GUIDELINES for clergy considering requests by same-sex couples for blessings have been issued for the Anglican diocese of Toronto.
The guidelines state that they are a pastoral response to committed gay and lesbian couples, and “not an authorized rite of the Anglican diocese of Toronto”. This distinction is important, since the introduction of a rite would invite censure from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office.
The College of Bishops acknowledges that the guidelines might strain the “gracious restraint” called for in the 2004 Windsor report, which included moratoria on appointing someone in a same-sex relationship as a bishop, authorising same-sex blessings, and intervening in another province.
Breaching these moratoria has earned sanctions for both the Episcopal Church in the US, in which a lesbian bishop was consecrated in Los Angeles, and the Province of the Southern Cone, which has extended its oversight to conservative dioceses and parishes in the US and Canada.
Toronto’s guidelines, however, aim to walk the tightrope between “gracious restraint” and “pastoral generosity” to same-sex couples, as called for by the Canadian House of Bishops in a pastoral statement in 2007.
A spokesman for the Anglican Communion Office said this week that, as the Toronto guidelines were a diocesan matter, it could not comment on them.
Conservatives in the US and Canada were less reticent, arguing immediately that the guidelines were much more than just a pastoral response, and calling for action by the Anglican Communion. “They strike at the heart of the faith that has been handed on to us, and at the Christian moral vision regarding sex and marriage,” said Catherine Sider Hamilton and F. Dean Mercer, in a response from the Anglican Communion Institute last week.
The Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto, the Revd Dr Ephraim Radner, said that the diocese was “pour[ing] more fuel upon the smouldering flames” by its action.
The five pages of guidelines advise clergy on how to plan an act of worship, including offering those in “stable committed same-gender relationships” the option of a eucharist. The guidelines specify that there should be no exchange of consents, or signing of a register, and that no prayers of nuptial blessing from any marriage liturgy used anywhere in the Anglican Communion should be said over the couple.
The Archbishop of Toronto, the Most Revd Colin Johnson, said that he expects that between five and ten parishes will wish to move towards using the guidelines for same-sex blessings. Consensus will need to have been reached in the parishes before permission to carry out blessings will be granted.
The Archbishop said: “Not all will welcome this development: some because it goes too far, some because it is not nearly enough. You will note that there are strong affirmations in these guidelines assuring a continued and honoured place in all aspects of diocesan life for those who do not agree with this response.”
The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod earlier this year stepped back from making any legislative decision on same-sex blessings (News, 18 June).
The Canadian Primate, the Most Revd Fred Hiltz, acknowledged afterwards that the “local option”, which has been exercised by some dioceses in the past to permit same-sex blessings, could be used again. He said, however: “It’s not the local option approved by the national Church. We’re not ready as a national Church to say: ‘We’re building this into our doctrine that we approve of same-sex unions.’”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking to the press during the 2008 Lambeth Conference, expressed his unease with the term “pastoral response”.
He told reporters: “‘Pastoral response’ has been interpreted very differently, and there are those in the USA who would say: ‘Well, pastoral response means rites of blessing,’ and I’m not very happy about that.”