Canadian Anglicans turn down same-sex marriage

  • June 26, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - The close vote by the Anglican Church of Canada against allowing same-sex blessings on June 24 will neither end the controversy nor move it toward resolution, judging from the comments of two Catholic observers of the debate.
Fr. Damian MacPherson, SA, the director of ecumenism for the archdiocese of Toronto, told The Catholic Register the issue of same-sex blessings, which the Catholic Church opposes, has made dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics difficult, but it hasn’t stopped it completely.

“I don’t think it will change anything at this point. This is not the first roadblock” to dialogue, he said, referring to disagreement over women’s ordination.

He said the ongoing turmoil in Anglican circles should be of concern to Roman Catholics.

“Any further separation (between the two churches) impairs the body of Christ,” he explained.

“It is incumbent on us to keep them in prayer as one way of responding positively.”

{sidebar id=2}Catherine Clifford, an assistant professor of theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, said the division among Anglicans is one of the reasons why Roman Catholics should keep talking with them.

“When each of our churches goes through these difficult times, these are the times when we need to be in dialogue,” said Clifford, who is a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in Canada.

At the Anglican Church’s general synod in Winnipeg, the delegates came within two votes of allowing priests to bless the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Within the Anglican Synod, the vote required majority support from three bodies — laity, clergy and bishops. The first two bodies gave majority support, but the bishops voted against the proposal by a majority of two.

Lay delegates voted 78 to 59 in favour of the motion and clergy voted 63 to 53 in favour. The House of Bishops voted 21-19 against it.

The motion was: “That this general synod affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, 1. with the concurrence of the diocesan bishop and 2. in a manner which respects the conscience of the incumbent and the will of the parish, to authorize the blessing of committed same-sex unions."

Earlier in the day, the delegates also voted to approve a motion declaring same-sex blessings to be in keeping with the core doctrine of the church. The motion was carried by a vote of 152 to 97 in the house of clergy and laity and by a vote of 21 for and 19 against in the house of bishops.

“It creates a measure of instability and even chaos as to how the (Anglican) Church can live out this dilemma,” of moving toward full acceptance of same-sex relationships without taking the final step, MacPherson said.

If all three bodies had supported the move, the Anglican Church of Canada would have been vulnerable to being ousted from the worldwide Anglican Communion. The global Anglican Church has 77 million members, with the most growth coming from developing nations. In the Anglican Communion, the African members in particular have threatened to create a schism in the church if Anglican bodies in other countries — particularly Canada and the United States — start to bless same-sex relationships.

The decision may only be a temporary measure, added MacPherson.

“It’s a measure of postponement,” he said. ”They did come to the threshold but, ever so reluctantly, they didn’t cross it.”

The movement has also created serious unease in Roman Catholic circles. MacPherson said it is a significant irritant in relations between the two churches, but not the most important. He said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical C:ouncil for Promoting Christian Unity, has identified the ordination of bishops by the Church of England as the most serious obstacle to progress on ecumenical dialogue.

Clifford suggested that the areas of agreement between Anglicans and Roman Catholics are of far greater significance than the differences.

“I think it is important to emphasize that Anglicans have been discussing this issue for a very long time,” she said. “And we’ve been in dialogue for more than 40 years.”

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