Dean of Saint Paul’s : Church needs to consider Same-Sex Marriage

Dean of St Paul’s David Ison calls on CofE to consider gay marriage

The Dean of St Paul’s has called for the Church of England to consider what accepting same-sex marriage would mean for the future.

The Church of England is seen by many as “toxic” and “oppressive” because of its stance on women and gays, he said. Some gay Christians had even committed suicide because of the pressure of being told they had to be celibate.

Dr David Ison says today: “We need to consider what the acceptance of same-sex marriage in the Church would mean in reality, and how it would be understood in relation to the theology of Christian marriage and the chequered history of that institution, as well as contemporary social practice around sexuality.”

Dr Ison, who was brought up in the conservative evangelical tradition but changed his mind about homosexuality after meeting gay Christians at university and witnessing first-hand the damage done by the traditional teaching, added: “We are in a situation where because of its views about women and about gay people, the church has been seen as toxic or oppressive.

“That breaks my heart, that that should be the case, when the church is there to bear witness to freedom, life and hope in the world. Let’s see what we can do to change that.”

He was speaking to Christian Today on publication of his open letter about sexuality on the website of Accepting Evangelicals, the organisation now headed by former Archbishops’ Council member Jayne Ozanne, an influential evangelical who recently came out as gay.

Dr Ison, married with four children, says in the letter he is promoting the idea of “good disagreement” where groups in the church agree to disagree but to live together. The concept underpins the “shared conversations” which enter their second phase soon and continue until 2016 in an attempt to hold the Church together.

There is suspicion in some quarters that the conversations have an agenda pre-determined towards change. Already the conservative evangelical group Reform have said they will not take part.

Reuters: David Ison with Queen Elizabeth at St Paul’s Cathedral after a thanksgiving service to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

However Dr Ison says that although he himself changed his own mind, all he hopes is that the warring parties will find a way to live together, while disagreeing, and avoid schism. As Dean of St Paul’s, the fact that he is not a bishop leaves him in a key position to speak out freely. His views will carry great weight across all levels of the Church, government and society.

Dr Ison told Christian Today: “I’ve seen in my pastoral work plenty of angst around the whole area of sexuality, particularly dealing with people who are homosexual, about how the double life they’ve felt pushed into has been a huge strain, an emotional and mental strain. I’ve known one or two people who’ve committed suicide because of the pressure they’ve been under.”

These were people who had “faithfully” tried to live out what the church asks for in terms of sexual morality, which for homosexuals is celibacy.

There was no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus differentiated between homosexuals and heterosexuals, he said.

“The reality of my encounter over the years, particularly with Christian gay people, has led me to question the rightness of the interpretation of Scripture, that simply to be gay means you must be celibate.”

He admitted the conservative view was the one with 2,000 years of tradition on its side. “And yet, the question doesn’t go away and you have to ask the question, is it actually working? And where we are now raises the questions in a different kind of way from the kinds of questions St Paul was facing in the culture he was in.”

One example of an older culture on the Church was everyday sexism. “I was talking to somebody about a statue of a bishop in St Paul’s. He’s safely dead, many many years ago. And they said oh yes, he was well-known as a bottom pincher. You just think, how can you square that with being a christian minister, that you will trespass upon the person of women.”

Although he admitted that passages in the letters of St Paul were against homosexuality, he called for a broader approach today.

“You look at the lists in St Paul’s letters about the things that you should get upset about. Maybe one or two are about sex. Lots of them are about things like anger and hostility and greed and other things which we don’t make anything of in terms of how we should, say, associate with a person because they are greedy or unkind. Where you draw the line is very much determined by what your particular fashion of the moment is. We need to have a much broader approach to scripture rather than fixing on a few texts which seem to determine the argument one way or the other.”

In his open letter, Dr Ison questions why the focus is on homosexuality. “After all, far more damage is done in and to the Church by misbehaving heterosexuals than by gay people,” he writes.

He recommends the strategies used to consecrate women bishops, or to engage in dialogue with other faiths, could be adopted over the gay issue.

“I have seen and heard of so much pain and spiritual destruction that has come out of the Church’s refusal to embrace the equality of women and gay people before God, and from its refusal to accept the reality of its own discrimination against people for who they are,” he writes.

