It is impossible to go back, bishops say of moratoria

Published September 2, 2008

Canterbury, England
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he wasn’t surprised with the Lambeth Conference’s call for a moratorium on actions that have led to divisions over sexuality. He said that bishops needed to be honest that this has been “a huge, huge challenge to implement.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the moratorium and other recommendations are matters for the Canadian house of bishops and the Council of General Synod – the church’s governing body between General Synods – to discuss. Bishops were also presented with a proposal to create a pastoral forum that would create a “safe space” for conservative Anglicans who have left their churches.

There was wide agreement that moratoria on same-sex blessings, the ordination of gay bishops and cross-border interventions by conservative bishops would help to heal the conflict engulfing the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury warned that failure to heed the call would put the Communion “in grave peril.” (Please see related story, p. 1).
Earlier, the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) suggested that the moratoria be “retrospective.” However, the final document issued by bishops dropped the word “retrospective,” which has further sowed confusion. The WCG was formed last February by Archbishop Rowan Williams to “address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.”

Victoria Matthews, a member of the WCG and bishop of the diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, said that the body’s proposal for a “retrospective” moratorium on same-sex blessings means that dioceses such as Vancouver-based New Westminster “will be asked to reconsider and withdraw that right. It isn’t just from here on there will be no new ones…”
The use of the word “retrospective,” which has the potential to affect a number of Canadian dioceses, has been questioned by some Canadian bishops.

Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese – New Westminster – voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002, reacted strongly to the WCG’s proposals, describing it as “an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence.” Bishop Ingham called the WCG proposals “punitive in tone, setting out penalties and the like, instead of inviting us into deeper communion with one another through mutual understanding in the body of Christ.” He added that the suggestion of a pastoral forum “institutionalizes external incursions into the life of our churches.”

[pullquote]Bishop Ingham also questioned why the Windsor Report was being regarded “as an agreed benchmark from which it is assumed we can move forward. It is not so.” (The Windsor Report, published in 2004 by an international commission, outlined ways of healing divisions within the nearly 80-million Anglican Communion over human sexuality.)

Bishop Ingham said that if the proposal for a moratorium on same-sex blessings is adopted, “it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation.” (Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.)
Canadian churches have proceeded with actions around same-sex blessings “only after a long, considered period of discussion from a whole pile of points of view – theological, liturgical, canonical and pastoral,” Archbishop Hiltz said. “There’s a certain sense that emerges from that kind of conversation and some dioceses in our country are saying that they’re discerning that there’s some kind of gospel imperative to act. To say to those people, ‘You have to put a moratorium’, it’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that it would be “equally a huge challenge for primates and bishops who have engaged in interventions for them to stop because they’re so convinced that they’re doing the right thing in terms of saving people who no longer have or want any association with their own church but want to remain Anglican,” he said. “For them to say, ‘Now stop it,’ it’s more than obvious to me that primates have been asked to do that for the last two years and they haven’t. In fact, their interventions are increasing even as we’re here in this conference.” (About 10 Canadian Anglican churches have put themselves under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone.)

Reuters has reported Don Harvey, a former bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada and now moderator of a breakaway group in Canada, as saying that such interventions would not end “without direct evidence of a change of heart by the mainline Canadian church.”
George Elliott, suffragan bishop of Toronto (York-Simcoe), said, “I don’t think there’s a going back. I think there are ways in which we can perhaps slow down or continue to consider what a moratorium might be. But I don’t think it’s possible to go back. I don’t think it’s fair to go back.” He said that dioceses that have moved ahead “and done it faithfully,” have done it in the context of Canadian church polity. “It would be absolutely devastating to even think about moving back to where we were before.”

Some bishops have likened the idea of a retrospective moratorium to “attempting to put toothpaste back in the tube,” said Bishop Philip Poole, suffragan bishop of Toronto (York-Credit Valley).

“Having made a decision at some point in the past has changed the way we live, and you can’t say ‘we’ll just go back where we were,'” said Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, bishop of Moosonee and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Ontario.

Archbishop Terrence Buckle, bishop of the diocese of Yukon and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia, said that while he agreed to the moratoria it was going to be “very difficult to hold… because of where we’ve come to at the present time and seeing people back up from where they’re at is going to be very difficult for some people.”
Bishop Matthews said a retrospective moratorium is not something that can’t be undone. “I don’t think they actually mean ‘can’t,’ I think they actually mean ‘won’t,” she said. “It’s not physically impossible to change that. I can understand if they say they don’t want to.”

She said that she would say the same thing to bishops and primates who are being asked not to accept breakaway churches under their wings but who say they are fulfilling a gospel imperative when they commit cross-border interventions.

Bishop Matthews, who is a former bishop of the diocese of Edmonton, said the same “retrospective” moratorium applies to cross-border interventions, but not the ordination of Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire.
“No, we would never go back and ask for his (Bishop Robinson’s) resignation. That’s not part of it,” she said. “The word ‘retrospective’ has never been used in the consecration and election of a non-celibate gay bishop. It’s never been part of our thinking, ever.”

Bishop Matthews said the WCG’s proposals would be presented to the primates, who will meet early next year, and to Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in May.
Asked what would happen if the proposals are not accepted, she said, “That’s fine; we do the very best we can to give a way forward, given that there’s not a lot of wiggle room to move in that but we’re doing our best.”

Rev. Neil Fernyhough, priest-in-charge of St. Hilda’s in Sechelt, B.C., one of the New Westminster parishes authorized to perform same-sex blessings, said that a “retrospective” moratorium would be “a huge step backwards and would have a huge effect on our diocese.”

The recommendation for the creation of a pastoral forum would mean that the diocese “would have to choose between its current inclusive stance or risk diminishment of its status in the communion,” he said.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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