Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 15:12 UK

Gay wedding rector issues apology

By Robert Pigott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

Dr Martin Dudley
Dr Dudley says he did not expect to attract so much publicity

A rector who conducted what amounted to a marriage service for two gay priests has apologised for the ceremony.

The Rev Martin Dudley prompted fierce controversy in the Church of England when he conducted the blessing for the Rev David Lord and Rev Peter Cowell.

In an e-mail seen by the BBC, Assistant Bishop of London Pete Broadbent said Dr Dudley had "accepted that the service should not have taken place".

The service was at his London church, St Bartholomew the Great, in May.

It was one of the churches used in the hit 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Order of service

A statement of apology written by Dr Dudley was included in the letter e-mailed to clergy of the Diocese of London on Friday.

In it Dr Dudley said: "I regret the embarrassment caused to you by this event... I now recognise that I should not have responded positively to the request for this service."

Traditionalists were angered in particular by the way in which the blessing of the couple's civil partnership followed so closely the order of service contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

I can now appreciate that the service held at St Bartholomew the Great on 31st May 2008 was inconsistent with the terms of the Pastoral Statement of the House of Bishops
Rev Martin Dudley

The couple exchanged rings, and made vows including the words, "With my body I thee worship."

Dr Dudley acknowledged that he should not have "accepted uncritically the Order of Service prepared by [Dr Lord and Mr Cowell]".

The embarrassment caused to the Church was all the greater because it took place shortly before bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion gathered to discuss their highly-charged dispute over homosexuality.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement of rebuke.

'Notoriety'

They reminded Dr Dudley, Dr Lord and Mr Cowell that even if they disagreed with the Church's teaching on sexuality they were "not at liberty simply to disregard it".

Traditionalists were already unhappy that Anglican bishops had allowed priests to enter civil partnerships.

A "pastoral statement" by the House of Bishops in 2005 said clergy were at liberty to do so as long as they assured their bishop that they would be not having an actively sexual relationship.

The statement repeated the Church's policy that although it would not wish to exclude lay people, including homosexual people, if they had sexual relationships, it expected clergy to remain celibate.

St Bartholomew the Great Church
Diocese of London clergy received an e-mailed apology

Dr Dudley acknowledged that he had given "too little weight" to the guidance when he allowed the service to take place.

He wrote: "I can now appreciate that the service held at St Bartholomew the Great on 31st May 2008 was inconsistent with the terms of the Pastoral Statement of the House of Bishops."

Legal opinion offered by a traditionalist group, Anglican Mainstream, at the time of the service, suggested that the service had broken Church law.

Dr James Behrens, of Lincoln's Inn in London, said that clergy were allowed to make minor alterations to the wording of services, but that changes had to be "reverent and seemly" and not imply any "departure from the doctrine of the Church".

Dr Dudley's statement added that he had not realised that the event would have "attracted the publicity and notoriety which it did".

He promised not to conduct any form of blessing for same-sex couples.


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