Homophobic comments upset Canadian bishops

Published September 1, 1998


“There were no surprises at all.”

That succinct observation by Bishop Michael Ingham could probably cover most of the reaction of Canadian bishops on the outcome of the resolution on sexuality.

“Anyone expecting a progressive statement would be out of touch,” he said, adding “there was encouragement from both sides of the debate.

“Traditionalists have received confirmation of their view of Anglican moral teaching. Gays and lesbians received assurance they are full members of the body of Christ and they are not to be subjected to irrational fear.”

“On balance, it reflects pretty much where we are in the guidelines,” said Bishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee. But he noted that the debate was full of a kind of passion and homophobia that was offensive even to the conservative Canadians present.

He said there was a feeling of triumphalism that’s very different from the situation in Canada.

“Our House (of Bishops) is a model of listening to each other with openness and charity,” he said.

That would be an understatement for Bishop Terence Finlay. “We are at another stage in the journey,” he said.

“I’m just appalled,” he said in an interview a day after the vote. “I’ve got a lot of anger.”

He said gays and lesbians “must be feeling just totally as if they’ve been written off – totally rejected.”

His view contrasted sharply with that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. At a media briefing the same day, Archbishop Carey said he thought the resolution “found the mind of the conference.” He said it “clearly includes gay people in the church.

“I’m sad that our resolution has caused them such pain, he said, but “I invite them to continue the journey with us. I invite them to listen to the voice of the church.”

Bishop Finlay agreed there was a positive side. He said in 1988 the word homosexuality was not used. In 1998, “that they were acknowledged as full members of the church was incredible.”

His former Toronto colleague, now Bishop of Edmonton, Victoria Matthews, agreed. She said the insistence that the dialogue continue was important. “If it’s followed, we can never have this conversation again” she said, suggesting homosexuality won’t be the same sort of issue in 10 years time.

Bishop Finlay is anxious to renew the dialogue in his diocese. Toronto is the biggest diocese on the continent and has a large homosexual population, many of whom are Anglican.

“I’m really sad for the charcterization that has taken place of the relationships of gays and lesbians who are members of our congregation,” he said. “It’s a complete travesty.”

They are “just the regular folk in our communities.”

A member of the sub-section that wrestled with the issue for an estimated 800 hours, Bishop Finlay said at the end of two difficult weeks the group had drafted a report that could satisfy both ultra-conservative member Australian Bishop Paul Barnett and ultra-liberal Bishop Jack Spong. When it was completed, “we stood and sang the doxology.”

But at the debate, he said some people treated it like a joke.

In fact, Primate Michael Peers said a number of bishops were making crude jokes at the expense of gays and lesbians.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also came under fire for expressing his view to the bishops just before the vote that the resolution was traditional and orthodox.

“It’s not a way we would expect the president to act, particularly in a place which is divisive,” said Archbishop Peers.

Kootenay’s Archbishop David Crawley, also a member of the sub-section involved, was more direct: “It was disgraceful,” he said.

One of Toronto’s suffragan bishops, Michael Bedford-Jones, said he found the situation “emotionally very difficult because friends in and out of the church and colleagues in the church were being talked about without their being present.”

In the Canadian House of Bishops, he said, “we try to speak as if gay and lesbian people are present.

“Our church in Canada has worked very, very hard at listening.

“For us, the debate is far from closed.”


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