Some marriage commissions remain

Published January 1, 2005

In the months since General Synod in June gave dioceses the right to retain or abolish their matrimonial commissions, just over one-third have eliminated them and about two-thirds have retained them, with some under review.

The commission, which usually consists of the bishop and one or two other appointees of the bishop, rules on whether a divorced person whose former partner is still living may remarry. The commissions were established by the General Synod of 1962, which approved Canon XXI, called the marriage canon (or church law).

Prior to Canon XXI, Anglican priests could not officiate at any wedding involving a divorced person whose former partner was still living. The Anglican church has relaxed its attitude toward divorce in the intervening decades and the general feeling now is that the suitability of a couple for marriage is a matter best left to the discretion of the parish priest, with room for consultation with the diocesan bishop.

Anglican Journal surveyed the bishops – representing all 30 dioceses – attending the fall meeting of the house of bishops in Saskatoon last November.

Those whose dioceses had discontinued the commissions commented that the process was often a rubber stamp, that it was impersonal and antiquated. Several bishops whose dioceses retained the commissions said the decision was “for now,” but that their value was under review. Several dioceses were strongly in favour of keeping the commissions, saying that clergy had requested their retention and that they were useful for both the couple and the minister.

Question: Has the diocese abolished/retained the matrimonial commission and why?

Algoma retained but will be reviewed at May 2005 synod
Arctic retained – helpful for marriage partners and clergy
Athabasca retained – clergy need the pastoral buffer of the commission
Brandon suspended – fewer applications in recent years
British Columbia abolished – clergy decide, may consult with bishop
Caledonia abolished by ecclesiastical province
Calgary mostly abolished, but may be used in difficult situations
Central Interior retained but not often used, will likely be abolished
Central Nfld. retained – commission works with clergy, is useful pastorally
Eastern Nfld./Lab. retained – helps clergy and provides marriage preparation
Edmonton retained at clergy request
Fredericton retained – seen as valuable pastoral tool
Huron abolished – rector makes the decision
Keewatin abolished – applications are made directly to the bishop now
Kootenay abolished – diocese led the move for change to the marriage canon
Montreal retained but under review
Moosonee retained, but will be reviewed at diocesan synod in July 2005
New Westminster abolished – rector makes the decision
Niagara abolished – have not used it for years
Nova Scotia/P.E.I. retained only for difficult cases
Ontario abolished – clergy have been issued guidelines
Ottawa retained for difficult cases; clergy may decide
Qu’Appelle abolished – synod had requested it 10 years ago
Quebec retained on an on-call basis for clergy who want to use it
Rupert’s Land retained for now, but being reviewed
Saskatchewan retained at request of clergy and synod
Saskatoon retained, but support lukewarm among clergy and diocesan council
Toronto abolished, clergy given guidelines and may consult with bishop
Western Nfld. abolished, clergy may consult bishop or chancellor
Yukon abolished by province, diocese to establish its own


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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