Ottawa synod followed process, says primate

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Members of the diocesan synod of Ottawa vote in favour of asking their bishop to allow same-sex blessings in their parishes.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he believes that “due process was followed” by the diocese of Ottawa when a majority of its synod members approved on Oct. 13 a motion asking its bishop to allow local parishes to bless civil marriages between same-sex couples.

“I believe due process was followed with respect to the handling of this resolution. The outcome of the resolution is a reflection of the mind of the church local in this matter,” Archbishop Hiltz told the Anglican Journal.

He also described diocesan bishop John Chapman’s statement that he would conduct wide-ranging consultations with the Canadian house of bishops, the diocese, and other Anglicans both at the national and international level before arriving at a decision as “entirely appropriate.”

“He (Bishop Chapman) intends to consult widely as he considers the request. I am confident in his diligence in doing so,” said Archbishop Hiltz, who is currently in England to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. (New Canadian primates have in recent years met privately with the Archbishop of Canterbury, said Archbishop Hiltz, who was elected by General Synod last June.)

The synod of the diocese of Ottawa had approved the same-sex blessings motion by a vote of 177 to 97, or 65 per cent. However, Bishop Chapman said that despite a “strong majority” and “a clear directive,” the approved motion was but “a recommendation and is not binding on the diocese or the bishop.”

With its vote, Ottawa became the first diocese to consider the issue of same-sex blessings since the triennial meeting in June of General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national governing body. The diocese of Montreal is scheduled to vote on a similarly-worded motion at its synod Oct. 19-20. The issue is also likely to be revisited by the diocese of Niagara, which in 2004 voted to allow same-sex blessings; Bishop Ralph Spence, who was the diocesan bishop then, had withheld his consent until General Synod.

(The diocese of New Westminster, which allowed blessings since 2002, had, in response to a house of bishops agreement in 2005, limited the number of churches that may offer them pending a decision by General Synod in June. Diocesan bishop Michael Ingham is holding consultations about the next steps for the diocese.)

The house of bishops, which meets Oct. 25-30, is expected to discuss not just the implications of the Ottawa synod vote (and, if it similarly passes, the Montreal synod vote) but also conflicting interpretations of the ramifications of General Synod’s decision around same-sex blessings. General Synod had 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 that prevents 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.

Robin MacKay, chancellor (legal advisor) of the diocese of Ottawa, said the motion approved by diocesan synod was legal. He said that although General Synod did not approve the motion affirming the authority of dioceses to offer same-sex blessings, “it doesn’t affirm the opposite.” The motion, he added, “doesn’t deny the jurisdiction of bishops to (allow) same-sex blessings; it’s just that General Synod failed to act in that area.”

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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