Ontario priest disciplined for marrying same-sex couple

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A priest in the diocese of Ontario has been disciplined and had his licence to marry cancelled after officiating at the wedding of a same-sex couple last August in a church in rural Ontario, where he is the incumbent. Rev. Michael Bury, rector of St. John the Evangelist church, in Stirling, Ont., a small village located about 190 km east of Toronto, confirmed in an interview that his licence to perform marriages has been cancelled. In an interview at the house of bishops meeting in London, Ont., diocesan bishop George Bruce said the cancellation is effective until further notice. “I had issued a directive in 2003 that we would not bless same-sex relationships nor conduct marriages. There was no canonical permission to do it. There are consequences (to such an action),” he said.

In an unrelated development, Mr. Bury has been on medical leave since Sept. 22 and several members of diocesan clergy have been filling in at St. John’s. The priority now is for Mr. Bury to regain his health, said Bishop Bruce.

Mr. Bury declined to comment on the reasons for his licence suspension or on the same-sex wedding. He said his congregation is aware that his licence to marry has been cancelled and that he has been “ordered not to attend the church” until January 2008. He confirmed that he is on sick leave. In a letter dated Oct. 24 sent to clergy in the Kingston, Ont.-based diocese, Bishop Bruce stated that an unidentified priest had committed a “serious breach” of Canon XXI, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Canon (church law) on Marriage, which allows the sacrament for a man and a woman only. Mr. Bury was later identified as the priest involved through public documents. Bishop Bruce also wrote that, “it is also a deliberate decision to ignore my direction sent to all clergy of the diocese on 12 June 2003, following the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal re: same-sex marriages, in which I made it clear that no priest of the diocese had either canonical permission nor my permission to bless same-sex relationships nor conduct marriages,” Bishop Bruce wrote. “All of us, at our ordination, swore vows to uphold the canons of the church and to be obedient to our bishops.” Bishop Bruce wrote that when questioned, “the individual indicated that they had no intention of asking me about this nor of informing me.

“He added: “Whether the reason for this action was considered to be pastoral, or was an act in support of an individual theology is immaterial.” The bishop cautioned clergy against conducting same-sex blessings or same-sex weddings. “To be clear, no priest of this diocese may bless a same-sex relationship, nor officiate at a marriage of same-sex couples unless and until General Synod decides to amend the marriage canon,” he wrote. “To act contrary to this direction will result in disciplinary action.” Bishop Bruce added that General Synod has asked for a proposed amendment to the marriage canon to come before it for consideration in 2010. “None of us know what will be the outcome of that debate,” he said. (During its meeting in June, General Synod voted to study revising the marriage canon to allow clergy to marry all legally qualified persons. Marriage for same-sex couples has been legal in Canada since 2005. General Synod also agreed that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine, but declined by a slim margin to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them. Some bishops have stated that the defeat of the motion affirming the authority of dioceses to offer same-sex blessings bars dioceses from going forward on the matter. Some canon law experts opined, however, that there is nothing in the church’s canons or constitution preventing a diocese from acting on the matter now that General Synod has said that the blessing of same-sex unions are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine.) Bishop Bruce also reminded clergy that the house of bishops had already agreed to give “the most generous (pastoral) response possible (to same-sex couples) given the current teaching of the church,” which includes celebrating a eucharist with a civilly-married gay couple without a nuptial blessing. The bishop said he had requested the office of the provincial registrar general to cancel the priest’s licence to marry. Mr. Bury joined St. John the Evangelist three years ago, after serving in the parish of Lansdowne Rear (which includes Christ Church, Athens; Holy Trinity, Oak Leaf; and St. Paul’s, Delta), also in the diocese of Ontario. St. John’s Web site describes Mr. Bury as a priest who brought to the parish “a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has been a prison chaplain, a plant and construction manager for several firms in Ontario and Nova Scotia and has a degree in anthropology and history.” He was an ordained deacon for 24 years, and a priest for about eight years. Mr. Bury confirmed that he was a signatory to Claim The Blessing, an online petition, which urged the General Synod in 2004 to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. Two other Canadian Anglican priests have had their licences to marry suspended for having officiated at same-sex weddings: Dean Peter Wall of the diocese of Niagara, who married a lesbian couple in 2003 at Christ Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., and retired Archbishop Terrence Finlay, who married a lesbian couple at a United church in Toronto in 2006. Earlier this year, Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck, a priest in the diocese of Saskatoon, was asked to reconsider his declaration that he intended to marry gay couples if asked or lose his licence to minister. Mr. Beck chose to resign his position.

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Marites N. Sison and Solange De Santis, staff writers

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