The low-key but public gay wedding of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s daughter, herself a reverend canon, has created a conundrum for the church.
Church sources said Archbishop Tutu had not given his public blessing for his daughter’s wedding to avoid any impression of forcing the hand of the church, where discussions on the same-sex marriages of both priests and congregants have been ongoing.
City Press has reliably learnt that neither Archbishop Tutu nor his wife, Leah, attended their daughter’s wedding in the Netherlands last month.
Tutu’s partner, Professor Marceline van Furth, is the Desmond Tutu chair at Vrije University in the Netherlands, which has been working with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation on special projects. She is believed to have played a key role in securing a €2 million (R36.62 million) donation to the foundation from a Dutch lottery two years ago.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba declined to be interviewed. His office said he was constrained as to what he could discuss publicly, as the issue was a pastoral one involving church members. A decision is expected to be taken towards the end of the year.
The Anglican church is officially opposed to its priests entering into same-sex marriages and insists that practising gay clerics remain celibate. The church is now drafting pastoral guidelines for members entering into same-sex marriages.
On Friday, British newspapers reported that a conference of Anglican archbishops, bishops and senior leaders from around the world voted to condemn same-sex marriage. They also decided to bar the Anglican Church in the US from global church activities because of its accommodating stance on homosexuality.
The Daily Mail reported that the leaders, who met behind closed doors in the UK’s Canterbury Cathedral, decided to explicitly condemn same-sex marriage, saying matrimony should be between “a man and a woman in faithful, long-life union”.
The Mail reported that, following the suspension of the US chapter, a task force would be formed to reconcile conflicting views of sexuality in the 85-million-strong family of churches.
The role of the clergy in same-sex marriages has been a bone of contention in South Africa’s broader religious fraternity. In November 2015, the Constitutional Court declined to hear a discrimination case brought by Ecclesia de Lange against the Methodist Church, on the grounds of her having no reasonable prospects of success. De Lange challenged her dismissal, meted out after she told her congregation in 2009 that she intended to marry her same-sex partner.
Archbishop Tutu has come out in public support of gay marriage and previously said he would refuse to go to a “homophobic heaven”. Those close to church affairs told City Press Mpho Tutu’s marriage had put the church in a tight spot.
“Mpho is a reverend canon and this has implications for the church. You have to be celibate or unmarried to continue being a [gay] priest in the church. A question is her role in the church as a reverend canon. There is nothing in the church’s constitution about whether you can marry,” said an insider.
This week Tutu told City Press she was ordained in the Episcopal Church in the US and was “canonically resident” in the Diocese of Washington, DC.
“In terms of the canon, I must have the approval of my diocesan bishop to marry, which I have,” she said.
“With regard to the Anglican Church, I imagine it will resolve its position on these matters in due course,” said Mpho Tutu, who added that she was personally not involved in the discussions the Anglican church was having about its priests in same-sex marriages.
She rejected suggestions her marriage did not have her parents’ blessing, as they had never made public statements on any of their children’s marriages, “so this is not a concern to us”.
However, she confirmed her ageing parents did not attend the ceremony as they were trying to avoid overseas travel. Tutu said her parents would attend an upcoming celebration in Cape Town.
City Press understands this celebration will be held in May at British tycoon Sir Richard Branson’s wine estate in Franschhoek.
In September, the Anglican church in South Africa is to finalise and adopt pastoral guidelines for members who enter into same-sex civil unions.
This emerged in a blog Makgoba wrote in response to an American Anglican priest’s request for comment on Tutu’s wedding and the South African Anglican church’s position.
Makgoba wrote: “The issues you raise will be addressed within our province at a time appropriate to our processes, and we will communicate any responses we have to our people first.
“There is sometimes a tendency among our fellow Anglicans in other provinces to use African Christians as proxies in their own culture wars, and I do not want to compound the problem by addressing the issues you raise in the first instance in the British and American church media.”