Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Canadian house of bishops on Oct. 31 said a “large majority” of its members could affirm “a continued commitment to the greatest extent possible” to a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions but also recognized that this would pose difficulty for some dioceses “that in conscience have made decisions on these matters.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, acknowledged that this stance allows dioceses such as Montreal and Ottawa some wiggle room to continue what their bishops have recently described as “incremental” and “experiential” steps toward same-sex blessings.
“This is a very honest statement from the point of view that it clearly reflects the reality of the Canadian church … that there are some within the house who would not stand within that majority,” said Archbishop Hiltz in an interview at the conclusion of the week-long meeting. “At the same time it seems to me that all that stand within that majority worked hard to be as gracious and as generous as they could in recognizing that some dioceses have been in discernment for a long time” on the matter of same-sex blessings. The diocesan bishops of Montreal, Ottawa, Niagara and Huron have all been asked for permission to offer same-sex blessings. The diocese of New Westminster has allowed the blessing of same-sex unions in eight parishes since 2002. (See related story, p.3)
Archbishop Hiltz said, however, that, “it’s my sense from what these bishops have told the house that the floodgates haven’t opened for Ottawa and Montreal to immediately proceed to blessings.” He said that “the bishops have clearly indicated they need time to think about what’s been said here. I think that in the primates’ meeting (in February 2009) and the Anglican Consultative Committee meeting (in May 2009), we’ll probably be in a position to say that these dioceses are in the process of continuing discernment, but they’ve taken some incremental steps forward.” The “large majority” of Canadian bishops also said they would accept the request made at the recent Lambeth Conference of bishops for moratoria on the ordination of gay bishops in same-sex relationships and on cross-border interventions.
“There will be some who will say, ‘you’ve created space for some dioceses and we’re not comfortable with that; moratorium is moratorium.’ But I think in terms of the communion, most reasonable people will look at this statement and say, ‘they wrestled with it.'”
Archbishop Hiltz said that, “irrespective of my own position,” he had encouraged the bishops in their closed-door discussions to “exercise gracious restraint” as had been requested by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who had also warned that the Anglican Communion would be in “grave peril” if the requests for the three moratoria were ignored.
Archbishop Hiltz said he believes that “these deliberations across the church will have a significant impact on discussions at General Synod in 2010 and on the subsequent authority of dioceses through due synodical process to proceed with blessings.”
But, despite his plea, Archbishop Hiltz said it was clear that, as the bishops’ discussions on the moratoria progressed, “we were not going to arrive at a statement that every single person could put their signature to,” unless the differences in positions were recognized.
The diocesan bishop of Saskatoon, Rodney Andrews, whose synod last April voted against same-sex blessings, said he was “comfortable” with the statement. “I think it’s the reality that exists in Canada,” he said. “We have to be very responsible to the experience that we had at the Lambeth Conference.”
The bishop of the diocese of Caledonia, William Anderson, also expressed support for the statement. “It recognizes the reality that we are part of a world-wide family and that, whatever we do, there are consequences for people around the world, just as there are consequences for our actions within our own national church,” he said.
He said it also “acknowledges a reality that has often been overlooked in our church; that after prolonged conversation, prayer and study, some have reached differing conclusions. Some dioceses and bishops feel they should act now to implement same-sex blessings, and that they cannot wait. Others wish to await the discussions at General Synod and the work being done at the international level.”
The bishop of the diocese of Niagara, Michael Bird, expressed “profound disappointment” with the statement. “I want to state clearly that I do not support the moratoria as it has been articulated,” he said. “Even more disappointing is the fact that an opportunity has been missed to find a creative and generous solution to one of the most momentous challenges our church has faced in many years.”
The diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, said, however, that the discussions were “anxious and fearful.” He added: “I’ve been in this house for 15 years and we’ve been in discussion for 15 years. There’s a spirit of fearfulness that grips the bishops when discussions of this matter arise. It’s very sad that we’re completely hung up on this. I’m bone weary, to be honest, of these discussions.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Ingham said four more parishes in his diocese have indicated through votes of their vestry meetings that they would like to become places of same-sex blessings. He said it was a matter that would be discussed at New Westminster’s synod scheduled May 22 to 23, 2009.
The primates are scheduled to meet in February, and the Anglican Consultative Council in May. In their statement, the bishops also affirmed a commitment to establish diocesan commissions to discuss same-sex blessings in preparation for General Synod in 2010.
“That commitment reflects that some dioceses have just begun conversations while others have been at it for years,” said Archbishop Hiltz.