Bishop Linda Nicholls at Lambeth 2008

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The appointment of advocates of same-sex blessings to the Anglican Communion’s ARCIC team does not violate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ban on participation in ecumenical dialogue of those who propagate views contrary to the church’s teachings on human sexuality.

On Feb 4, ACNS reported that ten Anglicans, including an American priest working in the UK and the suffragan bishop of Toronto had been appointed to the ecumenical dialogue commission which is scheduled to meet this May in Italy.

While conservatives have not disputed the intellectual merits of Canon Mark McIntosh of the Diocese of Chicago or suffragan Bishop Linda Nicholls of Toronto, their appointment by the ACC has prompted criticism for undoing the strictures put into place by Dr. Rowan Williams last year against the participation of members of provinces in breach of the communion’s moratoria on gay bishops and blessings.

It also serves to further erode the credibility of the ACC staff, which has been under sharp criticism from leaders of the Global South and Gafcon movement, and makes the possibility of a rapprochement within the communion less likely.

In his Pentecost letter of May 28, 2010, Dr. Rowan Williams stated that members of provinces that were in breach of the moratoria would no longer participate in the communion’s ecumenical dialogues.

“Provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged,” Dr. Williams wrote.

In a June 7, 2010 press conference during the Canadian General Synod in Halifax, ACC secretary general Canon Kenneth Kearon explained the decision to remove Americans from the dialogue commissions.  That church’s consecration of Bishop Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles “meant that gracious restraint was not being exercised.”

By consecrating a ‘gay’ bishop, it was “clear that The Episcopal Church does not share the faith and order of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion as expressed through the Instruments of Communion time and time again,” Canon Kearon said.

“If they don’t share the faith and order, then they shouldn’t represent the Communion on faith and order questions” and in ecumenical dialogues, the ACC secretary general explained, adding that it was “at the very minimum to be honouring to our ecumenical partners so that they know who they are in conversation with,” Canon Kearon said.

Canon McIntosh, who served as canon theologian to US Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and was co-author of the Episcopal Church’s apologia for gay bishops and blessings to the 2005 ACC meeting, did not count as an American as he now held a position at an English university, the ACC said.

Bishop Linda Nicholls of Toronto was not barred either, ACC spokesman Jan Butter said, as “Canada has not formally breached the moratoria. It was made clear at the time that it was the members of those Churches that had who would be asked to serve as consultants” and not participants in the dialogues.

However, Bishop Nicholls endorsed the plan put forward by the Diocese of Toronto’s House of Bishops last year that formally instituted rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.

It was “quite clear” the Toronto College of Bishops “made a decision not to abide by the moratorium on same sex blessings.  Further, the College has decided that a diocese is at liberty to move ahead unilaterally in this matter,”  Dr. Murray Henderson of the Diocese of Toronto, vice-chairman of the Anglican Communion Alliance in Canada, told The Church of England Newspaper.

“I regard this as a grave action endangering the catholic faith and order of the church,” he said, noting the Toronto bishops were “acting on the disputed assumption that the Provinces are now merely a loose federation of independent churches.”

“I very much doubt that Canon Kearon, speaking as he does for the Archbishop of Canterbury, has reversed his policy of not allowing members of churches which move beyond the common faith and order of the Communion to serve on international commissions such as ARCIC.  It is therefore puzzling and disheartening that a member of the Diocese of Toronto has been so appointed,” Dr. Henderson said.

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