12 November 2013
Gay marriage fall-out and free schools top bishops’ agenda
The Bishops of England and Wales are meeting today to discuss the implications of the legalisation of gay marriage.
At the bi-annual plenary meeting in Hinsley Hall, Leeds, which started yesterday, the bishops will discuss any adjustments the Church will have to make in response to the new legislation.
The bill legalising same-sex marriage was passed by Parliament in July and it is expected that the first gay weddings will take place in the middle of next year.
It is thought the bishops will discuss whether the Church should follow France and Belgium and stop performing the civil element to marriages. This would mean Catholic couples undertake two ceremonies: one civil and one religious.
The bishops' legal adviser, Professor Christopher McCrudden, warned that the Church may have to take such a position in the run-up to the bill becoming law. Professor McCrudden argued that as a priest was performing a public function for the state he could be vulnerable to legal action by refusing to marry same-sex couples.
Bishops had also been concerned about teachers in Catholic schools being permitted to teach the Church's understanding of marriage. They are worried that future guidance given by the Secretary of State on sex and relationships education could conflict with church teaching.
The bishops will also discuss admissions to Catholic schools and the government requirement that new academies and free schools only admit 50 per cent cap on pupils on grounds of faith.
Also on the meeting agenda will be the conclusion of the Year of Faith, the survey on marriage issued by the Synod of Bishops and a conference on combating human trafficking that is to take place next year in Rome.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, will also address the bishops, as is custom.
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