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Church of England bars Desmond Tutu's lesbian daughter from leading funeral for her godfather

Tutu
Reverend Mpho Tutu, daughter of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, addresses the media about the health of her father on Aug. 18, 2015, in Cape Town. |

The Church of England has barred the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu's daughter from officiating her godfather's funeral because she is in a same-sex relationship. 

Mpho Tutu van Furth, an Episcopal priest, is the goddaughter of Martin Kenyon, one of the first men to take a COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom. The 92-year-old died earlier this month. A friend of Archbishop Tutu, Kenyon, requested that Tutu van Furth conduct his funeral. 

The Diocese of Hereford turned down the request because Tutu van Furth is in a relationship with a woman. 

"We acknowledge this is a difficult situation. Advice was given in line with the House of Bishops current guidance on same sex marriage," the Diocese of Hereford told CNN in a Friday statement

Queen Elizabeth II gave her "royal ascent" to a bill allowing same-sex marriage in England and Wales in July 2013, after months of debate in the British Parliament. The law permitted homosexual couples to marry as of March 29, 2014. However, the Church of England defines marriage as between one man and one woman and prevents ministers from carrying out same-sex marriages.

Tutu, who died in December 2021, was a pivotal figure in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Tutu van Furth, who was ordained in an Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2004, stated that she believes the time has come for a change in the Church of England. The Episcopal Church, a member of the Anglican Communion, allows clergy members to engage in same-sex relationships. However, Tutu van Furth acknowledged that the denomination moves at its own pace. 

"I don't know when it gets to be enough people who have been abandoned to their grief or when it gets to be enough people who have suffered enough pain that the church changes," she told CNN. "But there will be a moment."

The priest said Kenyon's daughters intended to hold the funeral at their father's place of residence at St. Michael and All Angels Church in the village of Wentnor. Kenyon lived next door and had been a member of the parish for 30 years, according to CNN. 

The family opted not to entrust the funeral service to someone else and held the service in the garden of the vicarage next door. 

Tutu van Furth's father, Archbishop Tutu, was ordained in the Anglican church in the 1960s and met Kenyon while alternating between London and his native South Africa in the 1960s and1970s, according to CNN. 

"My parents arrived in London in 1962. My father arrived before my mother and my father and Martin became friends," Tutu van Furth said. "Martin met my mother off the boat from South Africa and when I was born in 1963 my parents asked Martin to be my godfather." 

Marceline Tutu van Furth, a pediatric infectious diseases professor and Tutu van Furth's wife who lives with her in the Netherlands, called the decision to prevent the priest from leading the funeral "homophobic" in a Wednesday letter.

The professor described herself as a former atheist welcomed into a religious family through her marriage to Tutu van Furth. The letter featured a quote from her late father-in-law, who said he would not worship a "homophobic God."

During a decennial gathering of Anglican Communion bishops from July 26 to Aug. 8, organizers announced changes to a resolution that would have reaffirmed a 1998 statement declaring a traditional view of marriage. Anglican leaders opted not to consider a measure defining marriage as one man and one woman after objections from theological liberals in the days leading up to the conference. 

The original resolution titled the Lambeth Call on Human Dignity called for "a reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans." 

In a July 26 announcement, the conference shared an updated resolution that contained more neutral language on the topic. 

"Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the 'legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions' cannot be advised," the statement reads. 

"Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues."

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