Coffin defends granting of temporary license to gay priest

Published March 1, 2006

The granting of a temporary licence to an American lesbian priest who is in a relationship with a woman sparked a small debate in the diocese of Ottawa, but the bishop is standing by his decision, saying it does not reflect a change in diocesan policy. Bishop Peter Coffin said he has granted Rev. Linda Fisher Privitera, a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States, “temporary permission” to function as a priest in his diocese and that she has assured him that she will not perform same-sex blessings and will abide by the diocesan policy on sexuality. The bishop was reacting to criticisms raised by some members of the diocese that allowing Ms. Fisher Privitera to function as a priest in Ottawa signalled a shift in the diocese’s position against same-gender unions and blessings. The bishop said there had been no change in policy in the diocese. “I have expressly forbidden same-gender blessings and we continue to respect the house of bishops’ statements and this diocese will continue on its path of study, prayer and dialogue on matters related to human sexuality,” said Bishop Coffin in an e-mail interview with the Journal. Ms. Fisher Privitera moved to Ottawa from the diocese of Massachusetts last November to join her partner, who had accepted a job at Carleton University. She is now functioning as an associate priest at the parish of St. John the Evangelist, but she remains a canonical resident of Massachusetts. Criticisms against Ms. Fisher Privitera’s presence in the diocese were raised on Ottawa’s diocesan e-mail discussion list. “The fact that Bishop Coffin has licensed Linda Fisher Privitera in the diocese of Ottawa rather seems to foreclose further diocesan dialogue regarding same-sex marriage,” wrote Norman Henderson, a lay person in the diocese. He added that the decision “will move the diocese of Ottawa out of the grey zone and firmly establish its alignment with” churches and dioceses “which have been declared to be in a state of broken or impaired communion by two-thirds of the global Anglican Communion.” Several list members responded to Mr. Henderson’s e-mail, challenging his opinion and extending a welcome to the American priest. Rev. Garth Bulmer, parish priest at St. John’s, said that those opposed to Ms. Fisher Privitera are “few in number and far outnumbered by clergy who have made a point of welcoming (her).” Ms. Fisher Privitera noted that she is not in charge of the Ottawa congregation. “I’m here as an assisting priest; that means that I have an opportunity to preach, to celebrate the eucharist from time to time,” she said in an interview. Bishop Coffin said he was sensitive to the church’s discussion of same-gender relationships in his decision to license Ms. Fisher Privitera. “I knew that it is the (Anglican Church of Canada’s) stand that sexual orientation in and of itself is not a barrier to the practice of ministry within the church. Having gotten to know Linda, I offered her the ‘courtesies of the house’ by extending what we call ‘temporary permission.'” Ms. Privitera, a priest since 1997, said she has been received warmly in the parish. She clarified that her parish in Massachusetts, St. Saviour’s, has not been blessing same-sex relationships, contrary to a report in the Boston Globe, nor would she perform such a blessing if asked in Ottawa.


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