He adds: “The Church still struggles with how to affirm in practice people of black and minority ethnic and Jewish backgrounds: but if we were to be discussing the question of whether or not they are equal before God, we would rightly be condemned for our racism or anti-Semitism, even though such prejudices have been scripturally justified in Christian history.

“Why then do we think it still acceptable in parts of the Church to speak about and treat women and gay people as a ‘them’, as a problem to work around rather than as a part of our own Christian body?”

Jayne Ozanne, director of Accepting Evangelicals, warmly welcomed the open letter and described it as a “seminal contribution” to the shared conversations process. She told Christian Today: “As David has so powerfully explained – we need to find a new way of engaging with each other on this highly sensitive topic. Too many lives have been permanently scared – and sadly many tragically lost – over this heart breaking issue. We need to humbly recognise and honour that, no matter what our theological position. I think we would also do well to remember that although the gospels make no mention of Jesus addressing the issue of homosexuality directly, they make plenty of references to his confrontations with those who lived by the letter rather than the spirit of the law.”

Read the full transcript of Dr David Ison talking to Christian Today here.


            Under the sponsorship of ‘Accepting Evangelicals’, the U.K. publication ‘CHURCH’ has published this interesting article by the Dean of Saint Paul’s, London; The Very Revd. David Ison, in which he challenges the leadership of the Church of England to consider the possibility of  Same-Sex Marriage for its members.
            To many conservative Evangelicals – especially those here in my own Province of Anglicanism at ACANZP – the prospect of fellow Evangelicals anywhere in the world approving of Same-Sex Marriage might seem impossible. However, as proven by this stand made by the dean of Saint Paul’s – a member of ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ in the U.K. – it is not only possible but seemingly a matter of Gospel expediency.
            In the light of the current programme of ‘Conversations’ about human sexuality taking place in the dioceses of the Church of england, this article by Dean David Ison will no doubt stimulate some lively discussion – not only amongst fellow Evangelicals, but also those on the other side of the spectrum, Hugh Church Anglicans – and, hopefully, middle of the road Anglicans –  all of whom will be challenged to consider the moral and theological ramifications of the claims made by innate homosexuals to a state of life presently only enjoyed by heterosexuals in the Church.
            Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Rebellion in the Southwark Diocese – from Sola Scriptura

 – 9 February

[CofE] BREAKING: The Southwark Declaration

The following has been distributed this morning to sympathetic parishes in Southwark Diocese and beyond for affirmation. Southwark has been gripped in a growing standoff between the bishop and his evangelical parishes who are increasingly disenchanted with his unwillingness to uphold Biblical and canonical standards, particularly in the area of human sexuality.

The Southwark Declaration

As clergy and lay people in the Diocese of Southwark:

We affirm the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and their supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. We affirm with Canon A5 that ‘the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.’’

We affirm, with Article XX, that ‘it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.’

We affirm the teaching of Scripture (Genesis 2.24, Mark 10. 7, Matthew 19.5), the Book of Common Prayer, and Canon B30 (‘Of Holy Matrimony’) that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life. We affirm it is the one God-ordained context for sexual intercourse. We affirm resolution 1.10 on human sexuality of the Lambeth Conference (1998).

We call upon all the Bishops, Archdeacons, and the senior staff of the Diocese, alongside all clergy and licensed lay ministers, to affirm these truths, live by them, and to teach in accordance with them.

We call upon the Bishops to appoint to positions of teaching authority only those who hold to these truths in good conscience.


I have to be very careful with the attribution of this post – because of the fact that there are twin brothers whose surname is Ould, both of whom are apt to post articles  against the enabling of Gay people to flourish within the Church – on account of their affinity with the oddly-named ‘Standing Firm’ sodality which derives its rigidity to a sola Scriptura, fundamentalist theology.

David Ould, the writer of this article, on the ‘Stand Firm’ website – who is the Rector of Glenquarie Anglican Church in Sydney – might seem the less likely of the two brothers to be involved with the U.K. Diocese of Southwark. However, as most bloggers in the Anglican Communion are aware, the Sydney Diocese in Australia – with its links to GAFCON – is not averse to empathising with its cohorts in the U.K., where David’s brother, Peter (another blogger against gay relationships) is, himself, a parish minister. 

‘Sola Scriptura’ devotees are renowned for their insistence on a literal application of every word of the scriptures – except where they indulge the latitude they themselves allow for themselves on issues like banned foods, mixed fibre clothing, women wearing hats in church and other assorted shibboleths which not even they would want to insist upon.

