Primate responds to dissenting bishops

Archbishop Fred Hiltz defends the process that brought the same-sex marriage decision to General Synod 2016, in a letter addressed to dissenting bishops. Photo: André Forget
Archbishop Fred Hiltz defends the process that brought the same-sex marriage decision to General Synod 2016, in a letter addressed to dissenting bishops. Photo: André Forget
Published October 3, 2016

In a written response to a statement issued by seven Canadian bishops expressing their dissent from General Synod’s decision to move toward solemnizing same-sex marriages, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, pushed back against several of the points they had raised.

While he affirmed the bishops’ commitment to offer “pastoral care and loving service to all irrespective of sexual orientation,” he noted that for many LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) Anglicans, “pastoral care” would include the solemnization of their marriages-which the bishops have expressly said they will not do. “For me, my brothers, the question you ask is really a question for all members of the church. To what extent can we and will we make room for one another? To what extent will we pastorally accommodate one another?” Hiltz said in his letter.

Hiltz’s response is dated August 5, but it became public following its distribution to the House of Bishops in advance of its September 22-27 meeting in Winnipeg. The Anglican Journal obtained a copy of the letter after a request was made to the primate’s office.

Hiltz also challenged their claim that the resolution, which contains a conscience clause, “does not provide adequate protection for the consciences of dioceses, clergy and congregations.” He asked the bishops to explain what such protection would look like, and how it would apply for those in their dioceses who are in favour of same-sex marriage.

He defended the process leading up to the same-sex marriage vote July 11, which narrowly passed the first of two readings (the second will take place in 2019) and took issue with the bishops’ claim that the “entire process” leading up to the vote was “flawed,” and had “inflicted terrible hurt and damage on all involved.”

He argued that Council of General Synod (CoGS), which had been given responsibility for crafting the resolution allowing for the marriage of same-sex couples in the church after a resolution passed at General Synod 2013, had taken “considerable care” and done its work “thoroughly.”

Hiltz added that, in his opinion, the discussion of the resolution at General Synod 2016 had been well-organized, with provisions made for those who wished to abstain from the vote altogether.

Hiltz also noted that though the vote itself, which was originally declared to have failed before being reversed the next day due to the discovery of an error, was “difficult,” it had allowed many synod members to “experience the pain of another whose view on this matter is very different” in a “very powerful way.”

The primate assured the bishops that the question of what the church should do pastorally, prophetically and structurally following the vote is one he is taking very seriously. He said he intends to publish the notes from small-group discussions on this subject that took place following the vote, and these would serve as the basis for further discussions at CoGS and House of Bishops.

But there were also points on which Hiltz concurred with the bishops.

He affirmed their condemnation of “homophobic prejudice and violence,” and sympathized with their frustration over the use of a legislative process to make decisions about theological and pastoral issues. But while he stated his desire for “less confrontational, and less hurtful” ways of decision-making, he placed the onus on the bishops to delineate what that might look like.

He shared their concern over the decision made by some bishops to proceed with same-sex marriages ahead of 2019, but said he has “no canonical authority to prohibit bishops from taking such action.” Hiltz said he would nonetheless “encourage a conversation in the House of Bishops about patience with the due process of General Synod…”

Hiltz also told the bishops he has spoken with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, about General Synod’s decision and the concerns they have raised, and assured Welby that he would address the issue “as comprehensively as I can.

The dissenting bishops’ statement was released July 15, just days after General Synod came to an end. It was signed by Bishop Stephen Andrews, of the diocese of Algoma; Bishop David Parsons, of the diocese of the Arctic, Suffragan Bishop Darren McCartney, also of the diocese of the Arctic; Bishop William Anderson, of the diocese of Caledonia; Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon; Bishop Fraser Lawton, of the diocese of Athabasca; and Bishop Michael Hawkins of the diocese of Saskatchewan.

Bishop David Edwards, of the diocese of Fredericton, was not an original signatory, but he added his name to the statement later.

Efforts were made to contact several of the bishops who had signed, but at press time, none were willing to comment. Hawkins did, however, note that the signatories would issue a formal response in the coming year. In an interview, Hiltz said he was willing to meet with the bishops about their concerns.


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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