While several Canadian churches have sought to join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone because of theological differences with the Canadian church, Rev. Maurice Francois left Chile, which is part of the southern South American church province, for Canada, also due to theological disagreements.
He contacted the Anglican Journal and offered to tell his story.
The son of an Anglican priest, Maurice Sr., Mr. Francois, who is 46, said in an interview that he was rejected in Chile as a candidate for theological education due to what he describes as “a theological dictatorship.”
From an early age, he said, his “left-wing” concerns for social justice clashed with a church that is more “paternalistic” toward South American native people, does not ordain women, is “non-tolerant” of gay and lesbian Christians and has little interest in ecumenical relations.
Emigrating to Canada in 1994, he earned a master of divinity degree in 1998 at Trinity College, University of Toronto, and was ordained as a deacon the same year and as a priest in 1999. Fluent in five languages, he currently leads the Hispanic ministry at Holy Trinity Anglican church and also serves St. Paul’s, Runnymede, both in Toronto. He is married to Canadian Mary Scarfo.
One of his most serious clashes with the Chilean Anglican church (Iglesia Anglicana de Chile) occurred in 1988 when he was 26. He was charged in an ecclesiastical (church) court of “using the church to share my ideologies. They accused me of being Communist, of being non-loyal to the church, of betraying the church.” He was sentenced, he said, “to be re-indoctrinated, but the professor resigned because he thought I was impossible.”
Work with development projects among indigenous peoples in Chile – one of them supported by the Canadian church’s Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund as well as the Chilean Anglican church – brought him closer to the idea of ordination.
He is in regular contact with friends and family in Santiago and has closely followed the conflicts within the Anglican Communion over conservative and liberal approaches to theology, particularly concerning homosexuality.
The alliance between the Anglican Network in Canada, a group of breakaway Canadian churches, and the Southern Cone “is functional for now,” Mr. Francois believes.
“But in the Southern Cone, a (Canadian) conservative … would be considered middle of the road, even liberal. For example, they don’t ordain women, except in Uruguay, where there is one lady as a deacon. Also, the liturgy is more like a Pentecostal church. In the apostolic creed, they omit the world ‘catholic, because of the Roman Catholic church. There is non-tolerance for ecumenical relationships.”
Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate (national bishop) of the Southern Cone, has offered to accept dissident churches in North America, against the wishes of the Canadian and American primates.
Mr. Francois characterizes Archbishop Venables’ action as “a provocation,” and said it reflects a society “that is very polarized – rich and poor, high church and low church, white and black, nothing in between. The character of dialogue is very basic because they don’t come to the table and discuss the differences.”
At the “official” level, leaders of the Southern Cone are all conservative, he said, “but when you start to check among lay people, you will start to be surprised; there is a diversity. I want to help people without a voice. Many people don’t have (a way) to say ‘I think differently; I think we can dialogue. I think we need to live with diversity, to honour the richness among our Anglican Communion.'”