Thus, for them, it almost stands to reason that – in standing firm on issues of gender and sexuality – they are addressing the most important thing (for them), which is that of how human beings are able to measure up to the ancient patriarchal standards of sexual behaviour. (It seems, in passing, that in the circumstances of Genesis 19:8, they might excuse the patriarchal behaviour of Lot, who surrendered the virginity of his daughters in order to appease the demands of the men of Sodom for ‘male flesh’).

Whether, or not, the rebels in the Diocese of Southwark, might join up with the GAFCON-backed A.M.i.E rebel-Church in the U.K. is anyone’s guess. Whatever happens there will no doubt help to exacerbate the stand-off between GAFCON and the C. of E. And, make no mistake, Mr Ould and the Sydney Diocese will be part of the conservative fundamentalist bloc in the Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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++Rowan Williams’ Answer to a Child’s Question about God

Rowan Williams: a letter to a six-year-old

Apropos the theology of Rowan Williams, I was quite touched by a news story in The Telegraph.

A six-year-old Scottish girl named Lulu wrote a letter to God: “To God, How did you get invented?” Lulu’s father, who is not a believer, sent her letter to various church leaders: the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (no reply), and the Scottish Catholics (who sent a theologically complex reply). He also sent it to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent the following letter in reply:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected. Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.”

+Archbishop Rowan


Now that’s what I call real theology! Isn’t this exactly why we need theological specialists: not to make the faith more complicated and obscure, but to help us grasp how simple it really is? – (our friend)


Just received this delightful piece from a friend in the upper North Island of N.Z. Knowing of her incipient agnosticism, Diana and I were completely surprised by her acceptance of Archbishop Rowan’s delivery of a simple explanation of the existence of God, in response to a six-year-old child. 

If only some of our modern-day theologians in charge of educating future clergy were willing and capable of producing such convincing answers to perplexing questions from children, might not the Church be better briefed to deal with the areas of soteriology and relationships between God and us?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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The Coptic Martyrs – Stations of the Cross

Pray for those who persecute you
19 February 2015 by Bishop AngaelosThe Tablet – 

HG Bishop Angaelos

The recent unprovoked and targeted murder of Coptic Christians in Libya has shocked many people around the world and caused immense sorrow and pain to their families and communities.

As mentioned in my statement on 15 February, while every life is sacred and every death tragic, the brutality demonstrated in this instance and others like it shows a disregard for life and a gross misunderstanding of its sanctity.

These young Coptic men were working in Libya to support their families in Egypt, and were fathers, brothers, sons and friends. They came from tight-knit but impoverished rural communities; now they will never return. They were breadwinners for their families, who are not only robbed of the joy of their presence but left with a significant financial void.

While their captors sought to humiliate them by saying they were “of the Cross”, these men were faithful witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ, calling on his name in prayer while their lives were brutally taken from them.

As Christians we glory in the Cross of our Lord, and it is by no means a shame but rather an honour to be deemed his disciples. These men will not be forgotten and their death is not in vain. They are truly modern-day martyrs – those who were killed for their faith and a valiant example to us all.

Copts in Cairo after beheading of 21 Copts in Libya

I have been moved by the breadth and volume of sentiments expressed by so many people wanting to offer their condolences and support for myself and the Coptic community here in Britain. The light of our Lord continues to bring hope and comfort through the Body of Christ and through all who show their solidarity.

We must remember however that it is not only Coptic Christians who are bearing the brunt of this extremist ideology in places such as Libya and Iraq: a broad spectrum of indigenous communities remains under threat because their very existence is a cause of offence to this fringe element.

As we pray for our community we also pray for the families and communities of the numerous journalists, aid workers, medical staff, religious leaders and others who have lost their lives in similar circumstances.

It is equally imperative at this time that we pray for all those who are carrying out these heinous crimes. We pray for a change of heart and an awareness of the immense pain and sorrow that results from their actions. We are reminded in Scripture “…pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). While this may prove challenging, we must continue to be faithful to our Christian calling, as prayer is our most valuable and powerful gift.

Peaceful coexistence is the only true way ahead. We must continue to pray for and support the families and communities of all those who are left behind.

We are launching the WhenLeftBehind appeal in support of the affected families. More information will be made available via @WhenLeftBehind on Twitter

Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

Above: Copts in Cairo attend a service for the 21 men beheaded in Libya by IS. Photo: CNS/Reuters


It was my great privilege, this afternoon at 5pm in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, N. Z., to lead the traditional service of Stations of the Cross.

