Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Same-sex ceremony conducted with Oxford bishop’s permission

The acting Bishop of Oxford authorized one of his clergy to perform a same-sex blessing. 

The acting Bishop of Oxford authorized one of his clergy to perform a same-sex blessing. On 3 May 2016 the Rev. Charlotte Bannister-Parker, (pictured) an associate priest at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford presided over the blessing of the marriage of the Rev. Mpho Tutu and Dr. Marceline van Furth at Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Hotel in the Western Cape.

Canon Tutu, the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Dr van Furth were married in a civil ceremony in Holland in December, and held a religious ceremony in South Africa this month before a congregation of some 80 guests, with exchange of rings, vows, Scripture readings, prayers and a nuptial blessing from Ms. Bannister-Parker that concluded: “We now recognise you as wife and wife. You may kiss each other,” local media reported.

After the ceremony, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, directed his suffragan, the Rt. Rev. Raphael Hess, Bishop of Saldanha Bay, to revoke Canon Tutu’s license as a priest of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa for violating the church’s prohibition on same-sex weddings. Canon Tutu, who heads up the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation in Cape Town, surrendered her license in South Africa, but remains a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

A  spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford said: “The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker accepted the invitation of Mpho Tutu to lead a celebration of her marriage to Marceline van Furth in her capacity as a friend of the family. She did so with the permission of both the Bishop of Saldanha Bay, the Rt Revd Raphael Hess, and the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher.”

“Contrary to some press reports, it should be made clear that the event on 5 May was not a wedding, and nor was it a blessing of the couple. It was simply a celebration of a wedding that took place in the Netherlands in December last year.”

While Church of England canon law forbids clergy from participating in ordination services in churches which are not legally recognised by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, acts that contravene matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial that take place outside of the jurisdiction of the Church of England are generally not actionable, a canon law expert said. “It is my understanding that the jurisdiction of the English ecclesiastical courts is largely, although not entirely, confined to the geographical territory of this realm of England. The existing (1963) legislation is no longer compliant with modern standards of justice and can not be used. To date the General Synod has not succeeded in updating it,” he observed. As Ms. Bannister-Parker acted with the prior consent of Bishop Fletcher she is not likely to be penalized for her actions.

Whether the distinction drawn by Bishop Fletcher of a pastoral blessing of a same-sex marriage and the solemnization of a same-sex marriage will survive the scrutiny of his peers is another matter, a source observed.


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