Bishops consider dissenters

Published December 1, 2003

Bishop William Anderson, of Caledonia, speaks at the house of bishops’ meeting in favour of the creation of a task force on alternative episcopal oversight.

Mississauga , Ont.
The continuing debate concerning homosexuality and the church flared into open conflict at the regular fall meeting of Canadian Anglican bishops, with a compromise proposal approved that will consider how best to care for those who disapprove of church decisions.

The bishops authorized a task force “to draw up terms and conditions for adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities in the Anglican Church of Canada,” to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury through the Canadian primate and to report to the April 2004 meeting of the house of bishops.

The bishops also asked for a ceasefire among the various warring parties in and around the diocese of New Westminster (where the blessing of gay couples is permitted), the possibility of which seemed remote during the meeting but was granted a week later.

The bishops’ meeting took place just a week before Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon announced he was withdrawing his offer of episcopal oversight to New Westminster parishes which did not support same-sex blessings. Soon after that announcement, Bishop Buckle’s superior said he was dropping charges agains the Yukon bishop and the bishop of New Westminster said he would seek a stay of charges against seven dissenting clergy.

At the bishops’ meeting, though, Bishop Buckle said that out of concern “for the safety” of the dissenting parishes, he would continue to offer episcopal oversight to the parishes. Bishop Buckle’s supervisor, Archbishop David Crawley of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon, considered that move illegal by church law.

Since Bishop Buckle’s announcement, Archbishop Crawley has suspended disciplinary proceedings against Bishop Buckle. Similarly, Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster said seven clergy in his diocese no longer faced disciplinary procedures.

The house of bishops also asked the task force to appoint a mediator that would negotiate an interim role for a visiting bishop in New Westminster that would be acceptable to Bishop Ingham and to the parishes that believe gay relationships should not be blessed.

At the meeting, after Bishop Buckle declared his concern for the dissenting parishes, (which call themselves the Anglican Communion in New Westminster), Archbishop Crawley directly addressed him across the room, saying, “Terry, in all honesty, I tell you your presence is a barrier and not a help.”

Bishop William Anderson of Caledonia took strong exception to those words, responding that Bishop Buckle “has done something my metropolitan (Archbishop Crawley) has failed to grasp.” Orthodox Anglicans, he said, “simply seek to uphold the traditional teaching of the church.” Blessing gay relationships is “sinful, heretical and schismatic,” he said.

A long and tense silence in the gathering of about 40 bishops followed his words. Archbishop Peers, who presides as chair, broke the silence, noting that he has “heard these speeches and many like them over the years,” said the house of bishops “is not a court” and should not wait “for the Archbishop of Canterbury or some deus ex machina to solve things.”

Other voices called for unity. Bishop David Ashdown of Keewatin noted that two clergy in his diocese, opposing the remarriage of divorced persons, were once ready to leave the diocese. “We found a way to accommodate them and we are still together … The unity we have at the foot of the cross has to overcome every division. My ring says the journey continues,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.

But Bishop Donald Harvey, of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador , said he “will not be able to live in a church that makes (same-sex blessings) part of its policy.” That is an area, he said, where he cannot co-exist. “I feel I have to be making plans for a future far different than I ever anticipated. I’ll always be an Anglican, but not necessarily a member of the Anglican Church of Canada,” he said.

Bishop Ann Tottenham of Toronto, one of two female bishops, said she did not wish to “sound mean,” but that “the departure of people who don’t agree isn’t a good reason (not) to do things,” noting that Anglicans who didn’t agree with the ordination of women 25 years ago also threatened to leave the church.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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