At this commemoration of the journey of Jesus on the Way of the Cross, Christians are reminded of the suffering undertaken by Jesus, Son of God, in order to raise up our fallen humanity, by our resurrection to the sublime nature of the World’s Redeemer.

Pausing for prayer at each station, I was reminded of the recent event of the execution of Coptic Christians from Egypt – who were simply working in Libya to support their families back home. Their killers were a religious sect whose primitive understanding of a Vengeful God caused them to do this act of violence against a group of people who believed in the Loving God, who became one of us in the person of His Son, Jesus.

The tragedy here was that the assassination was allegedly done to please the Universal God; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose life was offered in exchange for our flawed humanity – fallen from grace, but restored by the grace of The One Who created us all.

In our experience this afternoon, in a Christian Church, where there is ample pictorial evidence of God’s loving actions through His only-begotten Son, Jesus; one could not help but identify with His blessed Mother, Mary, whose sorrow seemed to encompass the little band of us gathered to accompany her and her Son in the ancient liturgy of His death in dereliction.

For all who suffer religious persecution – and for those who are misled into being the persecutors – we cannot but echo the prayer of Jesus for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” – for if they did, how could they possibly continue?

Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!

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HOMILY for LENT I – 8am – Saint Michael & All Angels, Christchurch

LENT 1 – 2015 – SERMON – Sunday 22/02/15 – SMAA, Christchurch

Genesis 9: 8-17            1 Peter 3:18-22            MARK 1:9-15

The Lectionary Readings, which have been agreed to by both Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches around the world, have this little note in the Missal for this First Sunday in Lent: “At the beginning of Lent, we renew our response to the Covenant, the pact of love that God has made with each of us in our Baptism”. It ask us to imagine what good news it would have been to Noah, alone in a drowned world, when he learned that God’s love  had not abandoned – nor ever would abandon – the earth or its creatures. Not only in the Jewish tradition, but also in other archaic traditions, like that of the ancient Sumerians, there is a story of the great flood which encompassed the earth soon after the creation of human beings on the earth.

It would seem that humanity had very early on been subject to the problems of the Fall – the rebellion of human beings (shown in the Bible in the story of the mythical Adam and Eve) – necessitating a new start in the relationship between God and Creation. This was reflected in the experience of Noah and his family, when God told them that he was going to establish a new Covenant with them and with all creation. This would be seen in the provision of the rainbow in the clouds – signalling the end of the great flood, and the establishment of a brand new covenant of relationship between God and all created beings on the earth.

Rainbows have always meant something special for me. Not just because of the story of Noah and the Ark, but also because of the fact that God had promised He would never again abandon his human children to the devastation of such a catastrophe. I remember once being told by a friend in Auckland, that, at the very moment her mother died, she had become aware of a wonderful double-rainbow appearing in the clouds above her house – as though God was saying to her that her mother was now at peace, and that she, personally, would never be abandoned by God. Since that time, I have always been reminded of God’s love for me, and for the whole of creation, whenever I see the rainbow.

In Peter’s First Letter to the Early Church, he carries this comforting story forward – in the promise given to us by our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This experience is meant to assure us of God’s never–failing love for us. In our Baptism, we have been given new life – a life which begins at that time and which gives us entry into eternal life, which Jesus has secured for all who belong to him. This belonging is renewed, every time we partake of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood in the Eucharist. In this way,  we are renewing that which, by the waters of Baptism, as Saint Paul says: “has saved us, and which is not the washing away of physical dirt, but a pledge made to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered the heavens and is now at God’s right hand!”  We need to realise that, every time we receive the Holy Communion, we are, effectively, renewed in our Baptism and our commitment to God, and in God’s commitment to us as God’s children, and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We live in a fallen world, a world in which we are only too aware of the existence of sin and the possibility of evil – where people like the members of ISIS claim that killing other people in the name of God is what God wants. It is very important that we distance ourselves from such an understanding of what God might require of us. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the God of Vengeance that ISIS and Al Qaida would have us believe in. In fact, the very opposite is the case. In sending Jesus into the world to share our frail human nature, God was taking upon God’s-Self the frailty that this signified. In sharing that frail humanity and bearing it on the Cross, Jesus was clearly demonstrating God’s love and concern for us. In offering Himself for our redemption, Jesus was signifying God’s forgiveness of our sins. By absorbing in his own Body on the Cross the culpability and aggression of His enemies, Jesus was offering all humanity release from the consequences of our wrong-doing. In the wilderness, after his own Baptism and empowering by the Holy Spirit to resist temptation by the devil, Jesus was overcoming his assumed human frailty by acts of self-denial.

