In preparation for the October “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family”, the Vatican has released an “Instrumentum Laboris” (or working document), bringing together the submissions from national bishops’ conferences on their findings from the global consultation on marriage and family that was conducted during 2013. The actual conduct and quality of that consultation varied widely across the world. In the best examples, such as the Swiss, it was conducted by expert practitioners in social research. In the worst, lay people were not in fact consulted at all, with the bishops alone responding on their behalf, in consultation only with their priests. In between, bishops simply asked the people to answer the questions that had been prepared by the Vatican, questions that were not designed for lay people, and that many people in fact found confusing or impossible to answer. Nevertheless, Catholics around the world responded with enthusiasm, and questionnaires were completed in vast numbers.
When the bishops in some countries began to release their own results, it soon became clear what was already known from prior secular research: in general terms, Catholics as a whole simply do not agree with or comply with Catholic sexual teaching, on a wide range of issues, and particularly not on contraception.
The working document just released, largely corroborates that view – but draws from it the rather simplistic conclusion that the reason is that Catholics don’t understand the teaching, and that the Church must find ways to present its teaching more effectively. There is no recognition at all, that the real problem could be quite different – that perhaps there might be flaws in the teaching itself.
Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, has described the Catholic Church “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family” as “bonkers”, as participants will be limited to celibate men who have chosen not to have children or marry. Instead of the complex and confusing global consultation questionnaire that was circulated last year, she says she has only one question: “How many of the bishops who will be assmebling in October have ever changed a baby’s nappy?”
Ms McAleese, a two-term President of Ireland, strongly questioned Pope Francis calling a synod to review the Catholic Church’s teaching on family life.
She won the backing of the Association of Catholic Priests with some of her comments, which demanded a “new theology of women” instead of an “old boys club”.
She said there was “just something profoundly wrong and skewed” about asking clergy for their views when they were all “male celibates”.
And the mother-of-three questioned how many people who would be taking part in the gathering had ever changed a baby’s nappy.
A world synod of bishops to discuss family life, and whether the church should revise its teachings on the subject, is due to be held in Rome this October.
Ms McAleese questioned the idea of people “who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses” discussing the matter.
Reports that the number of marriages in 2012 increased by 5% over the previous year, reversing a long – term trend, received widespread press commentary, especially on the marked increase in marriages for the oldest age groups.
The Office for National Statistics has released this summary of 9 key facts about this increase, some of which should prompt serious reflection by the churches:
There was one marriage every two minutes in 2012.
There was an increase in marriages in 2012, with 262,2401 taking place. This was a 5.3% increase from 2011 when there were 249,133.
Civil ceremonies accounted for 70% of all marriages in 2012. The proportion of marriages that were civil ceremonies first exceeded religious ceremonies in 1976.
60% (156,480) of marriages took place in approved premises such as hotels, stately homes and historic buildings.
67% (175,0401) of all marriages were first marriages for both partners
15% of all marriages (38,320) were remarriages for both parties and 19% (48,8801) were to couples where only one partner had been married previously
The greatest number of marriages were for men and women aged 25 to 29.
The mean age at marriage was 36.5 years for men and 34.0 years for women.
The largest percentage increase in the number of marriages was for men and women aged 65 to 69, rising by 25% and 21% respectively.
On the subject of gender transition, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales seems encouragingly positive. A year ago they released a draft of guidelines instructing Catholics on how far to comply with England’s Equality Act 2010, which will provide increased civil protection for a number of minority groups, including transsexuals. Their document says that:
Transsexual people face many difficulties before, during and after transitioning to another gender. As such it is recommended to seek guidance on how to make the transitional process as easy as possible. This could include training for co-workers, as well as reference to medical and social advice.
The implication of this quote seems to be that Catholics in Britain are expected to fully abide by the law’s prohibition of anti-trans discrimination, and more significantly to cooperate or at least be supportive of a transgender person in the process of transitioning.
This may be the most positive and pastoral statement about transgender people to come from the Catholic hierarchy. (If anyone knows anything equally or more positive, please let us know about it in the “Comments” section of this post.) Let’s hope that it remains in place through the drafting process.
(In fact, nobody has yet noted in the New Ways comments section any evidence of anything similarly positive, from anywhere).
In London this week, a Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict has seen participation by over 900 experts, NGO’s, survivors, and representatives of over 100 countries -as well as senior faith leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury, as head of the Church of England, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, senior bishop for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Archbishop Welby sent a video message, which you can watch below:
Civil Partnership Review ( England & Wales): a consultation
INTRODUCTION – This submission is offered by the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, a unique UK-based ecumenical network specifically engaged in Christian communities’ need for a contemporary theology of sexuality and gender. CSCS provides opportunities for issues of sexuality and gender identity to be discussed honestly and openly, and aims to help others in the Churches to provide similar opportunities.
Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry? Please choose one answer only.
We believe civil partnership should not be abolished because in as much as they exist for same-sex partners they offer a particularity of legal, social, and informal religious recognition as an alternative to existing civil or religious marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced to address the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples in long-term, permanently intended relationships did not share the same legal protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, including next-of-kin, inheritance, and pension rights, as well as other benefits. Notwithstanding their reluctance to embrace same-sex marriage per se most main- stream Christian bodies in the UK now accept the importance of civil partnerships as contributing to the common good of the wider society. There are many people who do not, in conscience, wish to contract marital status, either for religiously theological reasons, or who on grounds of a firmly held secular belief reject the institution of marriage. Such objections are not based on an empty ideology. To abolish civil partnerships would be unfair to those couples who wish to retain this status, introducing an historic inequality that CPs are perceived as unequal and inferior to marriage. Abolition of CPs would make it compulsory either for existing civil partners to get married or to separate. Such an enforced change would result in those who refused such a transition to end up in a social and legal limbo. Given the inequalities which continue to exist, particularly for transgender people and lesbian women in certain areas of civil partnership legal and pension rights, it is imperative that the Government introduces secondary legislation to the Civil Partnerships Act.
Q2 Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?
Yes – To remove this option, after 60,000 + couples have civilly-partnered, assumes on no evidence that all future same-sex couples would prefer marital status. For many, including people of faith, the language of marriage is loaded with unwelcome meaning. The vocabulary of ‘husband’, denoting possession of a partner as property, in the way that we use ‘husbanding our resources’, and ‘wife’ as indicating an outdated mode of dependency, although rejected by many contemporary married heterosexuals, maintains a marriage culture which is rejected by a significant number of people today. If CPs were abolished the impact on those remaining in such unions could be severe, as their relationships would be perceived as a socially abandoned form of relationship, with negative effects. The language of ‘upgrading’ from civil partnership to marriage, even if not in any proposed legislation, should be rejected vehemently in any official guidance or government statements. Many of us find this attitude highly offensive and would propose the use of ‘convert’ to describe such a legal transition.
Q3 What are your views about extending civil partnership to opposite sex couples? Please choose one answer only.
We believe civil partnership should be extended to opposite-sex couples because a commitment to equality, human rights, and social justice compels us to wish to see this extended to all couples. There has been dramatic social change in understanding the nature and diversity of human relationships. Extending CPs to all couples in a personal and sexual relationship would be consistent with broadening the definition of recognised relationship and familial choices within contemporary society. Opposite-sex couples should have had this option from the outset of CP’s, providing an alternative to those wishing to secure the material benefits of a recognised partnership without having to become part of the institution of marriage which for conscience, and not simply ideological reasons, they reject. Statistical evidence is lacking to establish how many adults, currently co-habitees, would opt for civil partnerships, if available to them. Anecdotally, a number of those who have felt constrained to undertake existing civil marriage state that they would have preferred a civil partnership option if it had been available to them. Making CPs available to opposite-sex couples would secure greater economic security, not least for those with responsibilities of care for children, vulnerable adults, or older dependent family members. This would also be consistent with policies to strengthen legally recognised relationships, by offering alternative choices. The restriction of CPs to same-sex couples has implied a ‘not-quite-equal’ status, and this has also informed, unhelpfully, some of the same-sex marriage debates. Providing opposite- sex CPs would remove the requirement on trans-people to end their civil partnership when transitioning in gender. Recognising opposite-sex relationships, not called marriage, might also be welcomed by some bisexual people.
Q4 Given the choice between forming a civil partnership or living together as an opposite sex couple, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.
This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.
Q5 Given the choice of forming a civil partnership or marrying your opposite sex partner, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.
This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.
Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to:
Stopping new civil partnerships being formed reinforces a view that these are inferior to marriage. It also raises issues about how legal relationships from other jurisdictions can be fully recognised within the legal systems of England & Wales, and by extension to Scotland & Northern Ireland.
Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to:
Would it be possible, in future, to convert a civil marriage into a civil partnership? In the interests of equality would it be possible for those opposite-sex couples who civilly-married because this was the only option open to them be able to convert such a status into a civil partnership on the grounds of their right to ‘freedom of conscience, thought, and belief’ ? More detail is required about the conversion of civil partnerships into marriage, and vice versa. It should be made more straightforward for couples where one member undertakes gender transition to translate their civil partnership into marriage, and vice versa. Continuity of such relationships should be emphasised.
