They spent all the night
So ends the well-known limerick which we will not quote in its entirety. It might well be a description of the recent debate in the General Synod on a private member’s motion. Mrs Ashworth had asked the Synod to express a desire and aspiration to be in communion with Anglican Church in North America (proprietor Archbishop Robert Duncan) as well as The Episcopal Church (proprietor Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori).
Whilst it is true that there are already anomalies in the way in which the CofE relates to other churches (the Episcopal Church is in full communion with the
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America whilst the Church of England is not); nevertheless, to be in full and unimpaired Communion with two churches, one of which is in the process of deposing the clergy of the other, would be new.
Intelligent observers of the Synod will have asked themselves the question: who decides with whom the Church of England is in communion? The answer is not as simple as it ought to be.
The Canons of the Church of England [p. 207] lists ‘Churches in communion with the Church of England’. But the list, alas, comes with a Health Warning: ‘The advice given in this note is given in good faith, but does not constitute a definitive ruling. Rule 54(5) of the Church Representation Rules provides that if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.’
A majority of the House of Bishops were eager that Lorna Ashworth’s motion should be kicked into the long grass, no doubt to avoid further tensions within the
world-wide Communion. The amendment called on the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to report back to the Synod. But to what end, we must ask? Supposing that the two Archbishops could agree one with another, they could presumably solve the problem tomorrow by a definitive ruling one way or the other.
They might also comment on what they see as the relationship between their own discretion in the matter and the pretensions of the Anglican Consultative Council to decide the membership of the Anglican Communion. These matters are not quibbles and much (not least the assurance of the validity of sacraments) depends on the answers to them.
Was the General Synod clear about its decision that pension benefits to survivors of a civil partnership were to be provided ‘on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses’? Perhaps not.
Whilst many may have made life-long loving commitments to each other, such commitments are not intrinsic to civil partnerships. Whereas marriage is entered into through the making of solemn vows, a civil partnership (as defined by the Act) is ‘a relationship between two people of the same sex which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other’, i.e. a civil partnership requires no vows, no life-long commitment, no love, no sexual acts, no fidelity – just signatures on a piece of paper.
Of course, the majority of civil partnerships involve relationships built on much more than a piece of paper, but it is possible to identify other situations in which people could legally and morally enter a civil partnership and, in so doing, be entitled to the pensions generously agreed by Synod.
Take, for example, an elderly female cleric concerned about the poverty of a young unmarried mother, whom she baptised as a baby. That cleric has prayed daily for an improvement in the young mother’s material circumstances. Could this pension provision be the answer to her prayers? All she has to do is register a civil partnership and die.
Or how about the octagenarian priest who sees the church he loves abandoning the faith? Why not enter into a civil partnership with a young seminarian? And let the ‘surviving partner’s pension’ help fund a priest in an Ordinariate? Not gold digging you understand; just taking advantage of legal rights and provisions, and the generosity of the General Synod.ND
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