Magazine article Anglican Journal

Legal Experts Tackle Same-Sex Questions

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Legal Experts Tackle Same-Sex Questions

Article excerpt

Conflicting interpretations of the ramifications of General Synod's recent decisions around same-sex blessings have led the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada to consult with their chancellors (legal advisers).

Among the questions that have arisen: What does the approved motion stating that "the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada" mean? Can clergy and dioceses now conduct same-sex blessings? Some bishops have issued pastoral letters asking clergy not to conduct same-sex blessings--can priests be disciplined if they ignore this directive?

To date, at least seven of the church's 30 diocesan bishops have issued pastoral letters stating that General Synod decided that same-sex blessings are still not permitted. Thirteen have not yet issued pastoral letters; the rest offered reflections or reiterated the pastoral response issued by the house of bishops in April. (The response stated in part that civilly-married lesbian or gay couples may, with the bishop's permission, celebrate a eucharist that includes intercessory prayers, but not an exchange of vows and a nuptial blessing.)

Ronald Stevenson, General Synod chancellor, declined to comment on the questions.

Rev. Alan Perry, an expert on canon law from the diocese of Montreal, said the motion that blessings are not in conflict with the church's core doctrine is a "declarative" but not an "enabling" motion, which would contain some mechanism or permission to act in a certain way.

He also believes that the defeat of the motion affirming the authority of dioceses to offer blessings has been misinterpreted. "It says General Synod 'affirms' that dioceses have the authority to authorize blessing of same-sex unions," said Mr. Perry. People are reading the motion "as though it said that General Synod 'grants' authority to the dioceses."

General Synod, he observed, has not stated who, if anyone, has the authority to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.

Mr. Perry said that some would argue that the church's Declaration of Principles grants General Synod exclusive jurisdiction over doctrine. "What it does not say," he said, "is that the General Synod has exclusive control over any and all actions having to do with doctrine."

James Cowan, bishop of British Columbia, offered a contrary view in a pastoral letter. "There are those who argue that because General Synod did not pass a motion claiming its authority on the matter, it may be left to a local church (diocese, parish, or parish priest) to make decisions about moving forward with same-sex union blessings. …

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