Q8 Are there any proposals for changes to the legal terminology and processes for forming civil partnerships which are consistent with civil partnership being different from marriage?
There should be greater legal flexibility for those religious bodies who wish to register civil partnerships in their buildings, or those shared with other faith-groups. The distinctive nature of same-sex civil partnerships needs to be acknowledged in guidance to and training for civil registrars. This might then prevent such persons claiming spurious conscience grounds on ‘religious belief’ to refuse to register such unions.
Q9 Are there other options for civil partnership which have not been raised so far but which are within the scope of the review and consistent with its principles?
Should a civil partnership be allowed to be dissolved for the express purpose of a marriage taking place, or should it be that a marriage in itself dissolves a previous civil partnership between that same couple ? There will be some who do not wish to simply convert their civil partnership as a purely administrative or bureaucratic action, but wish to be married in a civil or religious wedding ceremony and so would have to find some technical reason for dissolving their civil partnership in order that a valid marriage could take place. It would be detrimental to remove the ability of religious buildings and organisations to host civil partnerships, and this should be extended to the realm of religious marriage for those who so wish.
Q10 Are there people who share a relevant protected characteristic other than those identified above who would be particularly affected by a decision to make, or notto make, one or more the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?
The abolition of civil partnerships would promote historical and institutional discrimination against lesbian women and gay men who are, or were, in civil partnerships, as it would imply that such unions were second-rate and unequal to other legally recognised relationships. It is important in a plural democracy that formally recognised beliefs and not simply ‘personal opinions or interpretations’ conscientiously held by minorities should be respected by both the state and faith-communities themselves, where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. It is also necessary to protect those with a conscientiously-held religious belief which does not enable them to embrace same-sex marriage, including some same-sex, civilly-partnered couples who consider their unions to be already ‘sacramental’ – even if not formally recognised as such by their religious denominations. The retention and extension of civil partnerships will do nothing to undermine the validity of same-sex or opposite sex marriage, but will provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union, but will be able to do so without doing violence to their right to ‘freedom of conscientious, thought, and belief.’
4.4 Additional research/information on same-sex unions
In the absence of much recent research there are a number of websites which contain useful resources and express the diversity of views within faith-communities on the topic of same and opposite sex civil unions and marriage:
When the UK government legislated for same – sex marriage last year, some unresolved issues remained around civil partnerships: would they disappear, or be retained as an alternative to marriage for same – sex couples? What would be the status of existing civil partnerships, would they be automatically converted to marriage, or would those couples have to take part in a deliberate conversion process? Should civil partnerships become available for opposite – sex couples, as a mark of full equality?
The government has been engaged in a public consultation process on these issues, for which the closing date is Thursday, April 17th. The Church of England has now published its submission, which urges that these be retained as an option for same – sex couples, but should not be extended to opposite – sex couples.
The bishops state emphatically that they are in favour of retaining civil partnerships, essentially on the grounds of religious freedom: some people in these relationships will see same – sex marriage as in conflict with their religious beliefs :
…..abolishing civil partnership would pose an invidious choice for those who may, on grounds of religious conviction or for other reasons, not wish to enter a same sex marriage.
Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional teaching. If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship.
On the other hand, the bishops do not wish to see any need to extend civil partnerships to opposite – sex couples.
We do not believe that a case has been made for extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. Our arguments for the retention of civil partnership are based on the need to maintain an option for those same sex couples who wish for proper recognition of their relationship but do not believe that their relationship is identical to “marriage”. It is much less clear what comparable disadvantage arises from the absence of opportunity for opposite sex couples to form civil partnerships.
As England and Wales geared up for the start of same – sex weddings as of midnight early today, the Cutting Edge Consortium and the LGBTI Anglican Coalition held a press conference and issued a joint press release yesterday (Friday 28th), announcing that a range of religious leaders from diverse faith backgrounds had signed a letter of support for the dawn of marriage equality in England and Wales:
We rejoice that from tomorrow same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales.
As persons of faith, we welcome this further development in our marriage law, which has evolved over the centuries in response to changes in society and in scientific knowledge.
We acknowledge that some (though not all) of the faith organisations to which we belong do not share our joy, and continue to express opposition in principle to such marriages. We look forward to the time, sooner rather than later, when all people of faith will feel able to welcome this development.
