Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Clamping the clergy

In the UK, people can get married either by the state or by the clergy.  Both types of marriage have equal status and are functionally equivalent.  However – until now – the process of clerical marriage has had (surprise) privileges that state marriage has not.  Clerics haven’t had to perform some of the checks that the state has to ensure that the wedding isn’t an immigration ploy.  This seems to have led to criminals targeting church weddings as vehicles for dodgy immigration.  Power corrupts, of course, and it’s not surprising that vicars are as susceptible as anyone else.  Note, by the way, the following from that article:

In the four years to 2005, he married just 13 couples. But between July 2005 and July 2009 the number of ceremonies leapt 30-fold.

Jurors were told the ceremonies involved couples who produced rings that did not fit, couples who could not speak the same language, and several people who would request to marry one person one week and the next week decide to marry someone else.

It was also apparent that, of the hundreds of people who married, all seemed to live in the streets surrounding the parish church, with 90 couples registered as living in one road alone.

In some instances there were several brides and grooms claiming to live in the same house and jurors were told that most of those involved in the marriages had given false addresses.

Two years after the surge in ceremonies Brown was summoned to meet the Archdeacon of Hastings and Lewes, Philip Jones, and questioned about them. He stopped for a short period. Then, apparently satisfied, the Church of England hierarchy allowed him to continue the weddings, which bolstered the ailing finances at his church.

And yet the vicar took the fall, with the church hierarchy that enabled it left unquestioned.  It seems that the church knew that Brown was engaged in illegal activities……and didn’t really care.  Sound familiar?

The law is now being changed to level the playing field.  This is excellent news: there is no reason at all why any church should have different rules or increased opportunities for corruption.

BBC Breakfast has just interviewed the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds to explain the changes to the law.  It was a curious interview.  He tried to pretend that the changes were the Church’s idea, when in fact it’s a law being forced on it, whether it likes the idea or not. 

But the thing that really stood out was that the bishop was concerned about crimes against marriage, not against the law!  He wasn’t concerned with illegal immigration or the trafficking of people, but he was adamant that the concept of marriage (and he was clear to point out that this had to be between a man and a woman) should be protected.  This also sounds familiar: suffering is not important, people don’t need to be protected, dogma and the institution of the church does.

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