The Anglican Journal has been accused of “unethical journalism” for a story in the April issue on statements by the Bishop of New Westminster at an Integrity gathering.
The unbylined story was condensed from an article posted on the Internet by someone at the gathering.
“That an unofficial account of the meeting, with remarks filtered or taken out of context, should become the basis of a Journal article, without the courtesy of a conversation with me, is a serious matter of great concern,” wrote Bishop Michael Ingham in a letter to the Journal, and in a separate letter to diocesan clergy and council.
The story reported Bishop Ingham’s comments “in such a way as to suggest that the process of study and dialogue on same-sex unions I have outlined for the diocese is a mere facade intended to outmanoeuvre opposition,” he wrote in the letters.
The original Web story was posted on a site called The GLBT Inclusive Parish Data Base. A note one the posted article said GLBT “means ‘Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transexual.'” It was copyrighted by [email protected] and the author indicated he or she attended the Integrity meeting with Bishop Ingham. The Web site also has several other Anglican Church links, including to the Diocese of New Westminster. The home page says the owner of the site is David. An e-mail from the Web site’s manager to the Journal was signed by David Ryniker.
Since the controversy erupted, the Web story has been removed. The Journal was not able to reach Mr. Ryniker by either e-mail or
telephone by press time.
The site has an explanatory note saying it is intended as “a resource in support of GLBT persons in the Anglican Church of Canada. The owner of this site was involved in bringing forward Motion #9 in the Diocese of New Westminster, a motion for the blessing of same-sex unions.”
Bishop Ingham’s comments reported in the Journal article were made during his annual pastoral visit to Integrity Vancouver, a gay and lesbian support group. The meeting was “centred in the eucharist” and was not a meeting to “outline plans,” as suggested by the article, wrote Bishop Ingham.
After the eucharist, he did receive questions and comments about his choice to delay a decision on approving same-sex unions for at least two years and to strike three commissions to study the issue further. It was that part of the evening which formed the basis of the Internet story picked up by the Journal.
Bishop Ingham said in his diocesan letter that he reiterated to Integrity that the second vote on same-sex unions slated for the May 2001 diocesan synod takes place before General Synod in July, where the issue may also arise. But he denied the suggestion in the Journal article that he planned that timing in order to pre-empt a vote at General Synod.
“The reality of timing is that (the General Synod vote) would come after our vote and the similar vote in the Cariboo diocese. I did not suggest that my goal, or the goal of New Westminster, is to do an ‘end run’ around the national church. Indeed, my actions speak quite the opposite,” wrote Bishop Ingham.
The Internet article’s writer said: “(Bishop Ingham) argued that Anglican Essentials may try to dominate the General Synod in July 2001, and that his decision to ask for a second vote at diocesan synod in May 2001 was based on this concern, that we be able to act before some resolution from General Synod could be passed.”
Bishop Ingham, in his letter to clergy and council, acknowledged that he told the Integrity gathering that “part of our process will address whether canonical authority exists for a diocese to take a different course from the majority of bishops – a question the House itself has not addressed.”
In conclusion, Bishop Ingham assured diocesan clergy, and told them to assure others, that “there is no foundation to (the article’s) insinuation that the process has been designed to rig the outcome of our future vote.”
When reached at his home, Bishop Ingham declined to comment further or spell out inaccuracies in the story. “The Journal has done enough damage in this diocese,” he said. “The issue is not what’s happening in Vancouver, but what’s happening in Toronto when the Journal prints unverified articles from the Web.” Bishop Ingham added that the issue wasn’t one he wished to discuss with a writer but would take up with the editorial board of the Journal.
Meanwhile, Ray Hudson, chairperson of the diocesan communications committee, has written a letter to the Journal’s editorial board expressing “deep concern” over the article, saying it has created “needless distress to the people of this diocese.”
Mr. Hudson acknowledged that the Journal tried to contact Bishop Ingham for comment before printing the story (he was away on vacation), but criticized the paper’s decision to go to press anyway.
“We are deeply concerned that the Journal chose to run the story without confirmation of the quotes attributed to Bishop Ingham,” wrote Mr. Hudson. “We would appreciate receiving an explanation of how editorial decisions regarding unverified information are made at the Journal, and an assurance that we will not find ourselves in the position of defending the diocese against inaccurate reports in the future.”
He, too, declined to specify in his letter what inaccuracies were in the story.
Journal editor David Harris declined comment on the allegation of unethical journalism, preferring, he said, to save his remarks for the editorial board. Marianne Meed Ward is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster in Toronto.