Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate (national archbishop) of the South American Province of the Southern Cone.
Canadian Anglican leaders are practicing “either denial or hypocrisy” when they criticize bishops who want to cross national and diocesan jurisdictions to minister to congregations that are conservative on the issue of homosexuality, said Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate, or national archbishop, of the South American Province of the Southern Cone.
“They have broken historic agreements – the Lambeth Conference agreement and the Windsor Report – to go ahead with blessing same-sex relationships. To use that argument against us is a bit odd, to say the least,” said Archbishop Venables in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal.
On Nov. 29, Canada’s primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and four regional archbishops, released a statement that said “we deplore recent actions on the part of the primate and General Synod of the Province of the Southern Cone to extend its jurisdiction into Canada through the Essentials Network Conference. This action breaks fellowship within the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion.”
The letter also cited “ancient canons of the church going as far back as the 4th century, as well as statements of the Lambeth Conference, the Windsor Report” and a communique from a primates’ meeting earlier this year.
International statements and agreements in recent years concerning the Anglican controversy over homosexuality have referred to a need for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex couples or the ordination of gay priests or bishops. They have also called for an end to boundary-crossing by priests and bishops.
At a conference held Nov. 22-23 in Burlington, Ont, a conservative group called the Anglican Network in Canada announced that Archbishop Venables and his province would accept conservative Canadian churches as members. Two retired Canadian bishops relinquished their licenses to minister in Canada and were accepted as bishops in the Southern Cone and two churches in British Columbia said they would seek membership in the province.
When asked what he could offer Canadian parishes, Archbishop Venables said, “a place of holding so those who feel they can’t stay within the Anglican Church of Canada, given the decisions that have been made, have a way to remain in the Anglican Communion until this difficult situation is resolved. They don’t have to abandon Anglicanism.”
A citizen of the United Kingdom, Archbishop Venables said he has visited Canada several times and is familiar with the Canadian church. He has no immediate plans to visit Canada, but said that “if things proceed, I should imagine I would be visiting at some point.”
Pastoral care for parishes that join the Southern Cone will be provided by the two retired bishops, Don Harvey and Malcolm Harding, he said. (The two churches that have joined are not members of the Anglican Church of Canada, although they had their roots in Anglican congregations.)
The Canadian church leaders’ statement also said Archbishop Venables’ actions are “not necessary,” since the Canadian church has made “adequate and appropriate provision for the pastoral care and episcopal support” of those who are in disagreement with their diocese or national church.
The dissenting churches do not feel the provisions are adequate, the Southern Cone primate said. “Both sides have to agree. They don’t agree with what is offered, otherwise they would have accepted it,” he said.
Dissenting parishes in disagreement with their diocesan bishops have asked for a visiting conservative bishop with full jurisdiction that would include appointing clergy and performing confirmations, but the alternative episcopal oversight plan the Canadian bishops currently offer contains limited jurisdiction.
The sexuality issue isn’t the only area of concern, said Archbishop Venables. “The sexuality issue is the presenting issue, but there are things about Scripture, about who Jesus is. The creeds have seen Jesus Christ as the son of the God and the one way to God the father,” said Archbishop Venables.
In recent years, writings by Canadian bishop Michael Ingham, whose New Westminster diocese allows blessing ceremonies for gay couples, and others, have espoused pluralism, the concept that there is more than one way to God, he said. “Jesus is seen as an option. His divinity is not an objective fact. That pluralism is a denial of the basic Christian faith,” said Archbishop Venables.
When asked whether his views would make relations with Archbishop Hiltz awkward, especially at meetings of the primates, Archbishop Venables, who said he has not met Archbishop Hiltz, responded that, “We recognize that there are differences. I was good friends with (the former primates, Archbishops) Michael Peers and Andrew Hutchison. We got along and had candid and friendly dialogues.”
Archbishop Venables said the Southern Cone’s triennial synod, held earlier in November, voted to extend the membership offer to North American parishes and has had “lots of open dialogue” on the question of Christian attitudes toward homosexuality.
“We recognize some people experience themselves as having a homosexual identity, and we extend all love to them. But we do not feel it goes with Scripture and cannot accept them as ordained clergy or say their relationships can be blessed,” he said.