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Same-sex relationships to be debated at next Australian General Synod

11 March 2022

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SYDNEY diocese has prepared two “Statements” concerning same-sex relationships for debate at the next meeting of the Australian General Synod, to be held in May.

The first Statement insists that marriage is the “exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness”. Marriage between a same-sex couple is therefore “contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church”. Further, the blessing of same-sex marriage is “not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church”.

The second Statement states that the General Synod “continues to hold the historic view that unchastity means sexual activity outside a marriage relationship”, where marriage relationships are defined as the marriage of one man and one woman.

“Statements”, provided for in the General Synod Constitution, have rarely if ever been used since the Constitution came into force in 1962. They can be made either by resolution or canon; various commentators on the Constitution have suggested that they can be used for the General Synod to express its mind on a particular matter, or to interpret questions concerning the doctrine or principles of the Church.

In an explanatory memorandum accompanying the Statements, Sydney diocese has acknowledged that even if a Statement is carried by a General Synod, it “will not override the decision of a diocesan synod or diocesan bishop”. Rather, it would guide them to act “in ways which are consistent with the views of the General Synod”.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Perth, the Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy, has defended her decision to license the newly appointed Precentor of St George’s Cathedral, Perth, and two men ordained as deacons on 24 February. The Revd Steven Hilton, currently curate of Manchester Cathedral, will take up the post of Precentor mid-year. He is in a same-sex civil union. One recently ordained deacon has been in a de facto relationship with a woman, whom he has since married; another male deacon is in a same-sex civil union.

Archbishop Goldsworthy said that she has been in discussion with conservative groups and parishes that raised concerns with her about the appointment of Fr Hilton and the ordinations. Some clergy, she said, had told her that they will feel their fellowship with her as their bishop will be affected by these decisions. She has committed to continuing meeting with those who feel hurt.

“Some people who are not married do share a committed domestic arrangement with a person of the same sex,” she said. “Such a person must be able to affirm to me that they commit themselves to living within the discipline of the Church, and in accordance with Faithfulness in Service [the national Church’s ministry protocol that requires chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage].”

As the persons concerned had committed themselves to these requirements, Archbishop Goldsworthy said that “administering with mercy the discipline of Christ and of this Church” meant that she “must, will, and do believe people’s word when they give it to me”.

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