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St Peter and spouse

Church changes marriage rules?

St Peter and spouse
St Peter and Spouse
If there is a spectrum – from those who treat communion as the reward for good behaviour to those who see it as one of God’s gifts to fix our human sinfulness – then I’m firmly at the latter end of that spectrum.

So I pray the rumours are correct, and may Pope Francis work towards a pastoral solution which allows more of us sinners to benefit from the grace of the sacraments. I am a sinner. My particular sins may not include divorce, but I come to receive communion “for the forgiveness of my sins”.

Pope Francis continues to make waves, in this supposedly most-secular of countries, with yesterday’s newspaper running a story by Ruth Gledhill from the Times

At present, the many thousands of divorced Roman Catholics who remarry cannot receive the sacrament that is central to the practice of the faith.

However, Pope Francis has convened an “extraordinary synod” in October next year on the subject of the family, and on his flight back from World Youth Day in Brazil the Pope told journalists that it would explore a “somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage”, which would include the question of allowing Catholics who were divorced and remarried to receive Communion.

Unfortunately, the story continues with a tiresome re-spin of the Reformation:

One significant consequence of the doctrine was the Reformation: Henry VIII was not permitted to remain in communion with Rome after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Anyone who understands the Church of England and its history will realise that the Church of England, of course, has historically been one of the most uncompromising in its restrictions on divorcees. Repeating false propaganda does nothing to move real dialogue further. Henry VIII certainly never asked anyone for a divorce!

NZ Anglicanism has for decades now abandoned its mummy’s rigour, and allowed all sorts of sexual configurations. For heterosexuals. Including rites of blessings of divorce, and blessing (read marriage) for serial monogamy – particularly popular in NZ. For heterosexuals.

Last week, unsurprisingly to me, the Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint against the Auckland Diocese over its decision not to allow a gay man to enter an ordination process.

Its ruling, unfortunately, also continues a tiresome re-spin: that if someone was ordained while in a committed same-sex relationship, then there is

a serious risk of having the …validity of the ordination challenged through the Judicial Committee [Section 53, page 13]

Yes, that may very well be correct. That this originates from the meeting of NZ Bishops may best be understood as an admission that, like the spin on the Reformation, it acknowledges an extremely impoverished theological formation. The validity of ordination in no way is dependent on the worthiness (read sinlessness) of either the one ordaining, nor on the one being ordained. This is elementary orthodox Christian teaching. That the bishops so publicly acknowledge that there is “a serious risk” of such a ridiculous and clearly-erroneous challenge originating from one of their dioceses should redound on them to urgently get some better theological formation underway amongst the people whom they shepherd.

We need rigorous theological formation. We need compassionate pastoral application. Three cheers for Pope Francis!

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13 thoughts on “Church changes marriage rules?”

  1. The use of the word ‘validity’ by our bishops may be unfortunate, Bosco, but there is a point to their concern. A judgement that X was invalidly ordained, however theologically inept, would tell a bishop that they ought not to offer a licence for ministry to that person. Whether I am validly ordained or not I need a licence in order to do quite a few things in the church apart from signing my name The Rev P Carrell!

    As I understand things, the validity of ordination does arise as a serious question in our church when I present myself as having been ordained in a church such as the Free Church of England. Although that church believes I am validly ordained our church does not and so a licence should not be issued for ministry as an ordained person until a valid ordination takes place. Ergo, theoretically, our church could believe that a person had not been validly ordained by one of its own bishops, irrespective of the sinfulness or sinlessness of either the bishop or the candidate.

    Arguments could ensue about whether or not such belief was well founded, but what cannot be disputed is that this church reserves the right to believe that some people ordained by a bishop are not in fact validly ordained.

    1. Greetings, Peter. Your muddying the water with disputing the validity of ordinations beyond Anglicanism does not help.

      A bishop of our church intending to ordain someone, and using our authorised ordinal, validly ordains. Full stop.

      You can introduce a discussion about the validity of the ordination when our bishops use something other than our authorised ordinal, as happens, but that also would be another discussion.


      1. I am not sure, Bosco, that external questions (so to speak) are un-germane to the discussion. Whom we recognise as being validly ordained can change from one GS to another. A while back the question of whether someone was validly ordained in CESA [South Africa] raised questions which (in my memory) were not easily settled by recourse to our own statements about which churches we recognise but were settled by checking with London. Anyway, so be it, re me muddying otherwise clear waters 🙂

        Internally, then, there are interesting questions re the validity of ordination which could arise. Alongside your query re an unauthorised ordinal being used there could be a question of discovering that a person was under the age of 23 when ordained (theoretical, never heard of it happening), had not been confirmed (whoops, that might be a few!), or had not had the Si Quis read out according to requirements (whoops, that also might be a few more).

        I guess failing to become proficient in Te Reo would not deem an ordination of a non-speaker of Te Reo to be invalidly ordained …

  2. Out of curiosity, what are the requirements for ordination among Anglicans, either particularly in NZ or more broadly? What is the process theological formation for postulants?

    I really appreciate the way the topic of this post was presented, as I do so often on this site. I feel like I am missing some details ie. despite sharing my Lutheran seminary sharing a building with an Anglican seminary, I don’t really know how postulancy works.