When we look at the temptations Jesus resisted, we see that each one was a temptation to deny his human limitations, and to put himself into a position of self-glorification as Son of God. The devil suggested that Jesus perform a miracle by turning stones into bread. If Jesus had done this, he would have served only himself and his own physical hunger – something that he knew would not serve God’s purpose. The next temptation was to gain instant power by becoming a disciple of the devil, in the expectation of ruling the world; this, Jesus resisted. Finally, the devil invited him to cast himself down from the parapet of the Temple, to see if God would send his angels to rescue him – thus by-passing the need for Jesus’ redeeming ministry of healing and reconciliation; his death and resurrection.

Jesus was able to resist these temptations to instant self-satisfaction and glorification, because he knew instinctively that would short-circuit the ministry of healing and reconciliation that His Father had in mind for him. Jesus knew that if he sought instant glory – without moving through with the path of service that the father had in mind for him – this would be a frustration of the will and purpose of God in allowing for his Incarnation as a human being; which was designed to demonstrate God’s loving purpose of redemption, through the loving self-sacrifice of God himself; in the divine and human being of Jesus.

This Lent then, beginning with the Ash Wednesday ceremony of Ashing, which reminds us of our common human frailty, we are invited to walk with Jesus on the forty-day pilgrim journey of prayer and fasting in the wilderness – in order to celebrate with him in the Solemn Liturgical traditions of Holy Week and Easter, when we will have the opportunity to share the experience of the Last Supper, the abandonment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Maundy Thursday Vigil; the dramatic recital of the Passion and Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; the desolation of Holy Saturday – when we come together as a family to clean and decorate the church in preparation for the Vigil of Easter. Then, finally, we greet the Light of Christ in the Paschal Candle, and renew our Baptismal Vows around the Font in preparation for the First Mass of Easter, wherein we altogether participate in the risen and glorified life of Christ.

I hope you all can participate in as much of the Lenten and Easter ceremonies as possible – including the Stations of the Cross, which will be taking place this afternoon at 5 o’clock, before Taize at 7pm. Then, each Sunday Evening during Lent at 5 o‘clock, preceding the service of Evensong and Benediction at 7pm.

If there is anyone who was not able to be at one of the Ash Wednesday services who would like to receive the ashes now, I would be happy to provide an opportunity for them. Furthermore, if anyone would like to make a formal confession during the Lenten season, either Fr. Andrew or I would be happy to oblige at a time to be arranged. May God help us all to observe as good and Holy Lent. Amen

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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The Tablet – up-date on Reform by Pope Francis

Root and branch reformer
19 February 2015 by Christopher Lamb – ‘The Tablet’ – 

The recent consistory in Rome, which saw Pope Francis create 15 new cardinal-electors from every corner of the world, marked another significant moment in his reform of the Church. But it also showed that the change he has in mind goes beyond a shake-up of the Curia

Next month, Pope Francis will mark two years since his election as Bishop of Rome. He was chosen in a 2013 conclave where several cardinals had called for a reform of the Roman Curia. It was the one thing that the cardinals, both the more traditional-minded and the moderately progressive, agreed on.

The then Archbishop of Buenos Aires – perhaps a little dour and uncharismatic, but a tough, holy, no-nonsense Jesuit outsider who had had differences of his own with curial officials – was seen as the right man for the job. Perhaps he would not set the world alight, but he would quietly put the house in order. Few imagined the whirlwind that his election was to unleash.

The cardinals’ concerns at the conclave were not new. For several years, local bishops had felt increasing frustration with the way the Church’s central bureaucracy operated. Yes, there were (and are) many dedicated, hard-working and efficient people in the Curia. But bishops who regularly visited Rome were increasingly aghast at the lethargy and petty feuding rife among many of the officials they had to work with.

