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BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson
"It was perhaps inevitable that the Church would bow to the rising tide of divorce"
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The Rev David Holloway and Rev Kenneth Bowler
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Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 14:59 GMT
Clergy split on marriage reform

Some clergy object to remarrying divorcees

The Church of England is set to formally allow divorcess to remarry in church - prompting a storm of protest from clergy against the reform.

Although some clergy already agree to marry divorced people, the Church's consultation document is a sign of possible change to the tough official line.

If these proposals win acceptance, the Church will not simply marry anyone who turns up and asks to be married
Bishop of Winchester
The Church has traditionally said marriage is a life-long commitment, but a working party headed by the Bishop of Winchester is recommending that in some circumstances divorced Anglicans should be allowed to be remarried by a priest.

Critics have attacked the plans as an assault on the institution of marriage.

The Rev David Holloway told the BBC's One O'Clock News that the move would fuel the UK's "divorce culture" that undermined society.

'God knows best'

He said: "The fundamental issue is are we going to institutionalise secular non-Christian patterns of divorce and remarriage or the teachings of Jesus?"

Jesus was the "most forgiving person, the most compassionate person ever", he said.

"But he was the most strict when it came to questions of remarriage and divorce.

wedding Traditionalists say a wedding is for life
"That has been difficult for Christians - it was difficult for the early disciples. So what we say is God knows best," he said.

On present trends, four out of every 10 married couples in the UK are likely to divorce long before reaching the stage of "till death us do part".

But the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt said: "If these proposals win acceptance, the Church will not simply marry anyone who turns up and asks to be married.

"In many situations there are strong pastoral reasons why a local church will want to help people make a new start.

"With some people, however, it is clear that their past marriage has not been left behind, that its obligations have not been honoured.

"Some people, in asking the Church to help them to make a second marriage, are asking us to approve of behaviour of which we cannot approve."

The report is being presented as a discussion document, to be considered in the dioceses before going to the church's governing body, its General Synod, for debate.

Even after that, it would be left to the bishops to take the final decision.

Err on side of forgiveness

In every diocese there are already clergy who exercise their discretion and marry divorced people.

The Rev Kenneth Bowler - who has performed a number of remarriages of divorcees - said there was no intention of undermining the institution of marriage.

This report in effect codifies what has already become practice in many parishes
Bishop of Birmingham
He said: "People come to us, we don't go out to recruit people to be married whether they have been married before or not.

When he had remarried divorcees, he said, his priority was to ascertain that they had not been responsible for the marriage break-up.

"It seemed to me that Jesus' forgiveness far outweighed all the marvellous models that he gave and so I hope I have erred on the side of forgiveness and reconciliation and wholeness," he added.

Charles and Camilla

Church leaders have remained non-committal on whether the new proposals would open the way for the Prince of Wales to marry Camilla Parker Bowles.

Mr Scott-Joynt said it was a personal matter which was not for public discussion.

He added: "There is in law no way in which the marriage of the heir to the throne could be discussed without the engagement of the Church in the form of the Archbishop of Canterbury."

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev Mark Santer, welcomed the report as "principled and pastorally realistic".

He added: "The question of remarriage of those who have previously been married has been widely discussed throughout the church for at least 20 years.

"This report in effect codifies what has already become practice in many parishes.

The historical irony is that the Church of England owes its very existence to Henry VIII's wish to divorce his first wife.

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See also:
25 Jan 00 |  UK
The church of little change
20 Sep 99 |  UK
Church tackles divorce and cohabitation
20 Sep 99 |  UK
Church hints at change on remarriage

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