Archbishop Terry Finlay.
In the 10 years since Rev. Jim Ferry was fired for maintaining a homosexual relationship, issues involving homosexual Anglicans have arisen many times and the case has had a lasting impact on the two people most closely involved – Mr. Ferry and Archbishop Terence Finlay of the diocese of Toronto.
One diocese has approved the blessing of same-sex relationships, although the bishop has yet to give consent; a number of conversations, meetings and studies have taken place on homosexuality in Toronto and in other dioceses; bishops have discussed whether dioceses should have a “local option” to minister to gays in different ways.
Archbishop Finlay has taken part in a “conversation” on human sexuality consisting of a group of Anglican bishops from around the world, convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his diocese, people with differing opinions on homosexuality have met for several years for discussions and have produced a pamphlet entitled Emerging Common Ground.
“I think the conversation has advanced a long way. I think there has been a great deal of change, although it may not be as quick as Jim would like,” said Archbishop Finlay in an interview. “I sense there is much more openness today by the majority of people to recognizing diversity, although there are those who are strongly opposed to change.”
For his part, Mr. Ferry believes that many Anglican lay people have moved “from toleration to acceptance” of gay people, but that “there’s a real dearth of leadership in the church.”
In an interview, he said, “very little has changed in 10 years – people are not getting their unions blessed and Anglican clergy have to deny who they are.”
The diocese of New Westminster in recent years has voted twice – by a narrow margin, then by a more significant one – to allow the blessing of same-sex relationships. However, Bishop Michael Ingham, although personally in favour, has rejected the move, looking for more consensus on the issue.
Guidelines passed by Anglican bishops in 1979 and re-affirmed in the 1990s maintain that gay people may become priests, but must remain celibate.
Mr. Ferry ran afoul of that rule while a priest in a Toronto parish. He gradually came to recognize his sexual orientation and fell in love with another man. Under pressure from a few parishioners and fearing blackmail, he revealed his situation to Archbishop Finlay who, aware of the bishops’ guidelines, dismissed Mr. Ferry and had a letter read at a Sunday service outlining the reason.
Mr. Ferry was given an opportunity to defend himself in a forum called Bishop’s Court, which eventually upheld his dismissal. The trial generated international media coverage with Mr. Ferry represented in many stories as a victim of persecution and Archbishop Finlay as the persecutor.
“I was very much in a bind,” Archbishop Finlay said recently. “I had a real sense of where the gay and lesbian members of the church were trying to live their lives faithfully and responsibly. Part of what made it so difficult was not having a way to act outside the existing policies. I would welcome a ‘local option’ today,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Ferry and his supporters were highly critical of Archbishop Finlay and his advisors, as were a number of commentators outside the church, a situation that he said he found – and still finds – “very painful.”
When asked what he might have done differently, Archbishop Finlay says today that he would have made “more effort at trying to de-escalate the situation, more of an effort at dialogue.” Today, he said, he is trying to be a “bridge-builder.”
The Ferry case “has made me work harder at helping people of different perspectives seek to understand one another and listen to one another. It needs time and practice and the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The case had major repercussions for Mr. Ferry. “It’s been a traumatic time for me,” he said. The publicity led to the break-up of his relationship. “All told, it was nine years. I was going through a period of grieving,” he said.
He now works as a patient advocate with the Ontario Ministry of Health and, although formally barred from functioning as a priest, is informally allowed to preach and celebrate the eucharist, which he does at Holy Trinity parish in Toronto.
For years after 1992, he said, his faith and view of the church was transformed. He said he saw God as an abusive father allowing his son to be tortured and killed “as an act of love.” His relationship with Archbishop Finlay is “basically nowhere,” he said, but added that he believes Archbishop Finlay was “deeply conflicted at what the church required him to do.”
He added that he remains a priest because “there is something mystical that happens to me and with me, beyond understanding, a sense of connecting with that loving harmony. Jesus is the one I would see as someone who brought that together in the most powerful way we have ever seen.”