Photo Credit: Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
The Registrar General’s Department (RGD) in Jamaica has apologised to the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, Robert Thompson, after a bureaucratic mix-up left him stripped of the right to conduct marriages. Bishop Robert said that he would not conduct any further marriages, but the RGD says it will accommodate him if he changes his mind. The mix-up comes amid an ongoing row over a new registration system and annual fees for wedding celebrants.
“I performed a wedding ceremony on the weekend so I went in on the Monday, which is required,” Bishop Ropert told The Sunday Gleaner newspaper. “You can either send it by mail or go in. So I went in to hand in a copy of that marriage certificate and the attendant took my register.
“He [the attendant] said I needed to fill out a registration form. So I told him that I would need some time to do it, so could I take the form and send it back? He said no, I would have to do it in his presence. I couldn't wait, so I said, can I have back my register? And he said he could not give it back.”
During the course of the conversation, the RGD official repeatedly asked Bishop Robert for for details of his Church; despite being told that, as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, he didn’t have “a church” but oversight of several.
“It was quite embarrassing,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. “I wrote [to] the RGD and I didn’t have my register, so if I was down to perform a wedding the following week or days after, I would have been disenfranchised. So I reflected on it, and I explained my situation and my pain. The RGD responded but it wasn't really very helpful. . .
“It’s out of my hands. I don't feel comfortable being harassed, and I have other things to do. I am a little old for this. After 45 years, I am done. And I still have not got back my register and that, for me, is the worst part of it. And to now take my register, knowing full well that I can't perform without it, is extortion,” he said.
In June, the Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Dr Howard Gregory, wrote to Jamaica’s Prime Minister threatening to withdraw from performing marriages because of the RGD’s demands. He is concerned about the requirement for clergy to pay a fee to register as marriage officers, saying that many ministers do not charge a fee to couples for conducting marriage ceremonies.
“Marriage is regarded as a sacrament so it’s not something you charge people for, it is something you encourage people to do,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
But now, the RGD has apologised to Bishop Robert, saying “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,” The Gleaner reports today (Wednesday).
It said that despite its officer’s refusal, marriage officers and registrars are “allowed to take the form and complete same at their own convenience.”