Priest Who ‘Wed’ Partner Sues Church of England for Denying Permission to Serve in Public Ministry

Photo: Hans Musil
Photo: Hans Musil

LONDON — A homosexual priest with the Church of England has sued the denomination for allegedly denying a license to serve in public ministry, also known as permission to officiate (PTO), after he “wed” his partner last year.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton, a divorced father of five, had tied the knot with Laurence Cunnington in April 2014, and afterwards learned that a job offer to serve as a hospital chaplain at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust was being rescinded since he had been refused PTO from a local bishop. Heretofore, he had worked as a chaplain at Lincoln County Hospital and desired additional opportunities.

“All clergy wishing to exercise a public ministry other than in senior appointments or as incumbent must be granted either permission to officiate or a licence by the diocesan bishop,” the denomination’s rules state. “Whether to give a self-supporting cleric permission to officiate or a licence as assistant curate will be, to some extent, a matter of judgement.”

Now, Pemberton has taken his complaint before an employment tribunal, asserting that church officials discriminated against him by denying him PTO.

“PTOs are [only] really revoked if someone has done something serious, they’re criminally involved, is involved in an affair or has lost their capacity,” he told reporters.

Pemberton says he doesn’t believe his violation is serious and therefore, didn’t warrant the denial.

“Just because the Church of England treats lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) clergy as second-class Christians, this is no excuse for it to impose its anti-gay discrimination on non-church institutions,” Peter Tatchell, who is representing Pemberton, told reporters.

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But Richard Inwood, the acting bishop of Southwell and Nottingham at the time, said that same-sex “marriage” is contrary to church doctrine and therefore, he could not issue the license.

Pemberton’s court case began on Monday at the Nottingham Justice Centre.

“The Church of England’s doctrine on marriage is clear. The church quite reasonably expects its clergy to honour their commitment to model and live up to the teachings of the church,” a spokesman for the Church of England told reporters. “Clergy do not have the option of treating the teachings of the church as an à la carte menu and only modelling those with which they personally agree.”

However, he noted that the denomination does not take issue with civil unions.

“The church is currently involved in a process of shared conversation about a range of issues on sexuality in regions across the country,” the spokesman stated. “It is regrettable that this case risks undermining that process by invoking legislation which does not even apply to this situation.”

As previously reported, the Church of England has been under pressure to accommodate certain interests, such as a vicar’s recent request to add ceremonies to the services to re-baptize transgenders by their new name. A group of feminists has also moved for the denomination to start referring to God as a “she” during the weekly liturgy, stating that to make mention of God solely in the male pronoun is sexist.

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