Niagara Falls, Ont.
Anglican Church of Canada bishops decided, at the April 14 opening session of their spring meeting, to close to the public half of their week-long meeting, including all discussions of the sexuality controversy roiling the Anglican Communion.Of the roughly 20 hours of business sessions scheduled to take place April 14-18 at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre here, nearly 11 hours will be held behind closed doors, according to a vote approving the agenda.
The bishops’ practice in recent years has been to meet openly, with occasional decisions to take the meeting in camera. Previously, there have been open sessions, with various media present, on such difficult topics as sexuality and the Bible, disagreements over theology and issues surrounding the native residential schools system.Bishop Barry Clarke, of Montreal, a member of the three-person agenda committee, said in an interview outside the meeting that “there needs to be some space for the bishops to support and encourage one another, without being misunderstood or quoted out of context.”
The agenda committee chair, Bishop Sue Moxley of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, declined to comment as did Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate. Several other bishops also declined to comment.Some bishops said outside the meeting that they opposed the move but the agenda was approved unanimously. “I felt it was a little bit of overkill, but in my opinion it didn’t make sense to put up a great fight,” said Bishop Dennis Drainville, co-adjutor bishop (assistant bishop with right of succession) of Quebec. Open sessions include discussions on the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission concerning native issues, the upcoming Lambeth Conference, the International Anglican Women’s Network and issues of theological education.According to the agenda and in accordance with a practice followed at the last several meetings, the bishops intend to consider releasing a statement to the church at the end of the gathering that will summarize their deliberations. In recent months, some bishops have become more supportive of closed sessions. In fall 2006, the bishops considered a resolution that would have closed all future meetings, but decided against it. The Canadian house of bishops is not a legislative body, however as church leaders, their discussions and decisions can affect their dioceses and issues of faith within the national church and beyond.Last fall, the bishops again debated the question of whether to close sessions in favour of a statement at the end of the meeting. At the time, Victoria Matthews, then bishop of Edmonton, asked whether “we choose to speak for ourselves or let the press speak for us” and expressed concern about “statements made by people present (at the meeting) but who are not members of the house (of bishops).”