Primate seeks forgiveness for church’s ‘shortcomings’ in sexual misconduct responses

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, speaks at General Synod. Photo: Jim Tubman
Published June 28, 2023

Nicholls reaffirms Anglican commitment to safe church

Calgary, Alta.

Some readers may find this story distressing. For a searchable list of crisis lines and other support resources across Canada, please visit this federal government web page.

In her opening address to General Synod June 28, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, lamented harm caused by the church and sought forgiveness for “shortcomings” in responding to sexual misconduct complaints, while reiterating the commitment of Anglicans to being a safe church.

Toward the end of a wide-ranging speech, Nicholls reviewed some of key events of the quadrennium—the four years since the previous General Synod—and also acknowledged that both General Synod and dioceses had faced “significant internal challenges.”

She cited two in particular: the national office’s handling of a draft article intended for publication in the Anglican Journal’s sister publication Epiphanies, which contained allegations of sexual misconduct in the church by anonymous sources, with four institutions related to the allegations; and the resignations of two bishops after sexual misconduct allegations.

“The church is an imperfect human institution,” the primate said, after mentioning MacDonald’s resignation. Her voice shook and tears came to her eyes as she added, “I deeply lament that the church sometimes causes harm … We are committed to addressing these heart-wrenching situations as effectively and pastorally as we can. But we also repent and ask for forgiveness for our shortcomings in doing this essential task.”

Controversy over the sharing of the draft article outside Church House by senior church management led to the creation of the group #ACCtoo, which published an open letter calling for the Anglican Church of Canada to apologize and make amends with survivors as well as for the resignation of General Secretary Alan Perry; and a third-party investigation.

The handling of the draft article, Nicholls said, “uncovered gaps in our internal systems, miscommunication between management and Journal staff and a lack of clarity in the expectations of different roles, especially in light of the resolution that reshaped our communication committee and created an editorial board in 2019.”

She added, “We also became painfully aware of the power of social media to amplify voices, a powerful tool for justice and for partial information.”

Nicholls listed results of the third-party investigation, which included commitments clarifying the expectations of management, Journal staff and the editorial board and changes in the process for handling harm that would include “trauma-informed responses.”

“We are a church committed to being a safe church,” the primate said. She noted General Synod’s affirmation in 2019 of the Anglican Communion’s safe church guidelines, General Synod’s commitment to review its sexual misconduct policy and commitment of dioceses to review their own policies.

“Nevertheless, allegations of misconduct do and will still arise,” Nicholls said. “We are committed to investigations of all allegations brought forward. We are learning how trauma-informed approaches can better support complainants. We are committed to a process that holds space for a fair and just investigation, as well as to completing that investigation in as timely way as possible.”

“During the quadrennium one bishop relinquished his ministry following a substantiated complaint,” Nicholls said. “The former National Indigenous Archbishop, voluntarily resigned and relinquished his ministry after a complaint was brought forward.”

In June 2021, Lincoln McKoen, then bishop of the Territory of the People, resigned and relinquished his exercise of episcopal ministry following allegations of sexual misconduct. Former National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald likewise resigned and relinquished his ministry after allegations of sexual misconduct in April 2022.

She added, “Although the resignation and relinquishment of ministry pre-empts an adjudication, we have learned that this may be unsatisfying to complainants and others.”

Calls for reviews of General Synod’s sexual misconduct policy, and what Nicholls described as “the shadow of the painful incidents,” preceded the church’s invitation of Mandy Marshall, gender justice coordinator for the Anglican Communion, to visit Canada in fall 2022. Marshall led in-person and online workshops on becoming a safe church, which featured discussions on power dynamics and trauma-informed care. The House of Bishops and CoGS both participated in the in-person sessions.

The primate also said General Synod’s sexual misconduct policy is being reviewed and has resulted in an updated policy that CoGS has received for feedback. Key elements of the revised policy, Nicholls said, include regular triennial reviews and an assurance that records are not destroyed, but “kept with no time limit” for all investigations.

Nicholls also addressed General Synod on what it meant to be Anglican; the basic principles and structures of the church; and challenges and achievements of the 2019-2023 quadrennium, including how Anglicans persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nicholls spoke about the church’s work in dismantling racism, strategic planning and strengthening bonds with other churches and denominations. She described international Anglican gatherings in 2022 that included the Lambeth Conference and the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Accra, Ghana; visiting projects in Africa supported by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and the Anglican Foundation; and a May pilgrimage to the Holy Land with young Anglicans.

The primate recalled attending Sacred Circle one month prior as a guest, as Indigenous Anglicans voted to ratify the Covenant and Our Way of Life—founding documents for the self-determining Indigenous church—and installed Chris Harper as the new national Indigenous Anglican archbishop. With Sacred Circle following the 2021 discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites and the 2022 visit to Canada of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, during which he apologized for the Church of England’s role in the residential school system, Nicholls said, “within our midst, I heard resilience and strength of identity declared as every member of Sacred Circle came forward to sign the Covenant.”

General Synod is meeting in Calgary, Alta. June 27-July 2.

Corrections: After the church’s handling of the draft article, the primate said, “We also became painfully aware of the power of social media to amplify voices, a powerful tool for justice and for partial information that caused further hurt.” She was quoted incorrectly in an earlier version of this story.

Nicholls’s description of a bishop having “relinquished his ministry following a substantiated complaint” did not refer to former National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. Her words were taken to refer to MacDonald in an earlier version of this story.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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