Forgive us, Father - RGD apologises, willing to restore marrying rights to Anglican cleric
As the row between the clergy and the Registrar General's Department (RGD) over its imposition of a mandatory registration and annual fee for marriage officers widens, the department says sorry for the way Suffragan Bishop Robert Thompson was treated last month, as he sought to register a wedding he had conducted.
It also expressed a willingness to accommodate him, should he reconsider his decision to cease officiating at weddings.
"On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, Right Reverend Robert Thompson, indicated in writing to the RGD his intent to immediately withdraw his services as a marriage officer. We are saddened by the decision that he has taken and are willing to accommodate him should he decide to reconsider, as this would be in the interest of Jamaica on the whole and his congregants in particular," read sections of a release from the RGD yesterday, in its response to the holy rebuke from the top leadership of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman.
The department, which is the holder of records for births, deaths and marriages, maintains a database of marriage officers that consists of personal updated information.
"Marriage officers/civil registrar is allowed to take the form and complete same at their own convenience ... ," said the release, inter alia. However, Thompson said that he was not afforded the opportunity to take the form, as the attendant insisted that it must be completed in his presence, and he must state the church for which he had pastorship.
The department said that completion of the form is mandatory to allow for the updating of the profile of each marriage officer, and compliance with Section 10 of the Marriage Act. It said that sections 11, 14 and 15 also stipulate "that any changes or cessation in church superintendence must be reported to the RGD, failure of which, the RGD shall recommend de-gazetting of any officer in breach."
On the issue of fees, the RGD said in March 2014 Cabinet approved a $10,000 registration fee for new marriage officers; and $10,000, for existing officers, as well as $5,000 for late registration.
It said there was disquiet among the clergy in 2015, and a decision was taken to put it on hold, and "these registration fees have therefore not been collected since 2015, and this is still the current position." However, this position flies in the face of several pastors who said they have paid $25,000 in fees to the department since year.
Thompson said that he and many others in the Anglican Church did not charge a fee, while one Apostolic pastor said he was aware of $30,000 fees being charged by some pastors in that denomination.
Meanwhile, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, through spokesman Nigel Coke, said that its pastors did not charge a fee, but there was an ancillary charge for use of the facility.