Martin Pendergast, chair of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, has released a statement in support, on behalf of CSCS:
The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality(CSCS) welcomes the support for same-sex marriage expressed by a number of religious leaders from different faith communities in a statement issued today, 28 March 2014. CSCS would also like to highlight the growing acceptance of same-sex unions, including their religious celebration, by grass-roots believers, congregations, and organisations from a variety of faith traditions.
In response to the imminent introduction of same – sex marriage in England, the Church of England House of Bishops has released a statement on suggestions for Anglicans to deal with the new situation, both for couples wanting church approval for their unions, and for lesbian or gay clergy wishing to marry. The document is called “‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’, but in the view of the CSCS trustees, expressed in this public statement, this document is
ANYTHING BUT PASTORAL!
CSCS calls on pro same-sex marriage Bishops to speak out
The Centre for the Study of Christianity (CSCS) supports, unequivocally, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 which enables same-sex couples to celebrate equal civil marriage with effect, in England and Wales, from 29 March 2014. CSCS rejoices with sisters and brothers in Liberal and Reformed Judaism, the Society of Friends, and Unitarian Free Christian Churches who have opted-in, to enable such marriages to be celebrated on their premises. CSCS also recognises that amongst people of faith and none, diverse theological and ideological positions might be held regarding same-sex marriage.
Following its Annual Conference, Redefining Marriage?, held in Birmingham on 15 February 2014, CSCS expresses serious concern at the possible impact of Church of England House of Bishops so-called ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’. This, and the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, appear to pre-empt the process of facilitated conversation, listening and reflection, called for by the Pilling Report and referred to in the 27 January 2014 Statement from the College of Bishops. The House of Bishops latest statement sets down answers, even before many of the questions have been asked.
Any true pastoral process in the LGBT context should begin with a listening to, and analysis of, the lived experience of people of faith, particularly its LGBT members, their parents, spouses, and families. It should then proceed to reflect on this in the light of developing, and not fixed, understandings of scripture, tradition, and reason. The latter should not rely on un-reformed views of natural law but, discerning the signs of the times, encompass the insights of contemporary thinkers in the fields of gender, sexuality, anthropology and other human sciences. The House of Bishops’ Statement, and indeed the Pilling Report show little evidence of such engagement.
The Bishops’ Statement, if taken as authoritative even for the time being, could lead to pastoral chaos, as well as unwarranted intrusion into the lives and consciences of Church of England laity and clergy. We call upon those Bishops of the Church of England who have hitherto expressed support for same-sex marriage to come out and clearly state whether the House of Bishops Statement of the 15 February 2014 is issued in their name and with their support. If it is not we urge them to disassociate themselves from the Statement, declining to implement its proposed policies and procedures in their Dioceses.
Intersex conditions (sometimes called DSDs) are conditions causing a physical variation from male or female. About 1 in 2500 people has an intersex condition, yet intersex remains an area shrouded in secrecy. Intersex has attracted increasing attention in the humanities and social sciences in recent years, not least because of the controversies surrounding treatment protocols, and the terminology used for these conditions by intersex people and their families, the medical profession, activists and society at large.
However, intersex remains understudied within theology, religion and biblical studies. Little existing work focuses on the importance of spirituality and faith for intersex people and their families, or the implications of intersex for Christian theology, biblical interpretation, church policy, and pastoral care. Theological implications for social understandings of intersex also remain under-examined.
This one-day conference, part of the Intersex, Identity and Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church project at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester, brings together scholars and activists from Britain, the USA, Australia and South Africa. We ask what difference intersex might make to the way theology and biblical studies (especially in the areas of sex, gender and human sexuality) are done, and what difference insights from theology and biblical studies might make to social and cultural understandings of intersex.
Nathan Carlin (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas): “Middlesex: A Pastoral Theological Reading.”
Megan K. DeFranza (Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts): “Addressing Intersex in Conservative Christian Contexts: The Use and Limitation of Eunuchs.”
Sally Gross (Director, Intersex South Africa): “Not in God’s Image: Intersex, Social Death and Infanticide.”
Patricia Beattie Jung (Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri): “Intersex on Earth as It Is in Heaven?”
Stephen Craig Kerry (Charles Darwin University, Australia) – via Skype: “Revisiting ‘Intersex Individuals’ Religiosity and their Journey to Wellbeing’.”
Joseph A. Marchal (Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana): “What Can Lavender Do When the Baby’s Not (Exactly) Pink or Blue?: Contributions from Feminist and Queer Biblical Studies for Intersex Advocacy.”
Respondent: John Hare
Conference Chair: Susannah Cornwall (Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester)
For more information, including abstracts and speakers’ biographies, and details of how to book, see