Clergy test rulings on same-sex blessings

Published September 4, 2007

Varying interpretations of the decisions made in June by General Synod about human sexuality have already led one Canadian parish to publicly offer blessings to same-gender unions, and another to say that it would not deny a parishioner’s request for a same-sex marriage.

During its seven-day national meeting in Winnipeg last June 19 to 25, the church’s highest governing body approved a resolution saying that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with the church’s core doctrine but defeated another that would have given dioceses the power to offer them in churches.

Rev. Jim Ferry, who was fired in 1991 for defying his bishop’s order to end a homosexual relationship, believes there is enough ambiguity in those decisions that it is left open to dioceses and churches to offer same-sex blessings. (Although he lost his licence in the ’90s, he has since been given some duties at Holy Trinity church in downtown Toronto.)

“I think at first there was some confusion (regarding the decisions on sexuality). But after having reflected on them, it seemed that the most important of the two resolutions (the one stating same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with Anglican core doctrine) had passed,” said Mr. Ferry. “It’s very positive. It moves us out of the realm of canon law into pastoral decision making.”

In Victoria, the rector of St. Saviour’s church, Rev. Antonio Osorio, invited lesbian and gay couples to be blessed in his parish during the Sunday service July 1. Four couples showed up to be blessed as a group and as couples, said Mr. Osorio.

“These were people in committed, faithful and long-term relationships,” he said in an interview. “They were there as friends, as members of our community and as volunteers of our church.”

Mr. Osorio said he did not think that he violated any church law since General Synod approved the resolution stating that same-sex blessings were “not in conflict” with the church’s core doctrine (dogma.). “I’m not committing any heresy,” he said, adding that it was not the first time that he performed such blessings.

“What I did was consistent with the call for justice in this parish. We have gay and lesbian members of our parish who have been involved with our programs for immigrants, refugees and the homeless. How can we deny them the same justice that we’re advocating for others?”

[pullquote]He said he is also prepared to perform a same-sex marriage, which is legal in British Columbia, if asked. “I haven’t been asked, but I’m prepared to do that. The sacrament of matrimony is given by the couples; they’re the ones giving themselves to each other. The (priest) is merely there as a witness,” he said.

Mr. Osorio’s bishop, James Cowan of the diocese of British Columbia, said he conducted an inquiry and found that what took place at St. Saviour’s was “fully within the guidelines of the house of bishops.” He added that Mr. Osorio’s comments “had been taken out of context and sensationalized.” The bishop added that to avoid any “occasion for misunderstanding by those who have not had the benefit of training in sacramental theology” he has asked Mr. Osorio “to refrain from doing anything that might look like or be construed as a blessing.” In a letter to the diocese, Bishop Cowan said that Mr. Osorio “has affirmed his intention to comply with guidelines and to do nothing that will challenge my direction” and that he considered the matter closed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ferry said that the pastoral letter issued by the church’s bishops after their meeting last April provides “some grey areas” on just what a pastoral response to gay and lesbians should be. “It’s certainly expected that we would pray with the people of God, including same-sex couples but that no nuptial blessing is allowed. But there are many, many ways of pronouncing a blessing (and) it would be difficult to monitor what’s happening.”

The bottom line, he added, is that “parishes and clergy that have been doing blessings will continue to do so; we’re not the only parish doing it.”

(In 2003, in Toronto, Holy Trinity rector Rev. Sara Boyles was admonished by Archbishop Terry Finlay after performing a public blessing of the civil marriage of two women without his consent. Later, in 2006, Archbishop Finlay himself was admonished after performing the wedding of two women.)

Mr. Ferry said that prior to General Synod, Holy Trinity church held a special vestry meeting and passed a resolution stating that it would “continue to exercise its conscience and bless same-sex unions and marry same-sex couples.”

He said, “I think what we’re doing is saying it’s our intention to move in this direction (marry same-sex couples) if the situation arises.”

He acknowledged that since the canon (church) law definition of marriage has not been revised, performing same-sex marriages “would be a deliberate act of disobedience.” (General Synod asked for a review of the marriage canon to be done before it meets again in 2010.)

Mr Ferry added that Holy Trinity church has not made a blanket offer. “We’re not putting up a sign that says, ‘come one, come all.’ They (same-sex couples) would have to be parishioners and it would involve a lot of hard thinking and would involve a conversation with the bishop.”


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