In February, 10 churches in five dioceses voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and affiliate with a South American Anglican church, in an ongoing dispute over Christian fundamentals, including Canada’s more-liberal stance on homosexuality.
The churches said they were seeking episcopal oversight from retired bishop Donald Harvey, who is moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, a conservative group. They now consider Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone their primate (national archbishop); his church includes most of southern South America.
The votes may result in lengthy civil court disputes, since diocesan bishops and the Canadian primate, Fred Hiltz, said parishes may not legally leave the church and take their buildings and property with them.
“In our Anglican tradition, individuals who choose to leave the church over contentious issues cannot take property and other assets with them. My hope is that no parish will take action that would compel parish or diocesan leaders to resolve property disputes in the civil courts. Such actions would not only be costly in terms of financial resources but also destructive of the witness of the church in the world,” Archbishop Hiltz wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to the church.
Conservatives said their actions were based on principle. “All of these churches have acted because they are concerned about what is happening in (the Canadian church). They are determined to stay true to historic Christian teaching but see the (church) changing its teaching on fundamental, historic Christian teaching such as the authority of the Bible and salvation through Jesus Christ alone,” said the Anglican Network in Canada in a statement.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate, or national archbishop, of the Canadian church, in an interview with the Anglican Journal, disagreed. “The issue is very much focused on issues of sexuality. The Anglican Church of Canada is not in a crisis when it comes to matters of faith such as the divinity of Christ, the incarnation or the resurrection. I don’t know a bishop or a member of the clergy who week by week doesn’t confess their faith in Christ as redeemer and as our saviour,” said Archbishop Hiltz.
The primate said he regrets the churches’ decision to leave, especially since Canadian bishops have agreed to allow conservative Canadian bishops to minister to disaffected congregations in their dioceses. However, conservatives say they want the visitors to have full jurisdiction, which the diocesan bishops refuse to grant. Archbishop Hiltz said he does not intend to consult with legal advisers since “matters having to do with (clergy) discipline and property are primarily diocesan in nature. I would not be interfering in any way.”
In the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, Bishop Michael Ingham on Feb. 22 asked eight of the clergy to declare formally whether they are in or out of the Anglican Church of Canada. He set a deadline of two months, after which he can declare they have abandoned their ministry in Canada.
In the diocese of British Columbia, which is based in Victoria, two priests relinquished their exercise of ordained ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada and resigned from their parish of St. Mary Metchosin. The diocesan archdeacon took over their parish as priest-in-charge. In Niagara, three members of the clergy were suspended and the diocese appointed administrators for three parishes, however, a court decision went against the diocese (see related story, this page), at least for a limited time.
In Toronto, the sole church that voted to join the network had already been under diocesan management and the part-time priest-in-charge resigned and relinquished her exercise of ordained ministry. In Ottawa, discussions were continuing in early March between Bishop John Chapman and clergy at the church that voted to separate.
The churches that voted to separate are: St. John’s Shaughnessy, St. Matthew Abbotsford, Good Shepherd, St. Luke and St. Matthias, diocese of New Westminster; St. Mary Metchosin, diocese of British Columbia; St. Chad, diocese of Toronto; St. Alban the Martyr, diocese of Ottawa; St. George Lowville, St. Hilda Oakville and Good Shepherd St. Catharines, diocese of Niagara. Two other churches in the diocese of New Westminster joined the ANiC in 2005. There are about 2,800 churches in the Canadian church, which is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches that have ties to the Church of England.
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