Dissenting minorities who strongly disagree with church decisions on the blessing of same-gender relationships should be provided with an alternate bishop, at least temporarily, says a task force appointed by the Canadian house of bishops.
The arrangement, called temporary adequate/alternate episcopal oversight (AEO), is recommended in the task force's final report, which was publicly released Mar. 4. Temporary AEO, said the report, is the best way to foster healing and reconciliation and to preserve unity within the church.
"After reviewing the responses by dioceses to the questions posed by the task force it is clear that the concept of AEO receives only grudging acceptance and is seen as a last resort to prevent schism," said the report. It added that the "division of theological understanding and interpretation of authority of Scripture is judged to be so widespread across the church that the task force believes healing and reconciliation can be served best by the implementation of AEO."
The majority of those consulted by the task force, headed by Bishop Victoria Matthews of the diocese of Edmonton, believe that AEO "must be interim in nature, and must provide security and safety to those who request it."
If AEO were to remain in place forever, said Bishop Matthews in an interview, "we would be doing damage to the church because we would be setting up parallel jurisdictions. The general view we kept hearing was, 'we need this in place until the dust settles.'"
The task force likened the granting of AEO to a "trial separation," with a hope for reconciliation. "What we're saying here is that we're leaving the door open for the Holy Spirit," said Bishop Matthews.
Dioceses across Canada also believe that AEO should be limited to addressing dissent arising over same-sex blessings, the task force said. "Many expressed concern that if the AEO was to extend beyond the issue of the blessing of same-sex unions, it could open up a Pandora's box which would render episcope (ministry of a bishop) unmanageable," said the report.
The report, available on the national church Web site (www.anglican.ca) is extensive, addressing not just the practical implementation of AEO but also issues like the financial fallout that might result from disagreements over same-sex blessings as well as the history and context behind the formation of the task force.
Formed last October by the house of bishops, the task force included Bishop George Bruce of Ontario, Bishop Thomas Morgan of Saskatoon (who retired last December), and Bishop Donald Young of Central Newfoundland. The group conducted consultations among bishops, clergy and laity nationwide and ultimately suggested three models of AEO based on varying scenarios that might emerge out of the discussion on same-sex blessings at the upcoming General Synod, which begins May 28.
Two of the models require the temporary ceding of authority by a diocesan bishop in a troubled diocese to an AEO bishop, granting him or her full jurisdiction over a church or parish seeking AEO.
The first model says that in the event that General Synod approves a resolution allowing dioceses to exercise a "local option" on the matter of same-sex blessings, and if a diocesan synod passes a resolution permitting the blessings, then, "dissenting and distressed parishes would be given the option of being placed in trust by the diocesan bishop. …