Proposal calls for moratorium on same-sex blessings and gay ordinations

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Canterbury, England
The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) Monday presented the world’s Anglican bishops with a proposal to create a pastoral forum that would create a “safe space” for conservative Anglicans who have left their churches. It also recommended a “future” and “retrospective” moratorium on same-sex blessings, the ordination of openly gay homosexuals and cross-border interventions by provinces.

Bishop Clive Handford, WCG chair and former primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, clarified that “retrospective” did not imply that Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, would have to resign.

“We are not anywhere intending to imply that Bishop Gene Robinson should resign. We are aware that (he) was elected bishop according to the processes of The Episcopal Church, whatever we may think of that,” said Bishop Handford.

Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese – New Westminster -voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002, reacted strongly to the WCG’s proposals, describing it as “an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence.”

In a statement, Bishop Ingham called the WCG document – copies of which were distributed to bishops for discussion – “punitive in tone, setting out penalties and the like, instead of inviting us into deeper communion with one another through mutual understanding in the body of Christ.” He added that the suggestion of a pastoral forum “institutionalizes external incursions into the life of our churches.”

Bishop Ingham also questioned why the Windsor Report was being regarded “as an agreed benchmark from which it is assumed we can move forward. It is not so.” (The Windsor Report, published in 2004 by an international commission, outlined ways of healing divisions within the nearly 80-million Anglican Communion over human sexuality. The WCG, which produced the preliminary observations at the conference here, was created last February by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.”

In a press conference, Bishop Handford said the proposed pastoral forum would be created and presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who would appoint its Episcopal chair and members, representing “the breadth of the life of the communion as a whole.”

He said the formation of the forum could be included in the proposed Anglican Covenant “as a key mechanism to achieve reconciliation” within the Anglican Communion, which has been torn apart by deep differences over the place of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.

“The forum would be responsible for addressing those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the (Anglican) Communion against the recommendations of the Windsor Report,” the WCG document said. “It could also offer guidance on what response and any diminishment of standing within the Communion might be appropriate where any of the three moratoria are broken.”

The WCG said the “swift formation” of the forum was needed to put an end to the “proliferation of ad hoc Episcopal and archiepiscopal ministries.” Bishop Handford said the forum would hold churches who have left their churches, dioceses or provinces “in trust” or “in escrow” until the day “when they can return to their parent bodies.”

He likened it to a situation where a young member of a family who can’t get along with his parents can be taken under the wing of an aunt or uncle.

At least 10 churches in five dioceses have voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone over what they refer to as the “growing liberal stance” of the Canadian church.

The forum should also explore ways of halting litigation over church properties “and perhaps the escrow concept could even be extended to have some applicability here,” the WCG added.

The WCG warned that failure to respond to and observe the moratoria would cause the Communion to fracture. “The patterns of action currently embraced with the continued blessing of same-sex unions and of interventions could lead to irreparable damage,” it said.

The WCG said the forum should be empowered “to act in the Anglican Communion in a rapid manner to emerging threats to its life, especially through the ministry of its chair, who should work alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury in the exercise of his ministry.”

Bishop Handford said it was hoping to take its recommendations as well as the bishops’ responses to the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets next year.

Bishop Handford said there have been “mixed reactions” to the WCG’s proposals.

Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, diocesan bishop of the Canadian diocese of Moosonee and metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said he was concerned about the proposal for a forum. “My concern is how is it going to be applied? It’s called a pastoral forum but will it be pastoral? Will it ultimately be juridical?”

He added: “Will it be used as an instrument to force people to conform and will it be another one of the situations where there is a right and wrong, black and white, and people will be divided from people even more? Will it be an instrument that will lead to a reconciliation or will it simply exacerbate the divisions we are in now?”

Archbishop Lawrence also said he was “quite surprised” that the moratorium was being made retroactive “and you have to go back and reverse actions… I think that having made a decision some point in the past…it’s changed the way we live and you can’t go back and just say ‘we’ll just go back where we were.'”

He added: “My understanding of the gospel is Jesus just meets us where we are, he doesn’t say: ‘Well, meet me somewhere else. Let’s go into the past and we’ll start again from that point’.”

Aside from New Westminster, at least four other Canadian dioceses – Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara and Huron – have asked their bishops to give clergy permission to bless same-sex marriages “where at least one party is baptized” and to authorize an appropriate rite. Bishops of said dioceses have said they would hold extensive consultations and await the outcome of the Lambeth Conference before arriving at any decision.

These decisions were made by these dioceses after the triennial meeting in June of General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national governing body, which 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.

In his statement, Bishop Ingham said that the WCG’s proposals “seeks to impose a singular uniformity upon the complex diversity of our Communion.” He said that while in some parts of the Communion “homosexuality is subject to criminal law and cultural prohibition,” in Canada, homosexual people “enjoy the same rights and responsibilities under the law as every other citizen.”

If the proposals are accepted by the Communion, “it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation,” he added.

Copies of the first draft of the “Reflections” that the bishops are planning to release at the end of the conference were also handed out to media. Archbishop Phillip Aspinall said it was only meant as a “scoping document” and was still subject to more drafts and alterations.

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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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