    1. Greetings Eric. The process to ordination in NZ Anglicanism are completely in the hands (pun) of your bishop. There are no provincial standards for ordination. I am not aware of any diocesan standards for ordination (but would be interested if there are any). I am in favour of having a provincial standard. Hence, theological formation varies enormously. A minority of NZ clergy would receive some seminary formation here (a year?). We keep no national statistics, but I would be surprised if it is 10%. Blessings.

      1. WOW.

        No wonder I didn’t figure it out.

        Every Lutheran pastor (in our branch of Lutheranism) is required to have a Bacheolor’s degree (of any sort), a Mdiv from our seminary, 1 unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and a 9-12 month parish internship in addition to many other bits and pieces along the way before being approved for ordination.

        I am rather shocked that seminary is not a requirement.

        1. I think there has been a shift (sadly IMO) from seeing ordination as the culmination of significant training and formation to it being the enrolment for some. The majority in the church, and of course most beyond it, continue to think it is the former. Postulancy can be six months or less. Blessings.

  3. Well give that guy a Nobel prize for saying a few placatory words.

    Your first paragraph alone is interesting, arguably rightly placed at the root of the problem.

    I’d say: no spectrum; the point of communion is to facilitate communing, that is, between a person and God.

    I do not sympathize with the RCC for holding themselves up as the arbiters of morality. For as long as the organization continues to cover for its abusers, their moral authority is nullified.

    Wake me up when they’ve dispensed with the self-righteousness of Canon 915 et al. “Repaired the public scandal”, my bottom. Until then, I don’t need the blessing of corrupt hypocrites on my domestic arrangements. (And that’s being polite about it.)

    1. I’ve only just seen this thread, and wanted to comment on your remark that “the point of communion is to facilitate communing, that is, between a person and God.” That is surely too individualistic: while there is of course an individual aspect to Holy Communion, is it not primarily the communing of the Christian community with God?

  4. The risk is not to the validity of the ordination. The risk is the one, purely internal to the church, of a prosecution under our own disciplinary canons. A bishop ordaining a person in a same sex relationship could have a title D charge brought against him or her and it would likely succeed. Of course the validity of the ordination would not be affected. There is a question as to the validity of a same sex marriage performed by any New Zealand Anglican clergy but that is a matter of secular law, not of the validity of the sacrament performed.

    1. Thanks, Bishop Kelvin. I agree totally with you, the statement from the NZ Bishops’ Meeting is wrong, and its repetition in the judgment repeats that error.

      As to episcopal fears of a Title D being brought against a bishop, this has not happened in even any high-profile example, and in the majority of dioceses bishops licence clergy in committed same-sex relationships and, similarly, no Title D charge has ever been laid.


  5. Bosco makes an excellent point about Holy Communion as medicine for sinners, long the position of the Eastern Churches, and one very much in line with those grievous sinners whom Jesus admitted to the Last Supper.

    I would be interested in responses to Archbishop Müller’s article here:


    While I think Archbishop Müller makes many excellent points, I think his analysis suffers from some serious theological and pastoral weaknesses which appear at odds in a number of respects from the expressed positions of Pope Francis and Benedict, which I would summarise as:

    A rather too quick dismissal of a critical analysis of the scriptural passages and then proceeding to dismiss the historical critical approach, considered essential by Pope Benedict in “Verbum Domini”, in favour of a rather fundamentalist reading of the relevant Gospel passages. This interpretation, at odds with Catholic doctrine on how to interpret sacred scripture, is then codified as (sic) “the will of God”.

    A dismissal of the practice of the Orthodox Church, rather than a willingness to accept and learn from their practice as expressed by Pope Francis.

    A legalistic approach which seems to assume that every divorced and remarried Catholic has the financial, temporal, and emotional resources to seek an annulment through legal tribunals. This may be often the case in Müller’s wealthy Germany, but it is not the case for most Catholics, especially in the third world. Perhaps here there will be a different emphasis from the Pope from the third world ?

    Insufficient attention to the very common problem of sacramental marriages entered into without faith:

    Benedict XVI himself admits that communion for divorced and remarried persons is an open question. He spoke about it in a meeting with the priests of the diocese of Aosta on July 25, 2005 and, more officially, in his speech to the Roman Rota, on 28 January 2006. Both times, the Pope urged them to “deepen” a particular case: the possible invalidity of a marriage in the Church celebrated without faith, for those who, having passed to a second union, have returned to the practice of Christian life and request communion.


    A too ready dismissal of the role of conscience in determining the invalidity of a previous marriage, which gives insufficient weight to the expressed views of Pope Benedict:

    3c. Admittedly, it cannot be excluded that mistakes occur in marriage cases. In some parts of the Church, well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist. Occasionally, such cases last an excessive amount of time. Once in a while they conclude with questionable decisions. Here it seems that the application of epikeia in the internal forum is not automatically excluded from the outset. This is implied in the 1994 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which it was stated that new canonical ways of demonstrating nullity should exclude “as far as possible” every divergence from the truth verifiable in the judicial process (cf. n. 9). Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law. This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions.


    God Bless

  6. It would appear that your hope that the Roman Catholic Church might address the teaching around divorced and remarried Catholics and receiving Communion has been dashed.

    The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written a very length defence of the current doctrinal and moral position…

    One can but pray that the Synod next year might still bear fruit.

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