Task force to determine whether primate’s role could be broadened

Published April 23, 2009

Niagara Falls, Ont. After having consulted the current primate and two former primates of the Anglican Church of Canada, the task force on the role of the primacy has reached a “tentative conclusion” that would recommend that “it’s time to put the notion of a Primatial See to rest.”Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, chair of the task force, said “there is no practical way of resolving jurisdictional issues” that would arise if a Primatial See, where the primate would have a cathedra or seat, were to be established. Bishop Ingham said that after looking at historical data on church governance, the task force discovered that “every 10 to 20 years, the Canadian church reviews the primacy and similar issues come up.” He noted that the question of whether there should be a Primatial See was first raised in 1929 and was periodically revisited in succeeding years. “This has been a matter of discussion for a long time,” he said. But the idea of having a national cathedral “remains a live question,” Bishop Ingham told the house of bishops at its spring meeting.An issue that has been consistently raised, added Bishop Ingham, is the relationship between the primacy and the episcopacy (authority and responsibility of bishops). “The primacy has no geographic jurisdiction, has no specific sacramental function in terms of confirmation and baptism except by invitation, and can’t exercise episcopal ministry except by invitation of the diocesan bishop,” he said. He noted that, although the Canadian and American churches have similar models of primacy, the Americans have preserved some episcopal functions for their presiding bishop, such as presiding at the consecration of new bishops. During planned consultations with provincial synods, Bishop Ingham said the task force would like to get responses to the following questions: “What theology of episcopacy is reflected in the Canadian model? What episcopal functions might be restored if there were a will to do that?” The task force was asked by the 2007 General Synod to review the role, function, and responsibilities of the primate, and to make recommendations as to whether changes to Canon III (on primacy) are necessary. All three primates interviewed by the task force – Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison (primate from 2004 to 2007), and Archbishop Michael Peers (primate from 1986 to 2004) – agreed that the primacy is “largely administrative and could be broadened,” said Bishop Ingham. All three agreed on the importance of not having diocesan responsibilities while serving as primate, all noted the “loss in sacramental functions” when one becomes primate, and all agreed that the current canon (church law) gives “considerable freedom” for primates to shape the primacy “according to one’s strengths and priorities,” he added. Reacting to the report, Bishop Bill Anderson of Caledonia said it was “imperative to have in depth consultation” with all bishops about the role of the primacy, saying “it’s a fairly complex issue” that has an impact on the authority of diocesan bishops.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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