Synod calls for review of marrige canon

By on July 1, 1998

A proposal to allow dioceses to choose whether to continue using matrimonial commissions to deal with requests from divorced persons to remarry in the church was soundly defeated at synod.

However, synod did approve a motion calling for a complete review of Canon 21, the church law governing marriage in the church, including considering alternatives to the current matrimonial commissions.

The canon forbids Anglican priests from officiating at a marriage involving a divorced person whose former spouse is alive, except by permission of the bishop. Each diocese is required to have a matrimonial commission to recommend approval or rejection to the bishop of applications for remarriage in the church.

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The proposed change would have made this requirement optional, with a diocese being permitted to decide whether to stay with the present rules or turn the remarriage decision over to individual parish priests.

The 1992 General Synod defeated a proposal to abolish matrimonial commissions, but in 1995 called for amendments to the marriage canon to be presented to the next synod meeting “with particular view to the appropriate role and purposes of matrimonial commissions.”

The resulting proposal was criticized by some at synod as a back-door attempt to abolish matrimonial commissions. Critics warned against creating a checkerboard pattern where couples in a diocese which retained its matrimonial commission might seek to be married in a neighboring diocese where a local priest made the decision.

As well, the idea of a diocesan local option might set a precedent by implication “involving blessing relationships not now approved by the church,” warned Bishop Tom Morgan of Saskatoon — a reference to attempts to gain church approval for blessing of same-sex relationships.

But supporters of the change argued that a more pastoral approach to couples would be possible once the “legalistic” role of the commission was eliminated.

“The present process is inappropriate and unjust to people going through it,” said Archbishop David Crawley, who had himself been an applicant.

Several speakers questioned whether the church still needs matrimonial commissions, suggesting they have become superfluous. The commissions were included in the new marriage canon of 1967 to address the concerns of people worried about Christian marriages after the church opened the door to the remarriage of divorced persons.

A special task force will review the marriage canon and report before the next General Synod. It will consider such issues as the requirement to hold weddings in church buildings; differences between civil marriages and religious marriages; differences between church and federal law regarding the forms of relationship within which persons may not marry; and common-law relationships.

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