Toronto bishops propose process to allow same-sex blessings

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The bishops of the diocese of Toronto are proposing that “a limited number of parishes” be given episcopal permission to offer prayers and blessing “but not the nuptial blessing” to same-sex couples “in stable, long-term, committed relationships.”

The bishops, who outlined their proposal at a Jan. 29 meeting of the diocesan council, said they plan to conduct an extensive consultation process and would present the guidelines for implementing the proposal at the diocese’s synods in May and in November. A bishop’s commission will be formed to formulate the guidelines.

The process could take a year, the diocesan bishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson, told the Toronto Star.

The bishops said that the proposal was well within the parameters recommended by the house of bishops, which in 2007 declared that they were committed to “develop the most generous pastoral response possible within the current teaching of the church.” The bishops said that clergy may celebrate a eucharist and intercessory prayers with a same-sex couple, but not pronounce a nuptial blessing.

The proposal is unlike the moves that have been made by the dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara and Huron, where the diocesan synods asked their bishops to allow civilly-married gay couples, “where at least one party is baptized,” to receive a church blessing and to develop an appropriate rite for such blessings.

No rite will be developed or authorized in the diocese of Toronto’s case said the bishops.

Just what form the prayers or blessing would take has yet to be determined, said Bishop Johnson.

The Web site of the Toronto Anglican, the diocesan newspaper, said that Bishop Johnson had emphasized that “any movement towards the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage or the approval of authorized liturgical rites would fall under the purview of General Synod and not diocesan authority.”

In their draft discussion document for consultation, the bishops said that they believed that “any further response should lie within the pastoral realm and not seek to be legislative.” They added, “Any movement towards recognition of same-sex unions as marriage or of authorized liturgical rites would move us into the purview of General Synod and not diocesan authority.”

The General Synod in 2007 agreed that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine but refused to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them. But that General Synod asked the faith, worship and ministry committee to review the church’s marriage canon (church law) to see what changes might be required to allow priests to marry all legally qualified persons. Same-sex marriages were legalized in Canada in 2005. It also asked that same committee to consult the church on the Christian perspective of sexuality and to produce a report for General Synod in 2010.

The bishops’ proposed “pastoral response” also emphasized that “no parish or clergy will be required to participate” in any such blessing. An evaluation of the pastoral response will also be conducted after a year.

The bishops stated that their proposal was also guided by the church’s history of blessing “long-term non-marital commitments” such as those in monastic communities.

In their document, the bishops said that it is clear that there is “no consensus on the way forward” regarding the blessing of same-sex unions, an issue that has divided not just Anglicans in Canada but worldwide. “The situation is messy – with increasing diversity across the Anglican Church of Canada as individual dioceses engage in different responses. Discernment continues locally, nationally and internationally. We do not yet have a clear vision for the future nor a single solution.”

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