Niagara Bishop Michael Bird says Anglican conventions allow a diocesan bishop to "exercise episcopal authority" to permit liturgies that "respond to pastoral needs within their dioceses." Photo: Art Babych
Richmond Hill, Ont.
Within hours of the defeat of a motion to amend the marriage canon of the Anglican Church of Canada, at least two dioceses had announced plans to go ahead with same-sex marriages, with a third saying it would consider this course of action.
In a prepared statement, Niagara Bishop Michael Bird cited General Synod chancellor Canon (lay) David Jones, who announced in synod Monday, July 11, that the marriage canon in its present form does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.
In Jones’s words, the statement said, the canon “does not contain either a definition of marriage or a specific prohibition against solemnizing same-sex marriage.” It’s also clear, it continued, that Anglican conventions allow bishops to authorize “liturgies to respond to pastoral needs within their dioceses, in the absence of any actions by this General Synod to address these realities.
“Accordingly, and in concert with several other bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is my intention to immediately exercise this authority to respond to the sacramental needs of the LGBTQ2 community in the Diocese of Niagara,” said Bird.
There being currently no approved liturgy for this in Canada, the statement said, “I am authorizing The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage and The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2 for use in our diocese,” liturgy recently created by The Episcopal Church intended for the marriage of “any duly qualified couples.”
General Synod’s vote against changing the marriage canon, the statement said, is “deeply regrettable and inconsistent with the ever more inclusive witness of our Church that has inspired this synod’s theme: ‘You are my witnesses’ (Isaiah 43).
“My sincere hope is that God’s grace will inspire all Canadian Anglicans to continue to break bread together in the days ahead,” the statement continued. “I want to say, as a bishop charged with guarding the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, that I solemnly pledge to do my part to ensure that this is indeed the case.”
A similar statement was issued by Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa.
“When the vote was announced I was extremely disappointed,” Chapman said. “It is now up to and within the authority of a diocesan bishop to respond in a manner that they deem appropriate.
“It is my intention, in consultation with and in partnership with a number of other diocesan bishops to proceed with same-sex marriages immediately within the Diocese of Ottawa,” he said. “While no clergy will be required to officiate at a same sex marriage, those willing may do so with my permission.
“This is a pastoral decision that is necessary at this time in our history as a diocese and as a church.”
In a videotaped statement, Archbishop Colin Johnson, of the diocese of Toronto, also suggested the canon does not in fact forbid same-sex marriages.
“The integrity and sanctity of same-sex relationships was affirmed by our church in 2004,” Johnson said. “I know there will be some among you who will disagree with me, but I do believe that the logical next step would be to permit same-sex marriages in the Church at the pastoral discretion of the Bishop and with the agreement of local clergy. This is an option I will be considering in the coming weeks.
“I am advised that this option would not contravene the marriage canon, and I am confident it would be supported by the majority—even if not all—of our bishops, clergy, laity and the wider community.”
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Dennis Drainville, bishop of Quebec, said he agreed with Jones’s assessment of the marriage canon in its current, unamended form.
“He’s right in terms of the canons...The implication of that is there is nothing prohibiting anyone from moving forward,” Drainville said.
However, Drainville suggested he had no intention to allow same-sex marriages in his diocese until there’s a decision by the national church.
“I’m not one of those who will go ahead when the church hasn’t made a decision yet...[As for] my successor, I have no idea—we’re in transition right now in our diocese.”
Last August, Drainville announced he would probably retire in 2017. His successor will be the current coadjutor bishop, Bruce Myers.
Commenting on the primate’s announcement that the motion to amend the marriage canon had been defeated, Drainville said, “You could tell from the silence, everyone was shocked...It’s going to take some time to work the emotions out and figure out where we go from here.”
—With files from Marites Sison
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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