A retired Newfoundland bishop known for advocating for same-sex marriage has joined the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), a breakaway group of Anglican churches known for its opposition to same-sex marriage.
Bishop Cyrus Pitman, who was bishop of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador from 2004 to 2013, has come out of retirement to work for an ANiC member church in Newfoundland, the Anglican Journal has learned. ANiC is in turn part of the Anglican Church in North America, which formed a parallel and independent network of parishes in the late 2000s due to disagreement on issues of sexuality, among other doctrinal divisions.
In an email to the Anglican Journal, Pitman said he had surrendered his license as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada so that he could be licensed in ANiC.
“I have been worshipping for some time at the Church of the Good Samaritan where I am working with young men in our homeless shelter. This ministry to the homeless is what the gospel is all about. I am happy to continue to serve the Lord in this way,” he wrote.
In January 2008, Pitman asked clergy in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador to declare their loyalty to the Anglican Church of Canada at the same time that they renewed their ordination vows and licenses. At the time, the CBC reported he said that while there was room for legitimate disagreement within the church, leaving to join the incipient breakaway organization was going too far. Also at that time, his predecessor as bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Bishop Donald Harvey, was moderator bishop of ANiC, which was then in its infancy.
Susan Green is a parishioner in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland. The daughter of a pastor, she says she can’t remember a life without the church in it. Pitman, whom Green knew through her family’s connection to the church, worked closely with her to advocate for same-sex marriage in the church. She says he was the first person to encourage her, along with her partner, Brenda Halley, to speak out about wanting their family to be affirmed in the church.
So when she heard he had left the Anglican Church of Canada to join ANiC, she says, she was surprised by the reversal.
“My initial reaction was a sense of betrayal. That was an emotional reaction,” she says. “And then I started to think about it, and I tried to reframe this for myself because [whenever] I see another leader in our church or even a frontline kind of parishioner leave our church, it’s a sad thing.” But, she said, if it’s a sign that those who oppose same-sex marriage no longer feel at home in the church, “then maybe that’s an okay thing.”
In a follow-up email to the Journal, Pitman said, “I did nothing to harm gay and lesbian people when I was the bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, and I am doing nothing to harm them now.
“I am sorry if some people are offended by my decision to join ANiC. I have nothing further to say.”
Pitman’s successor, Bishop Sam Rose, declined to comment, but did forward to the Journal a message he had previously sent to the diocese’s clergy, in which he confirmed Pitman had informed him he would no longer be a member of the diocese.
“I ask your prayers for Bishop Pitman, and we thank God for his ministry in our diocese over the years,” Rose concluded the message.