Bishop to marry divorcee in registry office

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The Independent Online
The Bishop of Birmingham is marrying for the second time - to a divorcee.

The Right Rev Mark Santer, 60, who will soon be a grandfather, announced yesterday that he will marry Sabine Bird, 58, in a few weeks' time. However, because she is a divorcee, under Church of England law the marriage will have to take place in a registry office instead of in a church.

Bishop Santer is thought to be the first diocesan bishop to marry a divorcee.

Mrs Bird, a probation officer who was born in Germany and who has three grown-up children, has known the bishop for many years and was close to him and to his first wife, who died of cancer in August 1994 after the couple had been married for 30 years. Mrs Bird was divorced from her first husband by mutual consent in 1983.

Bishop Santer proudly announced the union from his residence in Harborne, Birmingham yesterday.

"Sabine was one of my first wife's closest friends so we have known each other for many years," he said. "We are both surprised and delighted by this new turn of events."

He said that a private prayer and dedication service would be held after the registry wedding and that they would hold a reception for family and friends at a later date.

"The Church believes marriage is for life. But the Church of England also recognises that human nature being what it is not all relationships last and some have very sadly to be dissolved," Bishop Santer added.

"This is a way of trying to come to terms with upholding marriage and on the other hand we do recognise that some people do have to begin again."

Mrs Bird said she thought people ought to be allowed to make a new start if they are divorced.

The couple have received the support of the Church of England. A spokesman for George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that Dr Carey had wished the couple "every rich blessing and happiness".

And the Archdeacon of Birmingham, the Ven John Duncan, said the bishop and Mrs Bird had the full backing of the Diocesan ministry.

However, the union is not without its critics. Some clergy voiced concerns, fearing the marriage was a "move away from biblical standards".