THE Bishop of Newcastle, in New South Wales, the Rt Revd Greg Thompson, has refused to attend the forthcoming annual Australian bishops’ conference over the issue of homosexuality.
The Newcastle Herald reports that Bishop Thompson has written to the Primate, Dr Philip Freier, the Archbishop of Melbourne, declining the invitation to the conference, which is due to begin on 6 March, because “it would give the impression of a united Church that conflicted with reality”.
The report says that Bishop Thompson has accused the diocese of Sydney of demanding that the bishops sign up to a protocol on homosexual clergy; or the Sydney bishops would not attend any further bishops’ conferences.
At their 2012 meeting, the bishops adopted a protocol undertaking “to uphold the position of our Church in regard to human sexuality as we ordain, license, authorise, or appoint to ministries within our dioceses”. This followed controversy about the licensing of a priest in a long-term same-sex partnership to a parish in Gippsland, in rural Victoria.
The protocol was superseded in 2014 in favour of a simpler protocol: to uphold “Faithfulness in Service”, a general code of conduct adopted by the General Synod in 2004.
The latest push for a more specific bishops’ protocol dealing with homosexual clergy follows the induction of the same priest to another parish in Gippsland by the current Bishop of the diocese, the Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy. That move was condemned by a resolution of Sydney synod last October, which said that Sydney viewed her action as “a breach of collegiality and fellowship”.
In a media statement, Bishop Thompson said that the resolution meant that he could no longer “simply stand by”. The statement continued: “for over 20 years, we have experienced Anglicans from the Diocese of Sydney establishing church activities in the Diocese of Newcastle in direct competition with our ministries.
“We have learnt to accommodate ourselves to this, but look with great concern on movements such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans that are designed to elevate an alternate Anglican jurisdiction in Australia and New Zealand.
“I am looking to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia to affirm the importance of being able to express divergent views in common fellowship, as the Anglican Primates did in January. I am also looking to the bishops to affirm the leadership of each bishop within their own diocese.”
The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, has commented that the Australian bishops were “aware of the concern, not only of Sydney but also of bishops in other dioceses, about the alleged departures from ‘Faithfulness in Service’ and the protocols”. He was expecting the Gippsland issue to be fully discussed at the bishops’ conference.
Dr Freier has commented that he has “no reason to suspect that the [conference] environment will not be conducive to a shared sense of ministry”.