Canadian church leaders have appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury to address moves by dissidents to join a South American church and minister illegitimately in Canada.
In a pastoral statement dated Nov. 29, a week after the Anglican Network met, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate (national bishop) of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he deplored “recent actions on the part of the primate and General Synod of the Province of the Southern Cone to extend its jurisdiction in Canada.” The statement was also signed by the church’s four metropolitans, or regional archbishops.
Referring to Bishop Don Harvey and Bishop Malcolm Harding’s intent to minister to disaffected churches in Canada, Archbishop Hiltz said such ministry is “inappropriate, unwelcome and invalid.”
[pullquote]Archbishop Hiltz said the Southern Cone’s reception of the churches “breaks fellowship within the Anglican Church of Canada and the (worldwide) Anglican Communion.” Actions by the primate of the Southern Cone, Archbishop Gregory Venables, are “inappropriate” and “contravene ancient canons (laws) of the church going as far back as the fourth century.” They also violate a Canadian canon that states no clergy member may exercise ministry in a diocese without the diocesan bishop’s permission, the statement said.
The Council of General Synod, in a statement released Nov. 16, after Bishop Harvey’s defection, described his decision as “a source of sadness.” It also said it would not tolerate any incursions into the jurisdiction of the Canadian Anglican church by another province.
It also said Bishop Harvey’s action aggravates the “current tensions in the Anglican Communion.”
In discussing the statement at the CoGS meeting, Archbishop Hiltz said, “We need to be clear about what we stand for … not that it’s a race to the public, but it’s an obligation to the church.”
The council, the primate and the metropolitans asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, “to make clear that such actions are not a valid expression of Anglicanism.”
Archbishop Hiltz noted that the national governing convention, General Synod, has “strived to honour every voice as the church works through contentious and difficult issues before it. This is particularly true in the way the church has endeavoured to address matters of human sexuality.”
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Venables said Canadian Anglican leaders are practising “either denial or hypocrisy” when they criticize bishops who cross national and diocesan jurisdictions to minister to congregations that are conservative on the issue of homosexuality.
“They have broken historic agreements – the Lambeth Conference agreement and the Windsor Report – to go ahead with blessing same-sex relationships. To use that argument against us is a bit odd, to say the least,” he said.
International statements and agreements in recent years concerning the Anglican controversy over homosexuality have referred to a need for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex couples and the ordination of gay priests or bishops. They have also called for an end to boundary-crossing by priests and bishops.
Archbishop Venables said he was offering Canadian parishes that feel they can’t stay within the Anglican Church of Canada “a place of holding” and, “a way to remain in the Anglican Communion until this difficult situation is resolved. They don’t have to abandon Anglicanism.”
A citizen of the United Kingdom, Archbishop Venables said he has visited Canada several times and is familiar with the Canadian church. He has no immediate plans to visit Canada, but said that “if things proceed, I should imagine I would be visiting at some point.”
The dissenting churches do not feel the Canadian provisions for protection of dissenters are adequate, said Archbishop Venables. “They don’t agree with what is offered, otherwise they would have accepted it,” he said.
Parishes in dispute with their diocesan bishops have asked for a visiting conservative bishop with full jurisdiction that would include appointing clergy and performing confirmations, but the alternative oversight plan the Canadian bishops currently offer contains limited jurisdiction.
Homosexuality is not the only area of concern, said Archbishop Venables. “The sexuality issue is the presenting issue,” but pluralism (the concept that there is more than one way to God) is also a concern. “Jesus is seen as an option. His divinity is not an objective fact. That pluralism is a denial of the basic Christian faith,” said Archbishop Venables.
Meanwhile, several diocesan bishops, including Ralph Spence of Niagara and John Chapman of Ottawa, asked clergy involved in the Anglican Network to meet with them, although no disciplinary action was announced.
Bishop Jim Njegovan of Brandon released a letter calling the actions by his predecessor, Bishop Harding, “sad news,” but also noting that he “will be unable to function in any capacity in any of the congregations of this or any other diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, in a pastoral letter, said Bishops Harvey and Harding’s relinquishment of ministry in Canada also means they have relinquished ministry “in the entire Anglican Communion.”