Tentative agreement reached on shared episcopal ministry

Bishop of Montreal calls the accord "a pastoral response to a need that needs to be addressed." Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini
Bishop of Montreal calls the accord "a pastoral response to a need that needs to be addressed." Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini
Published October 29, 2011

MONTREAL-Bishop Leonard Whitten, retired bishop of Western Newfoundland, will provide some guidance to several clergy and parishes in the diocese of Montreal who disagree with its bishop’s positions on same-sex marriage if details of a tentative agreement can be worked out.

The tentative agreement on “shared episcopal ministry” was disclosed by Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal Friday, Oct. 27, in his address at the opening eucharist of the annual diocesan synod. He described the move as a pastoral response to the concerns of parishes and clergy unable to accept positions he and the diocese have taken on the issue in recent years.

Rev. Canon Bruce Glencross, among critics of the diocesan positions, said in a conversation that the rough outlines of an agreement were worked out at a meeting October 19 between the two bishops and six clergy of the Montreal diocese, but a number of details remain to be settled.

He said some of the clergy are expected to request Bishop Whitten’s ministry as individuals without implicating their parishes; this will be the case for him and his own parish: St. John the Baptist in Pointe Claire. Some of the other parishes, he did not know which ones, would probably join their clergy in asking for this ministry.

Canon Glencross said the arrangement would help the affected parishes and priests adhere to their convictions within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishop Clarke said in his address that the accord is “a pastoral response to a need that needs to be addressed.” He said parishes and clergy availing themselves of the arrangement would still ultimately be under his authority.

“I would continue to be the diocesan bishop of both the bishop and the parishes.”

The issue was not discussed on the floor of the Montreal synod.

Bishop Clarke told the diocesan synod a year ago that he planned to move ahead on the shared episcopal ministry in the new year. The 2007 synod asked the bishop to authorize a liturgy for the blessing of duly solemnized civil marriages and this was done last year. At least two such blessings have taken place without fanfare since then.

However, there have been protests in recent months against the induction of partnered gay priest, Very Rev. Paul Kennington, as the dean of Montreal and rector of Christ Church Cathedral and the ordination as a deacon of a partnered gay man, Rev. Robert Camara. Canon Glencross said the six priests involved in the new agreement with Bishop Whitten are the same ones who signed a protest against Deacon Camara’s ordination.

Aside from a couple of brief experiments, shared episcopal ministry in Montreal would be the first implementation in Canada of an idea endorsed by the Canadian House of Bishops in 2004 after being proposed the same year in a document called the Windsor Report from an international Anglican group called the Lambeth Commission on Communion.

Bishop Whitten, now 75, was a priest and bishop in Newfoundland for 41 years and retired in 2003 after six years as bishop of Western Newfoundland. Since retirement, he was active with a group called Sharing of Ministries Abroad, or SOMA, which organizes short-term teaching ministries abroad. He was director of SOMA for five years and has worked in Malaysia, South Africa, Indonesia, Singapore, Mexico, the United States and the Arctic. He is also active in training for a group called Anglican Renewal Ministries.

He and his wife, June, live in Pasadena, NL.

In other business, synod delegates voted to endorse the “Occupy Montreal” demonstration by protestors camped in Montreal’s Victoria Square, one of a number of such demonstrations in many countries, to protest against income inequality and other issues.

Harvey Shepherd is the editor of The Montreal Anglican.


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