A Turbulent Priest and the Anglican Headache
Shortly before the opening of what is set to be, for Anglicans, a wearingly divisive Lambeth Conference, comes the fuss over a "gay wedding" of two clergymen officiated by the rector of a well-known City of London church. Martin Dudley, rector of "St Barts" – as St Bartholomew’s is affectionately known – denies that he was celebrating a marriage, which, he says, can only take place between a man and a woman. But in a forceful New Statesman article just out, he explains why he had no hesitation in using the traditional Anglican formula. "We were in unchartered territory, seeking to find the words that would express the love of Peter and David and their commitment to each other. New words could not carry the burden and we turned to the old, to words shaped by centuries of use, redolent with meaning." Interestingly, Dudley is not gay. The married father of two begins his article, amusingly, like this:
Robustly heterosexual since early adolescence, unable to see that any love surpasses the love of women, and once branded by the odious Daily Mail as ’Dud the Stud’, I may seem miscast in the role into which I have now been thrust, that of the turbulent rebellious priest who defies bishop and archbishop to bless two gay men, also priests, in their civil partnership.But for Catholic observers of the swirling tides of Anglican disintegration, the main significance of this is ecclesiological. A Catholic priest who defied the rules of the Church like this would be simply removed from his parish by his bishop. But Anglicans with "tenure" have nothing to fear. This is the real source of the Church of England headache, just as it is the source of the current disarray in the Anglican Communion -- the structures simply do not exist to implement the kind of communion Catholics take for granted. For many Anglicans, of course, that is a source of pride, not embarrassment –although it is hard to find an Anglican these days who is not mortified by the global schisms and spats over women bishops, gay bishops and same-sex blessings, typified by the boycott of the Lambeth conference by 200 traditionalist bishops meeting at a counter-summit in Jordan. But the kind of defiance Dudley has shown in response to the investigation announced by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, is breathtaking to Catholic sensibilities. "You can’t sack me because you don’t employ me, " he tells the Evening Standard. " As the rector of St Bartholomew the Great, I own the church, I own the freehold -- not in the sense that I can sell it, but in the sense that it gives me tenure." There may be more of a grey area here than he reckons. But he cites a 2004 book, Churchwardens: A Survival Guide, which, he says, spells out his legal rights. Its author? One Martin Dudley. Austen Ivereigh
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