Archbishop disciplined for performing same-sex marriage

Published October 1, 2006


Archbishop Terence Finlay, the retired bishop of the Anglican diocese of Toronto and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Ontario, has acknowledged he officiated at a same-sex marriage of a lesbian couple in a United Church in Toronto and has expressed the hope that Anglicans would “reflect on this with understanding.”

“Yes, I did participate in a marriage of two dear friends who happen to be gay. One of whom, I have known for many, many years,” said Archbishop Finlay, when asked by the Anglican Journal to confirm reports about his involvement in the ceremony that took place over the summer. “The couple I married are very close friends of our family. I’ve known one since she was a small child; her father was one of my theological professors and he was an honorary assistant in one of my parishes and over the years, our families have remained very close.” It was out of a “long journey of love, friendship, support and familial relationship with this particular person and her partner” that Archbishop Finlay said he “came to the conclusion that their love for one another was part of God’s divine love and it was appropriate that that be deeply blessed.”

Archbishop Finlay, who made headlines in the early 1990s for firing a priest for maintaining a homosexual relationship, has said in recent years that he has reached a new place in his understanding of homosexuality. He said he was not trying to make a statement or encourage other clergy to defy the church’s marriage canon, which allows the sacrament for a man and a woman only. “I’ll be quite clear that it wasn’t done as a publicity stunt to make waves. I married two people who love each other deeply; they care about the church and I believe their commitment has been blessed by God,” he said.

The archbishop, who retired in 2004, said that as a consequence of his action, he has been “admonished” and has had his licence to officiate at marriages suspended by the diocesan bishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson. Bishop Johnson could not be reached for comment.

In a memo issued Sept. 1 to clergy of the diocese and obtained by the Journal, Bishop Johnson did not name Archbishop Finlay as the cleric who presided at a same-sex marriage during the summer. He stated that he had “reprimanded him in writing, admonished him not to do so again, and suspended his licence to officiate at marriages until the end of 2006.” The act of presiding at a same-sex marriage breached Canon XXI of General Synod, On Marriage in the Church, wrote Bishop Johnson. “Same-sex marriages are not authorized at this time in the diocese of Toronto and I do not condone diocesan clergy officiating at such marriages, whether in the Anglican church or elsewhere.” He added: “While there is considerable debate and indeed discord within the diocese and across the Anglican Communion about whether an individual diocese (or even parish) might have authority to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions, the matter of marriage falls clearly under the jurisdiction of the General Synod canons in the Anglican Church of Canada.”

(The Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body, General Synod, will meet in June 2007 to decide on the issue of same-sex blessings.)

The bishop also reminded clergy that, “Our oaths as ordained persons (i.e. people under Orders) require all of us to uphold the discipline of the canons, even if some of us feel called to work to amend or repeal them.”

Bishop Johnson, who had served as Archbishop Finlay’s executive assistant for 11 years prior to being elected as his successor in 2004, wrote that he was “very disappointed” that he had to admonish and discipline the unnamed cleric and expressed “trust that it will not be necessary to do so again.”

Archbishop Finlay said he understood Bishop Johnson’s actions. “He was quite right to call me on the carpet and to admonish me. I officiated at the wedding of a same-sex couple even though the wedding took place in a United Church and the United Church minister signed the licence.”

While he does not regret having presided at the same-sex wedding, Archbishop Finlay said he regrets “any pain or embarrassment I caused him (Bishop Johnson). ” He added: “I’m very aware of the difficulties of decisions, the decisions that a diocesan bishop faces and that certainly was part of my thoughts and prayers.”

(In 2003, while he was diocesan bishop, Archbishop Finlay, directed by his diocesan council, admonished Rev. Sara Boyles, a priest in his diocese, for performing a same-sex blessing without his consent.)

Archbishop Finlay’s declined to comment on what impact his action would have on Rev. Jim Ferry, the Toronto priest he fired in 1991 for maintaining a homosexual relationship. Mr. Ferry, then the parish priest of St. Philip’s, in Unionville, Ont., had revealed his homosexual relationship to Archbishop Finlay, who later asked him to resign his post. When Mr. Ferry refused, Archbishop Finlay fired him and placed him under inhibition, banning him from exercising his priesthood in the diocese of Toronto. A Bishop’s Court later upheld Mr. Ferry’s dismissal after a trial that generated local and international media coverage.

“Life in the church was very different in those days, ” said Archbishop Finlay. “All I can say is that I recently spoke at a gathering, and at that time, I said one of my deep regrets was that although I tried to find ways to restore the licence to Jim and to Joyce (Barnett) and Alison (Kemper), I wasn’t able to do it.” (In the 1980s, Ms. Barnett and Ms. Kemper, both Anglican deacons, were disciplined by Archbishop Finlay’s predecessor, the late Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy, for maintaining a homosexual relationship. Their licences were not restored but Archbishop Finlay granted them permission to function under the oversight of Ms. Boyles, parish priest of Holy Trinity Church, Toronto. Ms. Barnett and Ms. Kemper were married in 2003; Ms. Boyles subsequently blessed their civil marriage and later, was admonished by Archbishop Finlay for not respecting his refusal to give permission to perform the blessing.)

Archbishop Finlay also said he had reflected about how his action relates to the Canadian church. “I think our church has waited a long time and has discussed this issue over and over and in this particular situation, time just run out for me. It’s no secret that for many years now I’ve been in favour of the local option (allowing individual dioceses to decide whether to allow same-sex blessings) and I tried to encourage the church to look at that as a way of addressing the way which the whole sexuality issue has deeply divided some people,” he said. “As an active bishop I’ve followed and I’ve upheld the oaths of the office that I took and particularly around the issue of unity in the church. But for me now, this issue has moved from one of unity to one of justice.”

Archbishop Finlay expressed the hope that Anglicans across the country would “reflect on this (his action) with understanding and recognize that we are a family that can contain with it enormous diversity; gifted people from all sorts of different persons. And that this is the journey of one person.”

(This article has been updated and revised.)


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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