Divorced bishops to be permitted for first time by Church of England

Divorced clergy are to be allowed to become Church of England bishops for the first time in a move which has been condemned by traditionalists.

Jonathan Wynne-Jones reports:

While Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, supported relaxing the rules, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is understood to have fiercely argued against a change.

But The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the change was agreed at a meeting of the House of Bishops in May.

The Church is set to issue a statement announcing the new policy next month after legal advice made clear that there is no obstacle to a divorcee, or a priest married to a divorcee, being consecrated.

It means that a number of clergy who have been rejected in the past by the Crown Nominations Commission, the body responsible for appointing bishops, will now be put forward for consideration.

The first beneficiary of the change could be the Rev Nick Holtam, vicar of St Martin in the Fields in London, whose supporters want to propose as the next Bishop of Southwark.

Despite having gained a reputation as an accomplished preacher and a formidable fund-raiser, having masterminded his church’s £36 million renovation appeal, conservatives had warned that his name would be blocked because his wife of 29 years had a brief marriage as a teenager.

Senior figures in the diocese of Southwark were angered by the prospect of not being able to appoint a man they saw as an outstanding candidate for the post. They have welcomed the change in the Church’s position.

However, traditionalists have expressed their dismay at the change, which they argue weakens the importance of marriage. Some claim is more controversial than appointing homosexual bishops.

Fr Geoffrey Kirk, the national secretary of Forward in Faith, an Anglo-Catholic group representing around 400 parishes, said that scripture is clear in stating that divorce and remarriage are not permissible for Christians.

“The doctrine of matrimony is closely associated with ecclesiology and so it would seem utterly unacceptable that divorce and remarriage be part of the regimen of those who are called to represent and effect the unity of the Church.

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