Archbishop weds lesbian couple

Published November 1, 2006

Archbishop Terry Finlay (right) may not officiate at weddings.

Archbishop Terence Finlay, the retired bishop of the diocese of Toronto and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Ontario, has been disciplined for officiating at a same-sex marriage in a United Church in Toronto. He expressed the hope that Anglicans would “reflect on this with understanding.”

“The couple I married are very close friends of our family,” said Archbishop Finlay, whose licence to officiate at marriages was suspended by the current bishop of Toronto until the end of 2006.

“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.” The news of his involvement in the June ceremony, first reported Sept. 29 on the Anglican Journal Web site (, made headlines around the world. It was out of a “long journey of love, friendship, support and familial relationship” with the couple 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.”

The archbishop married Mary Rowe, a prominent public policy planner and author, and Sandra Morris, an artist and writer, at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church, on June 24. (Rev. Malcolm Sinclair, pastor of the Metropolitan United Church, signed the marriage licence.)

Archbishop Finlay, who made headlines in the early 1990s when he fired Rev. James Ferry for maintaining a homosexual relationship, said he received bad advice at the time. 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, nor did he do it “as a publicity stunt to make waves.”

The archbishop, who retired in 2004, has been “admonished” and has had his licence to officiate at marriages suspended by the diocesan bishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson. Bishop Johnson declined to 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. 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 the church’s Canon XXI, wrote Bishop Johnson, who served as Archbishop Finlay’s executive assistant for 11 years prior to being elected as his successor in 2004. “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.” The memo stated that 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.)

While he does not regret having presided at the same-sex wedding, Archbishop Finlay said he regretted “any pain or embarrassment” he caused Bishop Johnson; he added that he was aware of the difficult position Bishop Johnson was in.

(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 might have on Mr. Ferry. (See related story)

“Life in the church was very different in those days,” said the archbishop. “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 (Ferry) 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 restored a year ago and they are now honorary assistants at 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.

Archbishop Finlay also reflected about how his action related to the Canadian church, which he said had discussed this issue “over and over and in this particular situation, time just ran 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 bless same-sex couples) 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.”


  • 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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