News of former National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald’s resignation due to sexual misconduct allegations has shocked many in the church, with Indigenous and non- Indigenous leaders describing both emotional and practical challenges in coming to terms with it.
MacDonald resigned as national Indigenous archbishop and formally relinquished his exercise of ordained ministry April 20 following allegations of sexual misconduct.
In a pastoral letter to the church, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said MacDonald had acknowledged the sexual misconduct. His resignation took effect in accordance with Canon XIX on Relinquishment or Abandonment of the Ministry. The primate confirmed to the Anglican Journal that there are no allegations of criminal offences.
“This is devastating news,” Nicholls said in her pastoral letter. “The sense of betrayal is deep and profound when leaders fail to live up to the standards we expect and the boundaries we set. Our hearts hold compassion for human frailty and space for repentance while we also ache with the pain that such betrayal causes first to the complainant; then to so many others and to the life of our Church.”
The primate asked Sidney Black to serve as interim national Indigenous bishop. Black had been serving as Indigenous bishop of Treaty 7 territory within the diocese of Calgary until his retirement from that position in 2019, and is still licensed to do ministry there.
Speaking to the Journal in late April, Black said the next gathering of Sacred Circle was still on for May, though details of the agenda remained to be worked out.
“A lot of this has come just [on] short notice,” Black said. “I’m really on a learning curve and just trying to understand this whole process, what has happened.”
The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) is currently preparing the Covenant and Our Way of Life, founding documents of the self-determining Indigenous church, for Sacred Circle.
The process of selecting a new permanent national Indigenous archbishop, Black said, would be similar to that used for selecting diocesan bishops, with a search committee looking at candidates, followed by an election and consecration.
“We haven’t even gone that far,” Black said of the process to find MacDonald’s successor. “We’ve just been dealing with the reaction of folks to the incident.”
Former Indigenous Ministries director Donna Bomberry, an elder who has served as a consultant on the Covenant and Our Way of Life, said Sacred Circle will continue in its efforts to confirm the documents.
“I’m dazed and confused and grieving, but working with others to keep this moving forward,” Bomberry said.
The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) met on April 26 to hold a sharing circle in which members shared their thoughts in the aftermath of the news. The council also began the process of holding an electoral synod to find a new permanent national Indigenous bishop.
As this story was being written, an in-person Sacred Circle gathering was still planned to go ahead in May or June. ACIP co-chair Murray Still said the sole purpose of that meeting would likely be to elect a new archbishop, with ratification of the Covenant and Our Way of Life potentially taking place at a later Sacred Circle meeting in August.
“We would, I think, want people to know we support and love Mark and our prayers are with him, his family, with the complainant, and with any of the survivors of sexual misconduct or abuse anywhere, especially our missing and murdered,” Still said. “Our prayers are with all of them and their families. It’s been a difficult time for all of us.”
Still said the ACIP meeting also included plans for the Rupert’s Land provincial synod the following weekend and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Canada.
“We’re looking forward to the provincial synod because we do have a chance to share the story of the Covenant and Our Way of Life, and I think that’s going to be a positive experience for us,” Still said. “We’re looking forward to the archbishop’s visit.”
A letter by MacDonald “to the Indigenous peoples of the Anglican Church of Canada” was posted to the Anglican Council of Indigenous People Facebook group before being deleted. In the letter, MacDonald says he plans to “return to the Land and, under wise spiritual guidance, live my life in penitence with, I hope and pray, the discipline of the Gospel.”
Though he had planned to resign and retire for a long time, MacDonald said, present circumstances made it necessary for him to do so immediately. He expressed sorrow that his resignation had happened in this manner.
“Despite my strong hope and faith that you will do better and best without me, I am sad beyond my words to express that this will cause many of you pain,” MacDonald said. “With the grace you have given me, this is not what you deserved. Though I know many will be angry, I fear even more that this will lead to discouragement. No human being is worth that.”
“Over the years, I have been the fortunate recipient of the finest co-disciples, relatives, and friends that any human being could ask for,” he added. “Your inspiration means so much and it deeply grieves me that I have given pain and failure in return.
“Today, my failures eclipse anything that I have done—they are all that I can see—especially the ways I have hurt people personally. I ask your forgiveness and God’s, but will try to live so that there is some repair. Whatever may be, the grace of God in you is not even slightly dimmed by the failings that plague me.”
MacDonald asked for prayers for his family, for his forgiveness if possible, and for Sacred Circle, “that it becomes what it is meant to be.”
The primate said in her pastoral letter that the church’s prayers first and foremost must be for the complainant affected by MacDonald’s actions.
“The betrayal of trust by someone in such a prominent role of leadership will require a long road of healing and our constant prayers,” Nicholls said.
She also asked the church to pray for Black and ACIP as they move forward to confirm the Covenant and Our Way of Life documents for Sacred Circle.
Finally, Nicholls invited Anglicans to hold MacDonald and his family in prayer.
“The ripple effects of this misconduct will be felt throughout the Church both in Canada and internationally, but most especially within the Sacred Circle and Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples,” Nicholls said. “We mourn with them. I trust that the good work that the Sacred Circle has initiated will continue to deepen and grow.”
A public announcement posted to the Anglican Church of Canada website reiterated the church’s commitment to ensure its workplaces are “free from violence, coercion, discrimination, and sexual harassment”; that no one should be subjected to sexual misconduct of any kind; that it deals “promptly, seriously and systematically with all complaints of sexual misconduct”; and that anyone who holds positions of trust or power in the church will not take advantage of or abuse that trust.
The statement cited A Call to Human Dignity, the declaration of principles adopted by General Synod in 2001 for protection of parishioners and staff, as well as the Safe Church Charter of the Anglican Communion adopted by General Synod in 2019.
Correction: Sidney Black retired as Indigenous bishop of Treaty 7 territory within the diocese of Calgary in 2019. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.