Transcript of interview between William Crawley and Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield
The whole programme is on the BBC website here. The whole piece begins at 36.25 and lasts about five minutes, beginning with a conversation with Colin Coward.
WC What penalties could gay clergy face if they get married under the new same-sex marriage legislation?
SC Well can I just explain for a moment what the point of the statement is which may help people understand the background. As you’ve said, there are two sets of facts coming together to make this statement, or one like it, necessary. The Marriage Same Sex Couples Act becomes law in March but the Church of England’s teaching on marriage remains unchanged and that teaching is derived from the scriptures, it’s in our Canon Law and liturgy, it’s shared with the Church around the world and with our ecumenical partners and the Church believes that marriage is a permanent and life-long union for better or for worse between one man and one woman.
WC And you’ve banned your clergy getting married?
SC Well, we have to wrestle with the question that for the first time we’ll have two different definitions of marriage, one in the law of the land and one in the teaching and belief of the Church. What are we to do with that? We need to reflect and talk together and to think about what these two different understandings of marriage mean for the Church and society. We’ve just agreed a two year process of facilitated conversations to explore exactly those issues. We know we don’t all agree, it won’t always be an easy conversation, but it’s a vital question.
WC All of that’s true, all of these facilitated conversations are happening, but you’ve just put out pastoral guidelines saying you’re banning your clergy from entering into gay marriages.
SC We said ….
WC So I’m wondering what are the penalties if any clergy person decides to convert their civil partnership (because you already have some gay clergy in civil partnerships), into a marriage or if they enter into a marriage from the start when this legislation comes into place. What are the penalties?
SC We said the House of Bishops considers it would not be appropriate conduct for somebody in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives and to live by that and we would hope that clergy would respect that advice and guidance. I would strongly suggest and all the bishops would prefer to have conversations with people initially if they are contemplating going further than that and we would not want to …
WC You’re hoping not to have a standoff but Colin Coward says there are some challenges coming down the pipeline.
SC We’ll need to meet those as we meet them. And it’s really hard to predict exactly what they will be and how they will be shaped because it’s hard to predict the particular circumstances …
WC Will this depend on individual bishops and their attitude to clergy who do enter these marriages?
SC I think our hope as a House is to develop a consistent approach across the Church of England, that was the point, really, of having significant conversations between ourselves and issuing a statement together, we wanted there to be uniform guidance across the whole church.
WC So you’re hopeful, but you can’t guarantee that.
SC I’m hopeful but it’s very difficult to guarantee how particular cases will be taken forward and just exactly how people will respond to the guidance that’s been issued.
WC Final point, bishop. Colin Coward made this point, that he thinks the Church of England is heading for a pastoral disaster on this issue. Justin Welby told the General Synod this week that the Church risks seeming irrelevant with its views on gay marriage which some people, he said, will see as akin to racism. Doesn’t this new prohibition on clergy marriage add to those perceptions?
SC I think the Church has a responsibility both to offer love and care and welcome and we certainly said that, as you highlighted, in the statement for lay people who get married but also to hold onto what is distinctive about Christian teaching and understanding, something we share with the Church around the world, other parts of the Anglican Communion, other Churches. We have to balance both of those things and we all acknowledge that’s not easy and straightforward.