Communion reacts to controversial decision

Published September 1, 2002

Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster speaks to reporters after the synod’s decision on same-sex blessings.

Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people of every stripe have weighed in with an opinion about the diocese of New Westminster’s vote to move ahead with the blessings of same-sex unions.

Even before synod met, a group of five current Anglican primates and two retired archbishops wrote the diocese warning that a vote for same-sex blessings “would be viewed not only as a grave affront but will also set in motion deliberations on breaking communion” with their dioceses.

The bishops were from Kenya, Central Africa, South India, South East Asia, West Indies, Sydney and the Southern Cone of South America.

In the weeks after synod, dissenting clergy made much of the words of Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who retires in October. In a letter to the clergy, Archbishop Carey said he remains strongly opposed to blessing couples of the same gender, and believes that homosexual relationships are not on a par with “the man-woman ideal portrayed in Holy Scripture.”

But he gently rebuked clergy and parishes that walked out of synod, saying that Anglicans should always “speak the truth in love.

However, weeks later, at a consultation on the future of Anglicanism at Oxford, Archbishop Carey strayed from the text of a sermon and sharply criticized the New Westminster decision to move ahead with same-sex blessings.

He said that “the issue is a most serious one,” which raises two problems. “It first of all undermines marriage. And secondly, it is schismatic,” because “it divides the Communion. It also makes us a very embarrassing partner in ecumenical circles as well.”

His remarks came just days after he issued a press release calling for restraint and a period of reflection from Anglicans.

In late June, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, primate of Rwanda, wrote a message of support to the 12 clergy and offered the possibility of “ecclesiastical protection.” He said that the relationship of New Westminster with the Anglican church worldwide, “has been jeopardized by the schismatic acts” of the synod and added that he would be willing to share with others “the possibility of ecclesiastical protection.”

In an interview later, the archbishop said the offer of “ecclesiastical protection” was a misunderstanding.

Closer to home, a group of 13 Canadian bishops (about a third of the current house of bishops) issued a public statement condemning the decision and calling on the diocese to withhold implementation.

One of the 13 bishops, Donald Harvey, from Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, also asked the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, to call an emergency summer meeting of the house of bishops to discuss the matter. Archbishop Peers declined.

William Anderson, bishop of Caledonia, said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned about such unilateral action by one diocese” but asked the diocese to respond in a measured way, “based on facts not hearsay, and in accordance with theological principles, including Christian love and patience.”

William Hockin, bishop of Fredericton and another of the 13 bishops, said the New Westminster decision “however pastoral it may seem, comes with considerable cost to the church and its unity.”

Fidelity, a Toronto-based resource and study group which holds traditional views on sexuality, wrote to Archbishop Peers, protesting the fact that New Westminster had voted to approve blessing same-sex unions without producing the rite itself.

Archbishop Terence Finlay, diocesan bishop of Toronto and metropolitan of Ontario, said that while “it would have been preferable for us to act together as a church,” he respected the right of an individual diocese to decide the matter.

He added that he personally favours a local option to allow parishes to decide whether or not they choose to bless unions under certain conditions, but for now, Toronto would not do so.

Not all the reaction was negative.

Fred Hiltz, bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, said that Bishop Ingham and his diocese had provided outstanding leadership in pastoral care for its gay and lesbian members. “Great care has been taken to develop a process for the ‘hearing of diverse voices,'” said Bishop Hiltz. “A way has been pioneered for respectful dialogue – one that will serve as a model for others as we too consider this matter.”

Ralph Spence, bishop of Niagara, commended Bishop Ingham for his courage and patience.


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