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Toronto plans SSBs without any vote

By Sue Careless

The Diocese of Toronto plans to bless same-sex relationships without taking any formal vote on the theologically contentious issue.

"(A vote) would cause more division than it would cause resolution," the diocesan bishop, Colin Johnson, told the media.

Johnson will set up a commission of clergy and laity to engage in a consultation process but most observers see it as a “done deal” without any vote. The consultation likely will only fine tune the details.

The five Toronto bishops made their proposal to the Diocesan Council on Jan. 29. They are proposing that at two synod meetings, May 29-30 and one day in November, only small table group discussions be held. Such semi-private conversations would make organized dissent more difficult than in plenary sessions with questions from the floor.

Four of the five Toronto bishops had voted in favour of same-sex blessings at General Synod 2007. Now even Bishop Patrick Yu, who had opposed such blessings at the time, is fully supporting the Toronto plan.

Bishop Johnson says the blessings are in response to the Canadian House of Bishops’ statement in 2007 that called for "the most generous pastoral response possible within the current teachings of the church" on same-sex blessings.

Not all clergy agree. “Pastoral provision that encourages sin is hardly pastoral,” said the Rev’d Chris King of Little Trinity in Toronto.

The bishops’ plan would involve only “a limited number of parishes” which could offer “prayers and blessing (but not the nuptial blessing) to same-sex couples in stable, long-term, committed relationships.”

In addition:

  • Episcopal guidelines on the nature of the prayers/blessing will be established. A particular rite will not be authorized.
  • Episcopal permission for blessings will be required.
  • Evaluation of this pastoral response will be undertaken after one year.
  • No parish or clergy will be required to participate.
  • A Bishop’s Commission will be formed to create the guidelines, monitor activity and review.

A parish wishing to bless same-sex relationships would need to ask Bishop Johnson for approval. He would give it only if he were sure that both clergy and laity at the church agreed to such blessings. After that, each couple wishing to see a relationship blessed would need Johnson's approval.

Bishop Johnson said that the plan does not include the provision for a marriage rite because recognition of same-sex unions as marriage or the approval of authorized liturgical rites would fall under the authority of General Synod not the Diocese.

It remains to be seen if any conservative parishes that oppose SSBs on principle will actually leave the Diocese as has happened in other dioceses when SSBs have been instituted on a similar “local option” basis.

The moratorium on same-sex blessings requested by Lambeth last July, the House of Bishops last November and the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria this February would seem to lie in shambles in Canada. Currently seven jurisdictions in the ACC have voted for SSBs: Huron, Montreal, New Westminster, Niagara, Ottawa, Rupert’s Land and the Parishes of the Central Interior (formerly the Diocese of Cariboo). However, Toronto is the first jurisdiction to propose such blessings without even a synod vote.

The Rev’d Murray Henderson, priest at Christ Church & St James in Toronto, and chair of the Toronto Chapter of Anglican Federation, believes any decision on SSBs should be made by General Synod not local synods. “A diocese should not arrogate to itself the right to make this kind of decision whether it be by vote of members of synod or by the bishops putting this forward.”

“How this can be construed as faithfulness to Lambeth and its call for a moratorium is very puzzling,” he told the Planet. “We are going the route of other Canadian dioceses who appear to be ignoring Lambeth.” As for the local option for each parish, “It’s autonomy gone wild but that is what is happening in the Canadian church. People are doing what they want to do at different levels without the authority to do it.”

While Henderson would prefer a vote at General Synod, he understands that some people would still prefer a diocesan vote over “a bishops’ fiat.” “If we make this decision, let’s not make it surreptitiously. Let’s at least have it out in the open whether we win or lose.” Nor is he convinced that a majority favour SSBs. “You come to a synod to be persuaded and what you are persuaded of depends on the motion.” Even though the proposed blessings will not be nuptial, Henderson says, “However they construe it, it seems to be a kind of incrementalism.”

“While I applaud being generous to folk who are same-sex attracted, being generous doesn’t mean going against one’s convictions and allowing something that we believe to be contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the Church. Generosity can’t extend beyond what is right into an area that doesn’t have the blessing of Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church.”


Reader Comments (2)

This could be the first step in invalidating the Synod process and starting a Bishops coup. Fred XIII is turning the church into a benevolent (?) dictatorship anyway.

March 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve L.

When the priests put themselves on an equal footing with God Can it be a viable religion anymoe? The Bishops and priests seem to think that th are equal to GOD because they change his word and his teaching.

June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNew Guy
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