No special meeting for bishops after same-sex vote

There will be no emergency meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops to discuss the decision by New Westminster to move ahead with the blessing of same-sex relationships, despite a request from at least one bishop to Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate.

Bishop Don Harvey, of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, asked for the meeting in mid-June, just days after the diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia stirred controversy with its vote to begin blessing same-sex unions.

Bishop Harvey is one of 13 Canadian bishops from mostly rural dioceses who released a statement condemning the New Westminster vote and calling on the diocese to withhold its implementation. The bishops — representing nine of 29 dioceses in Canada — described the New Westminster decision as being “in conflict with the moral teaching of Holy Scripture and the tradition of the universal church.” 

While emphasizing that he did not wish to be the “instigator of more disunity,” Bishop Harvey said he believed the bishops needed to meet to discuss the New Westminster situation.

Bishop Ronald Ferris of Algoma, and another of the 13 bishops who signed the statement, agreed that an emergency meeting was needed.

“It would allow us to review the existing (General Synod) constitution and decision-making process so that people can act with good information and with caution,” said Bishop Ferris, who is based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. “It would also allow a fair airing of how people are feeling on the issue.” 

But Archbishop Peers declined the call for a special meeting of the bishops before their next scheduled gathering, beginning Oct. 25. Citing the expense of bringing more than 40 bishops from across the country and the impracticality of calling a meeting in the summer months, Archbishop Peers said the fall meeting would make more sense: “If we wait, we will know more about what’s happening (in New Westminster) and be better prepared.” Also, he added, the bishops should take some time to “listen in their own dioceses” before bringing their concerns to a meeting of all bishops.

Bishop Harvey, who still considers himself in communion with both the diocese of New Westminster and with Bishop Ingham — a “brother bishop, still”– said he was expecting the vote in favour of same-sex blessings, yet was “hoping against hope that it wouldn’t go that way.” Opponents of such blessings, he said, should not be compared with those who opposed the ordination of women in the 1960s and 1970s.

“This involves the sanctity of marriage,” said Bishop Harvey. “The whole structure of the family life is wrapped up in this. We can’t bless that which we believe is wrong.”

He said he sympathizes with those members of eight parishes who walked out of the diocesan synod when Bishop Ingham announced that the gathering had voted 63 per cent in favour of blessing gay and lesbian relationships. The vote also provided an episcopal visitor, a visiting bishop from another diocese with permission only to provide pastoral care, for dissenting clergy and a conscience clause stating that nobody in the diocese would “be required to act against their conscience in the blessing of same-sex unions.”

(Previous reports from the synod stated that members of nine parishes had left, but the diocese now says the total was only eight.)

“They are wondering just where they are,” said Bishop Harvey of the dissenters. “Has synod left the church or has the church left them?”

Still, the 13 bishops have not formally discussed the request by those who walked out of synod for alternative episcopal oversight, or a specially appointed, so-called “flying bishop”. Flying bishops, who are diocesan bishops with full authority, are used in the Church of England for clergy and parishes which do not approve of women priests. That group, which is now calling itself the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, appealed to both the 13 Canadian bishops and to the Archbishop of Canterbury for the appointment of a flying bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, while a figurehead for the Anglican Communion, has no legislative authority outside his own diocese.

George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, replied on June 18 that he regretted the group’s decision to leave synod and that he was alarmed by “statements of those who appear to be determined to look elsewhere for episcopal oversight in place of the extended episcopal support that Bishop Ingham has offered.”

The archbishop, who clarified in his letter his belief that “homosexual relationships cannot be treated as being on a par with the man-woman ideal portrayed in Holy Scripture,” urged all Anglicans in New Westminster to continue to work together in the dispute and counselled the dissenters not to walk away.

“I believe firmly that we should ‘speak the truth in love’ to each other, on these and many other issues – but I believe that we do so most effectively by standing our ground in continuing dialogue and ongoing fellowship with each other, not by walking away,” wrote Archbishop Carey.


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