his own church. Bishops might condemn such unions and the Church Assembly try to forbid them: no clergyman could be disciplined.
When the C of E tried to regulate an increasingly chaotic situation it was advised that church legislation could not take away the right of a cleric to perform a ceremony which the law allowed. (One Bishop tried to tell his clergy that they must ask his ‘permission’, but no such permission was required from his Lordship!)
It seems that very much the same will be true for the Established Church once the state provides one-size-fits-all ‘marriage’. There are clergy queuing up to ‘marry’ same-sex couples. And they will have the legal right to do so. I imagine that General Synod will try to have a debate, and the House of Bishops may want to draw up regulations. But it suits them to be able to disclaim responsibility, breathing a sigh of relief that they will not have to come down on one side or the other.
Of course, it is the Evangelicals who will be most challenged over this issue; and the Liberals know it. They took on the Anglo-Catholics over women’s ordination and drove them into conformity or out of the C of E; now they are gearing up for the battle with the Evangelicals, and they will win it. A handful of big Evangelical parishes will raise millions of pounds to build new church premises down the road when they leave the C of E. With the conservative Evangelicals gone, most of the rest will conform (telling themselves that the Bible does, after all, permit people of the same gender to marry).
After the loss of the conservative Evangelicals the complexion of the General Synod will change, and the Women Bishops legislation will sail through. Parliament will nod its approval, but might then decide to dis-establish the Church of England after all: just to put it in its place.
So what is it to me anyway? What right have I as a Catholic to comment on what the C of E is doing. Just this: the C of E is the Established Church in the country of which I am a citizen. Its bishops sit as part of the legislature which makes laws which affect me. Indeed, their current justification for remaining in the House of Lords is precisely that they represent me and all ‘people of faith’. Over and above that, I am deeply concerned for my Catholic-minded friends who have decided, for better or worse, to remain in the C of E. And that includes my women clergy friends. Here is the heart of the current crisis – not women in ministry, nor even gay relationships, but the subjection of the Church in England to the State. Remember that the Oxford Movement (the Catholic Revival in the C of E) began in 1833 when John Keble challenged the Government over its decision to abolish bishoprics in Ireland.
So come on Anglo-Catholics, like me you know now that the Establishment is going to destroy the Church England’s claim to be, in any sense, a Church, let alone the Church in England. However we may have justified the Establishment as our opportunity to witness to the nation, we know now that the Government has no intention of any such role for the future C of E. What should you do? Join the Ordinariate, and find your future in the Catholic Church.
Since this post was written it has been announced that the Church of England will be specifically excluded from the right to celebrate ‘same-sex marriages’. My guess is that this will soon be challenged in the General Synod, leading to several years of controversy, debate and cliff-hanger votes. At the end of the process, will it fail in the House of Laity? And what will be the reaction of our MP’s? No prizes from this blog for foregone conclusions.