Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Anglican 'Gay Wedding' and a Distinctly Turbulent Priest; (1( Film Fame: Part of Four Weddings and a Funeral Was Shot at the Rev Martin Dudley's Church (2) Standing His Ground: The Reverend Martin Dudley Has Been Accused of Running His Church, St Bartholomew's, like a Dictator (3) Clerics Comfort: Sexual Historian Virginia Rounding Is Very Close to Rev Dudley

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Anglican 'Gay Wedding' and a Distinctly Turbulent Priest; (1( Film Fame: Part of Four Weddings and a Funeral Was Shot at the Rev Martin Dudley's Church (2) Standing His Ground: The Reverend Martin Dudley Has Been Accused of Running His Church, St Bartholomew's, like a Dictator (3) Clerics Comfort: Sexual Historian Virginia Rounding Is Very Close to Rev Dudley

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID COHEN

THE controversial rector who became the first clergyman to conduct a"gay wedding" in an Anglican church, today defiantly told the bishops who havevowed to investigate and discipline him: "You can't sack me." In response tothe urgent inquiry ordered by the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev RichardChartres, the Rev Martin Dudley was unequivocal. "You can't sack me because youdon't employ me. As the rector of St Bartholomew the Great, I own the church, Iown the freehold, not in the sense that I can sell it, but in the sense that itgives me tenure." Speaking to the Evening Standard last night as he stood bythe Thames waiting to meet his friend, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, DrDudley, 54, was not just content to hide behind the arcane, ancient medievallaw known as Parson's freeholdthat prevents him being fired except in "extreme cases of wrongdoing".

He went on the offensive and said: "If other people want to turn what I didinto a battlefield for the future of the Church of England, they carryresponsibility for the consequences but for me it's business as usual." Indeed,earlier in the day he'd looked so relaxed as he strolled into a privatelunchtime talk at the Guildhallto listen to a historical paper about the sale of London Bridge to theAmericansthat colleagues did a double-take, wondering how a man at the centre of such astorm could affect such insouciance. Some referred to what he'd done as his"David Davis moment", purposefully highlighting an issue on which he thinks theChurch is morally wrong and throwing petrol on the fire.

There is no love lost between Dr Dudley, who is more "high church", and DrChartres, who is said to regard the rector as "a law unto himself ". Until nowtheir dislike of each other has been kept in check but now it threatens to blowup into a much larger battle that could tear apart the worldwide Anglicanchurch, already split over the issues of gay and women clergy.

Yet for the parishioners of the 12th century Smithfield churchfeatured in the movie Four Weddings and a FuneralDr Dudley's robust defence of his decision to bless two homosexual priests, theRev Peter Cowell and the Rev David Lord, in contravention of Church rules,comes as no surprise. "He discussed the possibility of marrying gay people withhis parochial church council some time ago," says Nicholas Newington- Irving,70, a long-time friend of Dr Dudley.

"He is a very particular man who wants things done his way. He's like asergeant major. If people object, he doesn't tolerate it. Recently he led aprayer for the European Union and when somebody stood up and said this isoutrageous, they were very quickly shown the door." While many who know DrDudleya Baptist's son who studied theology at King's College and lives in theBarbicanadmire his intelligence, fiery sermons and impressive knowledge of the liturgy,others describe him as "running his church like a dictator" and being"arrogant", "mercenary" and "lacking empathy". One neighbour went so far as todescribe him as "the most intransigent person I've ever met. In short, a totalsh**".

While it is unusual for a parish priest to excite such strong and dividedopinion, Dr Dudley is no stranger to controversy. Four years ago, allegedintimate texts surfaced between the married father-of-two and one of hisparishioners, Virginia Rounding, 51, an author of a book on French prostituteswho describes herself as a "sexual historian", and which led to him earning theunfortunate nickname "Dud the Stud".

Despite being married to his wife Paula for 27 years, he had texted Ms Roundingin 2002 saying: "I love you, my very own darling." But he rode out the scandal,brazenly addressing his parishioners from the pulpit and denying anyimpropriety in front of the whole congregation.

On Sunday, Ms Rounding was everpresent at his side, helping him with hisservice in the beautiful church as usual, but this time it was the gay"wedding" that he stood up to defend. …

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