Ontario priest disciplined for marrying same-sex couple

Published December 1, 2007

A priest in the diocese of Ontario has been disciplined and had his licence to marry cancelled after he officiated at the wedding of a same-sex couple last August in a church in rural Ontario, where he is the incumbent.

Rev. Michael Bury, rector of St. John the Evangelist church, in Stirling, Ont., a small village located about 190 km east of Toronto, confirmed in an interview that his licence to perform marriages has been cancelled.

In an interview, diocesan bishop George Bruce said the cancellation is effective until further notice. “I had issued a directive in 2003 that we would not bless same-sex relationships nor conduct marriages. There was no canonical permission to do it. There are consequences (to such an action),” he said.

In an unrelated development, Mr. Bury has been on medical leave since Sept. 22 and diocesan clergy have been filling in at St. John’s. The priority now is for Mr. Bury to regain his health, said Bishop Bruce.

Mr. Bury declined to comment on his licence suspension or on the same-sex wedding. He said his congregation is aware that his licence to marry has been cancelled and that he has been “ordered not to attend the church” until January 2008.

In a letter dated Oct. 24 and sent to clergy in the Kingston, Ont.-based diocese, Bishop Bruce stated that an unidentified priest had committed a “serious breach” of Canon XXI, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Canon (law) on Marriage, which allows the sacrament for a man and a woman only. Mr. Bury was later identified as the priest involved through public documents.

Bishop Bruce wrote that when questioned, “the individual indicated that they had no intention of asking me about this nor of informing me.”

He added: “Whether the reason for this action was considered to be pastoral, or was an act in support of an individual theology is immaterial.”

The bishop cautioned clergy against conducting same-sex blessings or same-sex weddings. “To be clear, no priest of this diocese may bless a same-sex relationship, nor officiate at a marriage of same-sex couples unless and until General Synod decides to amend the marriage canon,” he wrote.

[pullquote]Bishop Bruce noted that General Synod has asked for a proposed amendment to the marriage canon to come before it for consideration in 2010.

(During its meeting in June, General Synod voted to study revising the marriage canon to allow clergy to marry all legally qualified persons. Civil marriage for same-sex couples has been legal in Canada since 2005. Synod also agreed that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine, but declined by a slim margin to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them. Some canon law experts interpret those rulings to mean that there is nothing in the church’s canons or constitution preventing a diocese from acting on the matter now that Synod has said that the blessing of same-sex unions are “not in conflict” with core doctrine.)

Bishop Bruce reminded clergy that the house of bishops agreed last April to give “the most generous (pastoral) response possible (to same-sex couples) given the current teaching of the church,” which includes celebrating a eucharist with a civilly-married gay couple without a nuptial blessing.

The bishop said he had requested the office of the provincial registrar general to cancel the priest’s licence to marry.

Mr. Bury joined St. John the Evangelist three years ago, after serving in the parish of Lansdowne Rear, also in the diocese of Ontario. He was an ordained deacon for 24 years, and a priest for about eight years. He confirmed that he was a signatory to Claim The Blessing, an online petition which urged General Synod in 2004 to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.

Two other Canadian Anglican clerics have been disciplined for officiating at same-sex weddings: Dean Peter Wall, who married a lesbian couple in 2003 at Niagara’s Christ Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., and retired Archbishop Terrence Finlay, who married a lesbian couple at a United church in Toronto in 2006.

Earlier this year, Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck, a priest in the diocese of Saskatoon, was asked to reconsider his declaration that he would marry gay couples if asked or lose his licence to minister. Mr. Beck chose to resign his position.


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