CANADA: Ottawa bishop seeks approval for same-sex blessings

October 26, 2008

The bishop of Ottawa wants to open the door to same-sex blessings in his diocese and will ask permission from the Canadian House of Bishops at its meeting October 27-31.


"It is important that I honor the collegiality of the Canadian house," said Bishop John Chapman at the opening of the annual synod of the Diocese of Ottawa in Christ Church Cathedral October 23. "We are, after all, an episcopally led and synodically governed church."

The bishops are expected to discuss tomorrow the Canadian Anglican church's response to renewed proposals for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions. The proposals were made at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the once-per-decade meeting of bishops from around the world, in response to divisions among Anglicans over the contentious issue of homosexuality.

Chapman said he would make a "conclusive statement" to the diocese within a month after the House of Bishops gathering. It would state that after "an appropriate rite" is developed, permission would be given for one parish to offer the blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples.

"This hope is not and must not be understood as a conclusive statement affirming that the church must and ought to proceed with the blessings of same-sex civilly married couples," said Chapman. "As the church was not able to come to a clear mind regarding the priestly ministry of women, so we must take the process of discernment to a place beyond discussion."

The issue has been discussed in the Anglican Church "since I was a seminary student in the mid-'70s," he said. "In order to further the discernment process, we must 'experience' the issue as church before clarity of heart and mind might be attained." For this reason, he added, "I hope to proceed, but slowly and cautiously."

If Chapman gets approval from the House of Bishops, the Diocese of Ottawa could become the second Anglican diocese in Canada to permit same-sex blessings. The Diocese of New Westminster approved the blessings in 2002.

At the synod of the Diocese of Ottawa last year, delegates voted 177-97 to ask the bishop to allow clergy to "bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples where at least one party is baptized." Chapman said he wanted time to study the issue and consult with other bishops before making a decision. Since then, the dioceses of Montreal, Niagara, Huron and, most recently, the assembly of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) have passed similar motions favoring same-sex blessings but none have initiated the practice.

On October 5, the congregation of St. George's in Ottawa voted 130 to 27 to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and align itself under the authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Early this year, the congregation of St. Alban's, also an Ottawa parish, voted 77 to 1 to accept the episcopal oversight of Bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, under the authority of Venables.

"I need to remind this synod that parishes do not leave the diocese," Chapman said in his address to synod. "Sadly, some individuals elect to move on while parishes remain with the diocese, subject to all the rights and privileges of the diocese living under the constitution, canons and regulations of the diocese." Many are wondering what will become of the parish communities, he said. "I assure you that everything will be done to provide pastoral care for those members wishing to continue their faith journey as members of the diocese and under the pastoral oversight of the bishop of Ottawa."

Chapman also said he has responsibility to care for all property held in the name of the diocese. "Ownership of the properties of St. Alban's and St. George's has not, nor will they ever be transferred to the Province of the Southern Cone," he said.