Election of gay bishop spurs complaint to Welby

While Lambeth Palace has no jurisdiction over the Anglican Church of Canada, three Toronto clergy have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene following the election of an openly gay bishop. Photo: Pete Spiro/Shutterstock
While Lambeth Palace has no jurisdiction over the Anglican Church of Canada, three Toronto clergy have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene following the election of an openly gay bishop. Photo: Pete Spiro/Shutterstock
Published October 17, 2016

Three clergy in the diocese of Toronto have sent a letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to register dissent and request an “intervention” following the election of Canon Kevin Robertson, a gay man currently living with his partner, to the episcopate in September. Welby, however, has no jurisdiction in Canada; all 38 member churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous.

The letter, signed by the Canon Murray Henderson (St. Matthew’s Riverdale), the Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton (St. Matthew’s Riverdale) and Canon Dean Mercer (Anglican Church of St. Paul, L’Amoreaux) argues that the election was “irregular” and “out of order insofar as its slate included a candidate whose lifestyle is contrary to the teaching of the historic and universal church on chastity and marriage.”

They also claim that Robertson’s inclusion was “contrary to the present doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada,” and that he was therefore “not duly qualified for the office of bishop.”

The letter adds that despite developments at this summer’s General Synod, where steps were taken to change Canon XXI (marriage in the church) to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples, the definition of “Christian marriage [as being] between one man and one woman,” still stands. Same-sex marriage will be brought to General Synod for final consideration in 2019.

When asked what he hoped the letter to Welby would accomplish, given the Archbishop of Canterbury has no formal authority outside of the Church of England, Mercer said he and his colleagues are simply looking for a second opinion.

“It wouldn’t hurt to have someone outside the Canadian church to ask the question: what in the world is going on?,” he said, adding that he would also like to receive “a little recognition” for those in the church who disagree with the direction their church is going in.

“[Accepting same-sex marriage] is a minority position within the church, and there ought to be protection for those who ally themselves with the historic teachings of the church,” he said.

When it was pointed out that no priest is required to marry a couple against the dictates of their conscience, Mercer argued that allowing bishops to be in same-sex relationships “makes a mockery of the priest who is teaching [conservative sexual ethics], and undermines completely their authority in the church.”

Both Mercer and Sider Hamilton are rectors of churches that will be under Robertson’s episcopal oversight following his installation in January.

The Anglican Journal contacted Lambeth Palace regarding the letter, but so far has not received a response.

Within Welby’s own jurisdiction in the Church of England, gay bishops in same-sex relationships are allowed to serve so long as the relationship remains platonic. When asked whether he thought his arrangement was suitable, Mercer said he didn’t consider celibate same-sex relationships as “active” relationships.

The signatories said they made their complaints known in advance to the diocese of Toronto’s nominations committee, the diocesan chancellor, and Archbishop Colin Johnson, diocesan bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, and protested again from the floor of the electoral synod itself. They said the explanation they received was “inadequate,” and that their concerns were dismissed.

Earlier in September, a separate letter had been sent to the college of bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, but Mercer said he and his co-signatories had yet to receive a response.

Mercer said that he and others from the diocese had been lodging complaints about the ordination of gay clergy in “active same-sex relationships,” arguing that such behaviour is in “contradiction of church teachings about marriage and the single life.”

When this complaint was raised at the electoral synod, Johnson responded by noting that Robertson is a priest in good standing with the diocese, and that he didn’t see any impediment to his election.

Neither Robertson nor Johnson was willing to comment on the letter when contacted by the Journal.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Canadian church, and Archdeacon Harry Huskins, executive officer of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, likewise declined to comment. Both said this was a matter that lay clearly within Johnson’s jurisdiction.

At this summer’s General Synod, before it became clear that the motion to change the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage had passed its first reading, Johnson had gone on record as saying that he did not believe the marriage canon as it is currently written actually prohibits same-sex marriage-an opinion that is shared by other leaders within the church.

Mercer said he finds the notion that the marriage canon is underdetermined-that is, does not contain firm guidelines regarding the gender of the parties who may take part in a marriage-“astonishing,” and warned that “there is going to be a lot of damage in the church” if dioceses choose to allow same-sex marriages to take place.

However, he said that Johnson has initiated “discussions” with Toronto clergy, and that he will “wait and see what comes of that” before making any definitive decisions about his next steps.

He also stressed that while he doesn’t consider Robertson qualified to serve as a bishop, it isn’t “personal.”

“My quarrel is not with Kevin Robertson,” he said. “It is with the nominating committee, the archbishop, the college of bishops, and, as of September 17, everyone who knowingly voted for him.”


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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