THE General Synod of the Episcopal Church of Brazil (IEAB) has voted overwhelmingly to amend canon law to allow its priests to conduct same-sex marriages in church.
Members of the synod voted 57 to four, with two abstentions, in favour of amending its marriage canon to be gender-neutral, last Friday. It was the third time that the motion had been brought before the synod.
Same-sex marriage was legalised in the country in 2012. Discussions on same-sex marriage in the Church started in about 1997, but the synod did not commission formal dialogues within the dioceses until 2013, a statement from the Province said.
“Canonical changes were approved in an environment filled by the Holy Spirit and with mutual love and respect. It was preceded by long, deep, and spiritual dialogue.”
The outgoing Primate of Brazil, the Most Revd Francisco de Assis da Silva, said: “I felt the decision was a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. This widens our boundaries, allowing us to be more welcoming to the diversity of people in our country.”
The Provincial Secretary, the Revd Arthur Cavalcante, who is in a same-sex civil partnership, said that it had been a personal journey for him: “I personally felt discrimination and persecution when I first came out in the diocese of Recife, and saw colleagues facing similar struggles. . . I feel proud to witness this historic day for the Church of Brazil.”
Brazil is the third Province of the Anglican Communion to vote to change its marriage canon to accommodate same-sex marriage in its churches.
The breakaway diocese of Recife was established by the Bishop of Recife, the Rt Revd Robinson Cavalcanti, in 2003, in response to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in the Episcopal Church. When Bishop Cavalcanti left, he took 32 clergy and their congregations with him, including several church properties.
He was deposed by the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, on the grounds that he had broken communion, and, in 2013, a judge ruled that all property must be returned to the Anglican diocese of Recife (News, 26 July 2013).
Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti and his his wife, Miriam, were found murdered in their home in 2012 (News, 2 March 2012). Archbishop Miguel Uchoa Cavalcanti, who was then Rector of the Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit, succeeded him as Bishop of the diocese.
Archbishop Cavalcanti was installed by GAFCON as the first Primate of the breakaway Anglican Church in Brazil, last month.
The Scottish Episcopal Church followed the US Episcopal Church in changing its marriage canon (News, 8 June 2017).
The Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange, was invited by Archbishop Assis da Silva to address the synod of the Church of Brazil and preach at its opening eucharist. The pair had spent time discussing issues facing the Communion at the last Primates’ Meeting, in Canterbury, in October.
“Every step makes it feel a little less lonely,” Bishop Strange said on Tuesday. “The debate, like ours, was in round tables; so [it was] a discussion, and there was determination for the Church to move forward together. We have tried to have a decision that moves us all forward, even though some would think we are going backwards.
“Nobody was excluded from the process or felt that they needed to exclude themselves from the synod after that.”
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said, however, that, while the Churches of the Anglican Communion were “autonomous and free to make their own decisions” on canon law, the decision put the Church of Brazil “at odds with the majority position”.
“I understand that this is the third time that the issue has been discussed by the Synod of the IEAB, and so its decision to approve changes to canon law on marriage is not a surprise.
“There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion, but this decision puts the Episcopal Church of Brazil at odds with the majority position that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
“This is a move away from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Communion’s position on human sexuality is set out in Resolution I.10 agreed at the Lambeth conference of 1998, and will remain so unless it is revoked.
“It is my deep desire to see the Churches of the Anglican Communion remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ in spite of deeply held differences, and to work out how to maintain unity and uphold the value of every individual. It is important to stress the Communion’s strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people.”
Last week, the general secretary of GAFCON, Archbishop Peter Jensen, disputed a statement made by Dr Idowu-Fearon in this paper, when he said that GAFCON was wrong to call the Anglican Church in Brazil a Province of the Communion (News, 18 May).
Archbishop Jenson responded: “Here lies the difference between mere institutionalism and spiritual reality. The basic reason why there is a division amongst the Anglicans of Brazil is because the Episcopal Church of Brazil has departed from the teaching of scripture, and hence from Anglican teaching, concerning sex and marriage.
“The division is not over a matter of church politics or personal ambition. It is a matter of the fundamentals of the faith, of what makes a true Church, of the authority of God’s word.”