THE SCOTT-JOPLIN proposals (in ‘Marriage in church after divorce’) intend to be pastoral, but will inevitably have legal implications, if only because marriage is a legal contract and parishioners have legal rights in the established church. Unfortunately for incumbents, their letter of judgement will be the only document of record to substantiate the legal decision. Neither the bishop nor the couple are required to commit anything to paper.

If the incumbent is placed in so vulnerable a position, it is important that he has a clear, formal and watertight code of practice on which to base his judgement. Much of the disquiet, expressed from all quarters of the CofE, has been on the vagueness of the criteria proposed, the questions to be asked and the decisions to be made.

One rule, however, we can rely on. No reason is given, but the wording is clear. In the chapter ‘Conclusions and consequential recommendations’, the ‘Pastoral criteria’ are listed. On page 47, 8.4 (g) states categorically:

neither of the partners should have been married and divorced more than once;

So the CofE will have a clear marriage discipline. Expressing the simple judgement, ‘two strikes and you are out’, it assures us that a line has been drawn in the sand: thus far and no farther. I referred to it last month, and like many others believed it to be reliable.

I apologize. I have done more homework, and now read in Appendix 1, the ‘Draft Code of Practice (for use in every parish)’, a reworking of criterion (g) on page 54:

Neither of the parties should normally have been married and divorced more than once.

‘Normally’! What, pray, does this mean? What does this mean when human rights lawyers are looking over one’s shoulders? What does this mean (and now the matter gets very confusing) when I read in the ‘Foreword by the Chairman of the Working Party’ (p. xi) that remarriages in church are ‘by way of exception’?

The first document from the House of Bishops, ‘Marriage’, puts it still more clearly (p. 18) – ‘a further marriage after a divorce is an exceptional act.’ How then does ‘normally’ function within an exception? Do they not in some sense (some legal sense) contradict each other? And what if I were to refuse to give an exception to an exception?

I think I am going to check the ‘legal liabilities’ clause in our parish insurance policy.