Clergy make inroads in licensing canon

Published September 1, 2001

Waterloo, Ont.

A CHURCH law or canon approved in 1998 which allows a bishop to fire a priest for any reason without right of appeal, is being challenged by a resolution of the 2001 General Synod.

The resolution directs the Council of General Synod (COGS) to review and propose revisions to Canon 17 on licensing of clergy, seeking to specify “parameters for use of power to revoke a license.”

It also suggests an appeal process and “other provisions of natural justice,” and suggests guidelines for severance.

Though ordained for life, clergy cannot function in a diocese without a license or other authorization by a bishop. Revocation of a license means loss of livelihood.

A proposed licensing canon with the “no cause” termination provision was defeated by the clergy at the 1992 and 1995 general synods but adopted in 1998 despite warnings of possible “capricious misuse” by bishops.

The motion for review and revision was jointly sponsored by the dioceses of Montreal and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

People charged with an ecclesiastical offence now must be presumed innocent until proved guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” as in criminal courts instead of the easier standard of “on the balance of probabilities” used in civil courts.

However, synod soundly defeated an attempt to remove disrespect for the bishop from the list of ecclesiastical offences in the discipline canon.

This means that people guilty of “contemptuous or disrespectful conduct towards the bishop” still face penalties ranging from “admonition” to deprivation of office or ministry, or, in the case of clergy, deposition (unfrocking).

In all, the 2001 General Synod dealt with 15 issues related to various canons and regulations, ranging from simple housekeeping matters to major changes to the marriage canon and enshrining in law the mutual recognition of ministries with churches in communion with the Anglican church, which had previously simply been an understood practice.

In other changes, synod:

  • Gave first reading to a provision for doubling the number of youth members of the Council of General Synod;
  • Affirmed the presidency of the Primate of the Missionary Society of the Canadian Church (MSCC) and the Director of Partnerships as executive secretary of the Society. (MSCC served as the missionary arm of the Anglican Church of Canada until the 1960s).


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