Hiltz expects sanctions on Canadian church if it approves same-sex marriage

Primates from around the Anglican Communion take part in a service at Canterbury Cathedral during the 2017 Primates’ Meeting held in Canterbury October 2-6. Photo: ACNS
Published October 13, 2017

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says sanctions will likely be placed on the church by the primates of the Anglican Communion if it proceeds to amend the marriage canon (church law) to allow same-sex marriages.

He also questions whether the primates, by taking these punitive measures, are moving beyond the original purpose of their yearly meetings.

“Oh yes,” Hiltz replied Thursday, October 12 when asked by the Anglican Journal if he expected the primates would impose sanctions on the Canadian church if a motion to amend the marriage canon passes its required second reading at General Synod in 2019.

Hiltz had recently returned from the 2017 meeting of primates from across the Anglican Communion held in Canterbury, England., October 2-6. On the second day of the meeting, the Scottish Episcopal Church, which voted in June to allow same-sex marriages, agreed to accept the same “consequences” that the primates had imposed on The Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2016 after its decision to allow same-sex marriages.

The sanctions ban the churches from representing the Anglican Communion in ecumenical and interfaith bodies; taking part in internal standing committees or “in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity” for three years.

Interestingly, Hiltz said, very few decisions about church doctrine or polity are made at the Communion level anyway.

Primates from Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda did not attend this year’s meeting because they felt order had not been restored to the Communion after the last meeting in 2016. Asked whether he thought those primates felt the sanctions hadn’t gone far enough, Hiltz said, “I think so.”

Nevertheless, Hiltz said he felt a lot of Canadian Anglicans would feel the effects of such sanctions on the Canadian church.

“We wouldn’t have the privilege or the blessing of being able to have people on our ecumenical dialogues, for example, of a Communion nature,” he said. “There are people in our church that are very gifted and graced for that kind of work, and for us to be in a position where someone says, ‘Well, sorry, you can’t be there any more’…I think that would be received with great disappointment.”

Some Canadian Anglicans, he said, believe the Anglican Church of Canada shouldn’t amend the marriage canon because of the impact they think it would have on the church’s place in the Communion.

Some Anglicans are also wondering, he said, what will happen when the three-year period of sanctions placed on TEC is up—whether it will be extended. This three-year period will come to an end in January 2019—not long before the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod that summer.

Hiltz also expressed some dissatisfaction with the idea of censuring a church because of its position on a single issue.

“I’m not a great fan of these kinds of consequences,” he said. “I often say to people in our own church, ‘We have to see each other for the whole person, we have to see our church for the whole church that it is,’ not just its struggle with one issue, because that becomes a very, very narrow view of any church…I think we’ve spent a lot of time in the life of the church, sadly, putting labels across people and looking at them from the perspective of one issue only.”

In a reflection on the Primates’ Meeting released Thursday, October 12, Hiltz also said he sometimes wondered if the Primates’ Meetings had “moved definitively beyond” the intent envisaged for them when they were established in 1978, as a forum for—in the words of Donald Coggan, then Archbishop of Canterbury—“leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation” and as a channel “through which the voice of the member churches are heard, and real interchange of heart can take place.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, questions whether the Primates’ Meeting, in issuing sanctions to provinces, is going beyond its original purpose. Photo: General Synod Communications

On the whole, however, Hiltz wrote, “conversations in this meeting of the Primates were characterized by a measure of respect and grace that was most encouraging.” The primates, he said, reaffirmed their commitment to remaining in communion with each other; their concerns about “cross-border interventions,” in which provinces involve themselves in the parishes of other provinces without their consent; and the principles of courtesy and collaboration even amidst inter-Communion tensions.

The feeling at the meeting, he said, was more cordial and less tense than in 2016. Probably one reason for the relaxing of tension, he said, was a sense that TEC had abided “graciously” by the consequences imposed on it. TEC members declined to stand on committees as per the terms of the consequences, he said. Likewise, when Bishop Mark Strange, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, was called upon to speak on his church’s decision on same-sex marriages, he did not protest but “basically indicated in his own remarks that he was not unaware…that there was every possibility that they would find themselves in the same position as The Episcopal Church,” Hiltz said.

In his reflection, Hiltz also notes the wide range of issues the primates discussed, both internal and external to the church, including evangelism, food security, the refugee crisis, human trafficking, reconciliation, climate change and interfaith dialogue. The primates agreed to have regional meetings next year, Hiltz said, adding that he himself would be hosting the meeting for the Americas, slated for November 2018.

While much of the talk on reconciliation dealt with overcoming the legacy of civil war and ethnic cleansing in various countries, Hiltz said he spoke of the need in Canada for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. He told the primates about the history of forced assimilation of Indigenous people in Canada, and encouraged them to press the governments in their countries to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Also in his reflection, Hiltz used a current £60 million ($99.5 million Cdn) restoration project now underway at Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a symbol of the constant “rebuilding” to which Christian individuals and the church as a whole are called.

“As the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ in Canterbury is restored with such skilled and loving care, may we persevere in rebuilding the spiritual life of the Church in each and every place where we serve as bishops, clergy and all those signed in baptism with the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory now and ever,” the reflection concludes.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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