Leading CofE bishop Jonathan Baker to remarry after divorce

A leading traditionalist bishop in the Church of England is to remarry after divorce having been given permission by the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The issue of marriage after divorce dominated the recent Roman Catholic synod of bishops in Rome where liberals and conservatives are divided over whether to admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion.

The Church of England has a more relaxed attitude to the sacraments but even in the Anglican Communion, there are conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who would oppose such a remarriage being permitted while a former spouse is still living.

The opposition stems from the traditional Gospel view that marriage is for life.

Bishop of Fulham, Jonathan Baker, who chairs Forward in Faith, the main organisation that represents traditionalists, told Christian Today: "I wrote to clergy last week to inform them that, having received the consent of the Bishop of London, I will remarry in the spring of next year.

"I reached this decision after a great deal of thought and prayer. I fully respect and understand the position of clergy who exercise their right not to conduct further marriages in church and will support them in continuing to adopt such a policy."

Bishop Baker also wrote to his clergy stating that the marriage will be a private civil ceremony, to be followed by a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of London, with prayers of dedication and thanksgiving at the Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West.

He added: "I hope very much that you will understand that I have only reached this decision after a great deal of thought and prayer. I believe honestly that this is the best way of ordering my life and will provide a strong and stable future for me by the grace of God. I want to add just one or two things by way of context.

"While I have, of course, sought the permission of the Bishop of London as my Diocesan Bishop, I have also had discussions with the bishops of The Society, led by the Bishop of Pontefract, and he and they have been very supportive. I hope that those of you who exercise your right not to conduct further marriages in church can be reassured that that is a position I fully respect and understand, and that I will support you in continuing to adopt such a policy – and would defend and explain it to anyone who came to me for advice."

According to US religion commentator George Conger the decision to let the "flying bishop" for traditionalist clergy, who looks after opponents of women priests in the Diocese of London, remarry has "raised concerns".

"They are at a loss to understand how the bishop dedicated to providing pastoral support for traditionalists can himself adopt a stance at odds with the position of most traditionalists -- and at odds with the public position taken by Forward in Faith on divorce and remarriage," he wrote on the Anglican Ink website.

Until 2010, Church of England clergy who had been divorced and remarried could not become bishops.

The marriage has left some traditionalists "bewildered and unsettled" according to a statement from The Society, an arm of Forward in Faith that exists to manage episcopal oversight for traditionalist parishes.

Chairman Tony Robinson, Bishop of Pontefract, said: "None of the bishops of The Society underestimates the searing grief that accompanies the breakdown of a marriage: many of us have shared this grief within our own families. The news that following divorce Bishop Jonathan Baker is to marry in a civil ceremony followed by a service of thanksgiving and dedication in church should draw the assurance of prayers from everyone, including from those who will be bewildered and unsettled by it.

"Bishop Jonathan has diligently sought the permissions that the Church of England requires for him to marry again. The Bishops of the Society reaffirm their commitment both to the Church's teaching on Christian marriage as a sacramental sign, and to the need for pastoral sensitivity and care both for those who are married and for those whose marriages fail.

"Bishop Jonathan has been assured of our prayers."