Primates decline to support same-sex rites

Published September 1, 2003

Primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in Gramado, Brazil in late May, stated that, in the absence of “theological consensus about same sex unions,” they, “as a body cannot support the authorization” of blessing rites for homosexual relationships. At the week-long meeting, the senior archbishops of the communion’s 38 provinces (each of which consists of one or more countries) also discussed theological education, HIV/AIDS, inter-province relationships and were led in Bible study by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The meeting, as in past years, was closed to the public. The primates’ statement on same-sex blessings attracted instant attention from advocates on both sides of the issue. Dissident parishes in the Canadian diocese of New Westminster, which has approved same-sex blessings, said the primates’ statement was a rejection of same-sex blessings. In a news release, eight parishes which call themselves the Anglican Communion in New Westminster said the statement means they “cannot be expected to accept the leadership of those that depart from the church’s teaching.” The parishes have severed ties with their diocese and their bishop, Michael Ingham, and have appealed to the wider church for the appointment of an alternative bishop. However, Archbishop Michael Peers, the Canadian primate, said in a statement that “reports that characterize the primates’ letter as a direct and unanimous repudiation of those actions (same-sex blessings) are wrong. The primates do not, at our meetings, either move resolutions or take votes. We seek the deepest possible expression of unity in whatever terms are available to us. In this case, our common mind accurately reflects the potential for division and the absence of theological consensus among us and within the churches that make up the Anglican Communion.” He added that he does not see the primates’ letter as “an attempt to exercise jurisdiction in the life of the diocese of New Westminster.” The letter, Archbishop Peers said, “makes clear the primates” commitment, as a body, to recognize in other provinces “the sincere desire to be faithful,” and their commitment ‘to respect the integrity of each other”s provinces and dioceses.'” In an interview, Archbishop Peers described the discussion on sexuality as cordial, noting that the positions taken were “quite familiar.” The primates also said they supported the work of the Anglican Communion Task Group on Theological Education, which is attempting to develop basic standards for theological education in all Anglican provinces. On HIV/AIDS, the archbishops said they intended “to engage more deeply in challenging cultures and traditions which stifle the humanity of women and deprive them of equal rights.” The primates also discussed the possibility of an Anglican gathering of lay and ordained people from around the world that would be held in association with the next Lambeth Conference. A decennial meeting of all Anglican bishops, the next Lambeth Conference, usually held in Great Britain, is scheduled to be held in 2008. However, the primates’ letter said that Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town has offered to host both the proposed gathering and the Lambeth Conference. Archbishop Peers, in the interview, noted that Archbishop Williams brought a “gentle and considered” style to the primates’ gathering, leading Bible study each morning. Meanwhile, the controversy over the role of homosexuals in the church, which was capped in August with the confirmation of the election of an openly gay bishop in the United States, led Archbishop Williams to call for an extraordinary meeting of the primates in London in mid-October. Archbishhop Peers confirmed that he will attend the meeting.

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