IMAGE: CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters
By Simon Caldwell
England (CNS) — Because of the U.S. Episcopal Church’s moves to unilaterally
change canon law to allow same-sex marriage, Anglican leaders voted to suspend
Episcopalians from positions representing the Anglican Communion and from
participating in some Anglican bodies.
meeting in Canterbury, England, said that for three years, members of the
Episcopal Church will be barred sitting on Anglican bodies making decisions on
doctrine and polity and from representing the Communion on ecumenical and
move comes in response to a policy allowing gay marriages, adopted last year by
the General Convention, or governing body, of the Episcopal Church, the
Anglican Church in the United States.
change in canon law in the U.S. has been strongly opposed by many of the
theologically conservative African churches, some of whose leaders had
threatened to walk out of the five-day primate meeting if the Episcopal Church
was not penalized for its actions.
suspension was announced in a statement issued by the primates Jan. 14, a day
earlier than planned because of leaks to the media.
said the changes in teaching on marriage in the Episcopal Church represent a
“fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of
our provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” which it defined as a lifelong
union between a man and a woman.
change had caused “deep pain,” impaired the Anglican Communion by
placing “huge strains” on its unity, and created “deeper
mistrust between us,” the statement said.
policy set a precedent that could be copied by other provinces, such as Canada,
where Anglicans will vote on same-sex marriage in July, and this “could
further exacerbate this situation,” the statement said.
added that the primates had expressed a “unanimous commitment to walk
together” and had asked Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual
leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, to appoint a “task group”
to work toward dialogue, trust and healing among the provinces.
Jan. 11-15 meeting brought together 39 Anglican primates to reflect on the
challenges posed to the unity of their communion.
At a Jan. 15 news conference, Archbishop
Welby repeatedly insisted that the measures taken against the Episcopal Church
were not “sanctions” but were consequences of “going off on your
Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry addressed his fellow bishops before
they voted for suspension, telling them that Episcopalians were committed to
creating “an inclusive church.”
decision will bring real pain,” he said in comments he later released to
the Episcopal News Service. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church
who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain.
many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for
many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church
opening itself in love was a sign of hope,” he continued. “And this
will add pain on top of pain.”
Archbishop Welby told reporters that
persecution of people for their sexuality was a “source of deep sadness.”
He said he wanted to apologize “for the hurt and pain, in the past and
present, the church has caused.”
In a final statement from the
meeting, the primates also condemned “homophobic prejudice and violence”
as well as “criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people” and
said they were “resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and
loving service irrespective of sexual orientation.”
Global Anglican Future Conference, a coalition of conservative Anglican leaders
from around the world, welcomed the suspension, adding that “this action
must not be seen as an end, but as a beginning.” The suspension infuriated
gay rights activists, however, with some traveling to Canterbury Jan. 15 to
demonstrate at a “vigil” outside the meeting.
Father Ron Roberson, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said he doubted
the suspension would have an impact on ARCUSA, the 50-year-old dialogue between
the Episcopal Church and the USCCB Committee on Ecumenism and Interreligious
told Catholic News Service Jan. 14 that while “the statement of the
primates could be open to different interpretations,” in the bilateral
dialogue, “the Episcopal Church never claimed to represent the other
province of the Anglican Communion is independent and runs its own affairs;
even the Archbishop of Canterbury has no authority over an individual province
like the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada.
Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,
told Vatican Radio Jan. 15 that he hopes the next three years “will be
used to find deeper unity within the Anglican Communion.”
cardinal noted that the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International
Commission, the official body for Catholic-Anglican theological dialogue, is
discussing on a general level what the Anglican primates were dealing with at
the one hand, there is the relationship between the local church and the
universal church,” while on the other hand there is a need “to find
greater unity” in dealing with ethical questions. “These are the
principal themes of our dialogue and have become visible now in the Anglican
Communion. It would be beautiful if our dialogue was able to be of help to the
Anglican Communion so that it would find its unity again.”
Episcopal Church, which has about 2 million members, is among the most liberal
of Anglican provinces in the world and has continuously divided opinion among
Anglicans with its policies.
came to the fore in 2003 when Canon Gene Robinson, who was openly gay, was
elected an Episcopal bishop. Soon afterward, then-Archbishop Rowan Williams of
Canterbury asked the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to halt
any future such ordinations and to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative
Mary Douglas Glasspool, a lesbian, was ordained as suffragan bishop of Los
Angeles in 2010, Archbishop Williams barred members of the Episcopal Church
from representing the Anglican Communion on international ecumenical dialogue
to this story were Barb Fraze in Washington and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.
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