LONDON – A "wedding"-like ceremony between two male priests broke the Church of England's rules, a spokesman for the Anglican body said Saturday.
The two clergymen exchanged rings and vows last month at a ceremony in St. Bartholomew the Great in London, according to The Sunday Telegraph, a preview of which was made available Saturday. The paper said the ceremony included traditional marriage liturgy, hymns and a Eucharist.
The ceremony took place in defiance of the Bishop of London, in whose diocese it took place. It is likely to embolden liberal clergy who have been reluctant to offer a full "wedding service" and will open the floodgates to other homosexuals who want a traditional ceremony.
The Rev Martin Dudley conducted the ceremony and said "I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, but I see nothing wrong with blessing a couple who want to make a life-long commitment to one another."
Church of England spokesman Lou Henderson said the service described by the paper violated church guidelines "in just about every respect."
Although civil partnerships between homosexual couples are officially recognized in Britain, the Church of England maintains that marriage should be between a man and a woman and its guidelines ask clergy not to bless such partnerships.
The issue of how to deal with homosexuality — both same-sex partnerships and the ordaining of gay priests — threatens to divide the 80 million-member Anglican Communion, a loose-knit worldwide Christian grouping, including the U.S. Episcopal Church.
The debate came to a head when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003. Most Anglicans are traditionalists who believe Scripture bars gay relationships.
News of the London ceremony — which Henderson said was the first he was aware of — is likely to further irritate the communion's conservatives.
The newspaper quoted the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, the bishop of Winchester, as saying the service was a "wedding" "in all but name," noting the ceremony was modeled closely on the Church's marriage service and thus "flouts Church guidelines." The Most Rev. Henry Orombi, the archbishop of Uganda, called the incident "blasphemous," according to the paper.
"The leadership tried to deny that this would happen, but now the truth is out. Our respect for the Church of England will erode unless we see a return to traditional teaching," Orombi was quoted as saying.
The issue of homosexuality is likely to overshadow the once-a-decade world Anglican summit due to be held this summer. Leaders from five Anglican provinces have already said they would boycott the meeting because of Robinson's ordination.
The bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, was outside of the diocese and could not be reached for comment late Saturday, his office said.