THE diocese of Uruguay has announced that it will separate from the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, after its hopes of having women ordained to the priesthood were dashed.
Uruguay currently has women deacons, and it had asked the Southern Cone’s triennial Synod to vote to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood to be a diocesan decision rather than a provincial one. A vote failed to get the required two-thirds majority in the House of Clergy for the necessary canonical changes, although they were carried by the Houses of Bishops and of Laity.
Immediately after the vote in the Synod, the diocese of Uruguay called its own extraordinary synod meeting, and agreed to break away from the Southern Cone and seek to align with another province. A statement released this week by the Bishop of Bolivia, the Rt Revd Frank Lyons, on behalf of the diocese of Uruguay, said: “Uruguay felt that after a nine-year hiatus since the previous vote for province-wide approval, a patient wait would be rewarded. That was not the result, and so the Uruguayan Synod took this measure to move away from the province.
“The Synod was held on November 12 in the capital city of Montevideo and the motion to quit the Province was proposed by the Diocesan Council and passed with a simple majority vote in orders according to the Uruguayan canonical process . . .
“The diocese requests that permission for transfer from the province take place within the year and that if this is not possible an appeal would be made to the Anglican Consultative Council to arrange for oversight as directed in provincial canons.”
The Province of the Southern Cone has not issued a formal response to the move, but its former Primate, the Rt Revd Gregory Venables, Bishop of Argentina and interim Bishop of Northern Argentina, said on Tuesday that the possible secession of Uruguay had not been discussed in the House of Bishops.
“We knew it was a possibility, of course, but there was no discussion, and we did not know it would happen immediately. We had a letter from Bishop Tamayo [Bishop of Uruguay] afterwards, which made it clear there were no other issues: it is very much about the ordination-of-women question.”
Uruguay is a small diocese, which grew out of Anglican mission work, and has a small expatriate chaplaincy. It has developed a strong social-justice programme, working with AIDS suffers and the poor and marginalised. The diocese signed a “covenant companion relationship” with the diocese of Oklahoma last year.
Bishop Venables suggested that the diocese of Uruguay would feel more “at home” with the Episcopal Church in the United States than with the Southern Cone. “They don’t take the same strong stance that some bits of the province take on some of the issues facing the Anglican Communion,” he said.
The Province of the Southern Cone has oversight of several conservative dioceses in the US, after they split from the Episcopal Church — interventions that have attracted sanctions from the Anglican Communion — but this is the first time that a diocese has sought to break away from the province.
Possible provinces with which Uruguay may seek to affiliate include the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, which has many women priests.