Blessings vote causes rift with Catholics

Published January 1, 2005

The diocese of Niagara’s approval of same-sex blessings during its November synod has caused a rupture in its relationship with local Roman Catholics.

The Roman Catholic diocese of Hamilton in southern Ontario has decided not to take part in the renewal of baptismal vows with Anglicans and Lutherans during this month’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, expressing concern over the diocese’s approval of a motion allowing the blessing of gay couples.

Despite the synod vote, diocesan policy regarding blessings did not change, as bishop Ralph Spence did not endorse the vote. That the bishop did not endorse the synod decision apparently did not make a difference.

“After a frank and honest exchange of views at lunch today (Dec. 3rd), with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hamilton (Anthony F. Tonnos) and the Auxiliary Bishop (Matthew Ustrzycki), it saddens us that we will not be able to share in the renewal of baptismal vows during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” said a joint statement issued by bishops Ralph Spence of the Anglican diocese of Niagara and Michael Pryse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. “The recent vote by the synod of the diocese of Niagara on the subject of blessing same-sex unions has caused concern with our Roman Catholic colleagues.”

Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics had, for the last four years, gathered for a renewal of baptismal vows. Last year, they commemorated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in an evensong at Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton, Ont. It would have been the turn of the Lutherans to host this year’s celebration.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity unites Christian churches throughout the world. Its theme this year is “Our Foundation is Jesus Christ”

Bishop Spence told Anglican Journal that the decision “has saddened us to say the least.” But he said that Bishop Tonnos is “very firm in his decision and we respect where he’s coming from. ” Roman Catholics, he added, see the blessing of gay couples as “an attack on marriage.”

The joint statement added, however, that Roman Catholics would join the annual Lutheran Anglican Roman Catholic (LARC) study day this year. “The friendship between the four bishops continues as a sign of our respect for each other’s ministries,” Bishops Spence and Pryse said in their statement.

Bishop Spence said he does not believe that the dialogue will end or that it has now taken a step backward. “I think we’re just standing still,” he said.

Until the statement, there was no sign that Anglican-Roman Catholic relations were suffering under the strain of the deep divisions among Anglicans worldwide over same-sex issues.

A day after Niagara’s vote on Nov. 13, a group of Canadian, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Rite Catholic bishops met in Ottawa for a dialogue that discussed a wide range of issues including the Anglican Communion’s Windsor Report.

Although some Catholics have expressed concern “about developments within Anglicanism,” particularly tensions over the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire and the blessing of same-sex unions in New Westminster, the matters were not raised by the bishops during the dialogue, said Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry department.

In a press statement released after the meeting, the bishops said discussion on the Windsor Report, which focused on issues of communion, authority, decision-making and homosexuality “were addressed in a spirit of respect and honesty.”

Archbishop Andrew Hutch-ison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Francois Lapierre of Ste. Hyacinthe, Que., co-chaired the meeting.

“The Roman Catholics were very interested in the way in which Anglicans make decisions,” Ms. Barnett-Cowan told Anglican Journal. “Mostly they were seeking to understand how it is that we have come out where we are. They were just as interested in the way in which we came to allow remarriage after divorce … Since they have a central magisterium (teaching authority), they were interested in how Anglicans in different provinces decide.”

Ms. Barnett-Cowan said this was an ongoing discussion within the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, which has been in dialogue in Canada since 1975.


  • 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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