A Church of England priest who blessed the same-sex partnership of two of his fellow clergy in a church ceremony has expressed regret for his actions.
Reverend Peter Cowell and Reverend David Lord exchanged vows in a “blessing ceremony” at St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London in May.
When news of the service broke, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, ordered an investigation into the cleric who officiated, Rev Dr Martin Dudley.
The Archdeacon of London carried out the investigation with Chancellor of the Diocese.
“This has involved a series of frank discussions with the Rector,” a diocesan statement issued yesterday said.
“As a consequence, the Rector has made expressly clear his regret over what happened at St Bartholomew the Great and accepted the service should not have taken place.
“Bishop Richard considered the matter and has decided to accept the Rector’s apology in full. The matter is therefore now closed.”
It is reported that the Bishop put pressure on Rev Dudley to allow his letter to be made public.
A civil partnership ceremony cannot legally take place in a religious institution.
In this instance a full Church of England ceremony had taken place.
Under House of Bishops guidelines, clerics are allowed to enter into a civil partnership as long as they are not engaging in sexual relations but “clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.
“Clergy who are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership are reminded to respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case, having regard to the teaching of the church on sexual morality, celibacy, and the positive value of committed friendships in the Christian tradition.”
Rev Dudley said in a statement released by the diocese that he will abide by the Anglican Church’s position on gay issues but warned that the rules are being “widely disregarded.”
“I can now appreciate that the service held at St Bartholomew the Great on 31 May 2008 was inconsistent with the terms of the Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops issued in 2005,” he said.
“Whilst the precise status of this pastoral document within the Church of England generally and the Diocese of London in particular may be a matter of differing interpretations, I ought to have afforded it far greater weight.
“I regret the embarrassment caused to you by this event and by its subsequent portrayal in the media.
“I now recognise that I should not have responded positively to the request for this service, even though it was made by another incumbent of your Diocese, who is a colleague, neighbour and friend of us both, nor should I have adopted uncritically the Order of Service prepared by him and his partner.
“I had not appreciated that the event would have been attended by so many nor that it would have attracted the publicity and notoriety which it did.
“I share your abhorrence of homophobia in all its forms.
“I am profoundly uneasy with much of the content of the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement which anecdotal evidence suggests is being widely, though discreetly, disregarded in this Diocese and elsewhere.
“Nonetheless, I am willing to abide by its content in the future, until such time as it is rescinded or amended, and I undertake not to provide any form of blessing for same sex couples registering civil partnerships.”