Dealing with Lambeth moratoria

Published October 1, 2008

The Canadian house of bishops will discuss this month how best to respond to renewed proposals for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.

In a related development, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he has asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to facilitate a meeting between him, the primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables, U.S. presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the primate of Brazil, Mauricio de Andrade, to discuss cross-border interventions.

The three primates – Archbishop Hiltz, Archbishop de Andrade, and Bishop Jefferts Schori – have repeatedly asked Archbishop Venables to stop meddling in the internal affairs of their provinces. Archbishop Venables has, of his own accord, been providing episcopal oversight to churches that are in serious theological dispute with their respective provinces over the issue of sexuality. Archbishop Williams has said he will do his best to facilitate the request. Archbishop Venables told the Toronto Star he would find it “difficult” to attend such a meeting.

In an interview, Archbishop Hiltz said the Canadian bishops will have “a very focused conversation” around how they understand the call for moratoria. He said there are conflicting interpretations on what the moratorium on same-sex blessings means, with some thinking it means not having any new blessings, and some interpreting it as retroactive, which would require a synod like New Westminster to rescind its 2002 motion that allowed same-sex blessings in their diocese. He added that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent letter about the moratoria was also “significant.” Archbishop Williams had acknowledged that, while the call for moratoria received support from “a strong majority” at the conference, he was nonetheless aware of the “conscientious difficulties this posed for some.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, “rightly pointed out that it’s not for him to rescind the motion; the synod has to debate the issue.” The primate said that he’d be “very surprised if they rescind that motion.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the call for moratoria would also be “a huge pastoral challenge” for bishops of four dioceses that have pending requests from their synods for the approval of same-sex blessings “given the kind of strong majority votes those synods” had.

[pullquote]He also said that the question of reciprocity remains. Bishops who are being asked to hold off on same-sex blessings are bound to ask, “Am I going to see a similar act of graciousness on the part of a primate or a bishop who intervenes from another province?”

He said that there is clear evidence that the interventions are not going to cease. Already, conservative primates who boycotted the conference and formed a council for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) have announced plans for church plantings and the possibility of creating a new province in North America (see related story, page 1.) “It’s very complex because (they) feel their intervention is a pastoral response,” he said.

Archbishop Hiltz said that he was “not surprised” by GAFCON’s rejection of the proposals to address the conflict over sexuality. “It almost feels to me that whatever accusations or charges they lay against us, they appear to me to function very much as a separatist group,” he said.

Asked about GAFCON’s plan to set up a North American province, he said “the province has to be in communion with the See of Canterbury and it’s the Anglican Consultative Council that determines (whether a province can be set up), not a group of primates and bishops, not even the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

He said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had already expressed earlier that he only recognizes one Anglican ecclesial body in Canada, and that is the Anglican Church of Canada. Archbishop Hiltz said that while he can’t predict what the bishops will do, he is aware of that they are wrestling with the “tensions between the local and global.”

The dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal – whose synods a year ago approved a motion requesting their bishops to allow same-sex blessings- are having synods on Oct. 24 and 25, a few days before the house of bishops meeting.

“Their local constituency has spoken, an overwhelming majority in some cases,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “While some would say it was inappropriate for them to even debate the issue after the outcome at General Synod…the synod was an opportunity to hear the mind and heart of the church local, and the pastoral needs are as significant there than they are in other places as evidenced by the vote.”

At the same time, Archbishop Hiltz said, “behind them and around them is the wider picture.” The question posed by the St. Michael Report (issued by the Primate’s Theological Commission in 2005) still remains, he said. “Do we hold unity as the ultimate value and so we cling to that at the risk of making a pastoral response that is called for unnecessary in the local context, or is it the other way – the gospel imperative is so important in this pastoral context that we proceed at the risk of unity?”

Archbishop Hiltz said that while the recent Lambeth Conference didn’t resolve anything, “I think a lot of us came away a lot more aware of the context in which people are wrestling with the issue.” He said that Anglicans around the world operate in very diverse contexts. While countries like Canada allow gays and lesbians to be civilly married, there are other parts of the Anglican Communion where “if it’s found out that you’re homosexual, your life is on the line – you could be imprisoned or killed,” he said.

The diocesan bishop of Montreal, Barry Clarke, told the diocesan paper, Montreal Anglican, that he is “still in a process of prayerful thought” and “still in a space of listening to the diocese” on the issue of whether to allow priests to bless same-sex marriages under certain circumstances.

The diocesan bishop of Ottawa, John Chapman, told the diocesan newspaper, Crosstalk, “I came home from Lambeth no further along than I was before I left.”

Bishop Chapman said he would only consider a moratorium if the duration of such a moratorium is reasonable. He noted that there had been no conversation on how long the moratorium would last. “I posed the question at Lambeth – moratorium? Until when? The next Lambeth?” He said he is waiting to hear what the Anglican Consultative Council and other bodies have to say about the matter.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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