June 16, 2008
The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil by the “marriage” of two gay clergymen and threats of an exodus of priests opposed to the consecration of women bishops.
The Times has learnt that up to 500 Anglo-Catholic priests are ready to resign after failing to secure the concessions that they had sought over women bishops.
Church of England bishops have rejected plans for legal safeguards for those who had hoped for the introduction of extra-geographical dioceses as havens for traditionalists. Instead, plans to consecrate women bishops will be put to a vote at the General Synod in York next month, with the safeguards for opponents enshrined in a voluntary code.
A further blow will be dealt to the unity of the Anglican Communion this week when 200 traditionalist bishops attend a meeting as an alternative to the ten-yearly Lambeth Conference, which they plan to boycott. They will gather for the Global Anglican Future Conference, in Jordan, organised by evangelicals, in protest at what they see as the liberal direction of the communion.
Yesterday the Church of England was investigating the “wedding” of the two gay priests in defiance of church rules on such ceremonies.
Bishops have turned a blind eye to discreet services of blessing for gay couples but the wedding-style blessing service for the Rev Peter Cowell, a London hospital chaplain and priest at Westminster Abbey, and David Lord, a priest from New Zealand, could force the Church to act.
As the row escalated, Dr Lord surrendered his licence to minister as a priest in Waikato. It brings to the established Church a dispute that began in the United States, where the first consecration of an openly gay bishop took place in 2003, and Canada, where a diocese issued the first authorised gay blessing service.
The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, has asked his archdeacon to investigate but Mr Cowell was unrepentant yesterday. “Some people have to be courageous,” he said. “It was a conscious decision. We did it for each other and for family and friends.”
The Times understands that liberals are considering a legal challenge to guidelines that rule against blessings for civil partnerships but sanction a pastoral, prayerful response when gay couples enter a civil partnership.
The service was described as very grand, with an orchestral Mass, but appeared to be an act of provocation by deliberately using as much wording from the Prayer Book order of marriage as possible. Many senior clergy were among the 300 guests.
The Rev Martin Dudley, who presided at the ceremony, said that he had not consulted the church guidelines and strongly disagreed with them.