In a written response to a statement issued by seven Canadian bishops expressing their dissent from General Synod’s decision to move toward solemnizing same-sex marriages, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, pushed back against several of the points they had raised.
While he affirmed the bishops’ commitment to offer “pastoral care and
loving service to all irrespective of sexual orientation,” he noted
that for many LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,
Queer/Questioning) Anglicans, “pastoral care” would include the
solemnization of their marriages—which the bishops have expressly said
they will not do.
“For me, my brothers, the question you ask is really a
question for all members of the church. To what extent can we and will
we make room for one another? To what extent will we pastorally
accommodate one another?” Hiltz said in his letter.
Hiltz’s response is dated August 5, but it became public following
its distribution to the House of Bishops in advance of its September
22-27 meeting in Winnipeg. The Anglican Journal obtained a copy of the letter after a request was made to the primate’s office.
Hiltz also challenged their claim that the resolution, which contains
a conscience clause, “does not provide adequate protection for the
consciences of dioceses, clergy and congregations.”
He asked the bishops
to explain what such protection would look like, and how it would apply
for those in their dioceses who are in favour of same-sex marriage.
He defended the process leading up to the same-sex marriage vote July 11, which narrowly passed the first of two readings (the
second will take place in 2019) and took issue with the bishops’ claim
that the “entire process” leading up to the vote was “flawed,” and had
“inflicted terrible hurt and damage on all involved.”
He argued that Council of General Synod (CoGS), which had been given
responsibility for crafting the resolution allowing for the marriage of
same-sex couples in the church after a resolution passed at General
Synod 2013, had taken “considerable care” and done its work
Hiltz added that, in his opinion, the discussion of the resolution at
General Synod 2016 had been well-organized, with provisions made for
those who wished to abstain from the vote altogether.
Hiltz also noted that though the vote itself, which was originally
declared to have failed before being reversed the next day due to the
discovery of an error, was “difficult,” it had allowed many synod
members to “experience the pain of another whose view on this matter is
very different” in a “very powerful way.”
The primate assured the bishops that the question of what the church
should do pastorally, prophetically and structurally following the vote
is one he is taking very seriously. He said he intends to publish the
notes from small-group discussions on this subject that took place
following the vote, and these would serve as the basis for further
discussions at CoGS and House of Bishops.
But there were also points on which Hiltz concurred with the bishops.
He affirmed their condemnation of “homophobic prejudice and
violence,” and sympathized with their frustration over the use of a
legislative process to make decisions about theological and pastoral
issues. But while he stated his desire for “less confrontational, and
less hurtful” ways of decision-making, he placed the onus on the bishops
to delineate what that might look like.
He shared their concern over the decision made by some bishops to
proceed with same-sex marriages ahead of 2019, but said he has “no
canonical authority to prohibit bishops from taking such action.” Hiltz
said he would nonetheless “encourage a conversation in the House of
Bishops about patience with the due process of General Synod…"
Hiltz also told the bishops he has spoken with the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Justin Welby, about General Synod’s decision and the
concerns they have raised, and assured Welby that he would address the
issue “as comprehensively as I can.
The dissenting bishops’ statement was released July 15, just days
after General Synod came to an end. It was signed by Bishop Stephen
Andrews, of the diocese of Algoma; Bishop David Parsons, of the diocese
of the Arctic, Suffragan Bishop Darren McCartney, also of the diocese of
the Arctic; Bishop William Anderson, of the diocese of Caledonia;
Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon; Bishop Fraser Lawton,
of the diocese of Athabasca; and Bishop Michael Hawkins of the diocese
Bishop David Edwards, of the diocese of Fredericton, was not an
original signatory, but he added his name to the statement later.
Efforts were made to contact several of the bishops who had signed,
but at press time, none were willing to comment.
Hawkins did, however,
note that the signatories would issue a formal response in the coming
In an interview, Hiltz said he was willing to meet with the
bishops about their concerns.