Worse, many bishops felt that they were being treated like naughty schoolboys rather than vicars of Christ. The Second Vatican Council had seemed to promise a more collegial style of government in the Church. Instead, the nearly 50 years since the council ended had seen a steadily increasing centralisation and an apparent diminishing of the authority of the diocesan bishops. The feeble handling of the sex-abuse scandal, the emerging evidence of shady financial dealings and corruption, and finally the VatiLeaks affair in the closing months of Benedict XVI’s papacy added to the overwhelming pressure for reform of the Curia. A bureaucracy can get away with being bossy, rude and insensitive if it runs smoothly and gets things done. By the end of Benedict’s papacy, the Curia had become a liability and an embarrassment.

Francis was elected to initiate a reform, or some might say a “clean up”, of the Curia. Now, almost two years in, several voices are beginning to question if the process has stalled or run aground. Is serious change possible to church structures as firmly set as those in the Vatican? It’s tempting for some, perhaps in the more progressive camp, to demand instant results, while sceptics may be rushing to pronounce Francis’ efforts a failure too soon.

The Roman Curia, one of the oldest institutions in the world, is extraordinarily resistant to change. “It requires time, determination and, above all, everyone’s cooperation,” the Pope told cardinals last Thursday. That is something of an understatement. Speaking to church insiders during the consistory to discuss reform and create new cardinals last weekend, I became aware that a deep, and not simply structural, reform is coming to fruition in Francis’ papacy. And it is being likened to a revival of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope has already achieved several practical reforms. There has been the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, led by Australian Cardinal George Pell, a tough administrator who gave the cardinals a detailed presentation of the Holy See’s financial position. Such an event has never happened before. A new – predominantly lay – commission, including several survivors of clerical abuse, has been set up and is working on making bishops accountable for cover-ups, while this week a Vatican-connected anti-abuse initiative announced that it was moving to new headquarters at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

On the appointment of bishops, the Pope appears to be listening to the local Church and naming pastors who are close to their people. He is also willing to be imaginative – take the appointment of Blase Cupich to Chicago – and the process of filling vacant dioceses has been speeded up. Changing the structure of the curial offices, however, is proving more difficult.

A papal advisory body, the Council of Cardinals (or C9, as it is known), was established soon after the Pope’s election, and has been meeting regularly since. It is concentrating on improving the way the Curia works, with a new apostolic constitution and proposals to slim down the organisation being finalised.

There is, however, a tension between the need to improve the efficiency of a bureaucracy widely regarded as top-heavy and the Pope’s apparent insistence that staff must not be made redundant. Some observers are hoping for an institution that is “less Italian”, but the truth is that it is not possible to get round the fact that the Church’s administration is planted in Rome.

But aside from deciding which offices and departments will go and which will stay, is there something more fundamental going on in the Vatican? The cardinals wanted a reformer, but the sort of reform that Francis wants for the Church is not what all those who elected him had in mind. It has become clear that the sort of reform Francis dreams of is not an inward-looking one, a cabinet reshuffle and a redrawing of the Vatican organogram, but one looking outwards, to the edges of the Church. We can see this in the new cardinals he created on Saturday, many from countries that have never had red hats before, including Myanmar, Panama, Cape Verde and Tonga. He has also created cardinals in non-traditional sees in Italy such as Agrigento and Ancona-Osima.

Rome last weekend was awash with colour, including flags and traditional costumes. Tonga, despite being a majority Methodist island and almost 11,000 miles away, sent a large contingent to the Eternal City. Francis’ choice of new cardinals from the furthest corners of the world is in itself a major reform. The membership of the body that will elect the next Pope is gradually coming to more closely reflect the global make-up of the Church. Equally important, however, is the way Francis has undermined clerical ambition. As particular dioceses and curial jobs no longer automatically lead to a red hat, any angling for them becomes less attractive.

Francis also wants to foster a collegial spirit among the cardinals, involving them in the governance of the universal Church.  Collegiality, the concept of the Pope governing with the bishops, and synodality, are key elements to Francis’ reform.

The evidence for this is the creation of the C9 and in the increased authority and responsibility of the Synod of Bishops, which will meet again in October. But it appears that Francis wants all this to go further. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium he cited Vatican II on the potential of bishops’ conferences to express the “collegial spirit” in the Church. “Yet,” Francis writes, “this desire has not been fully realised, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.”

His papacy has already seen a change. There is a growing feeling among bishops that they have been given the authority to govern their dioceses without the Curia breathing down their necks. But Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sounded dubious about devolving power to local bishops. “To foster a fair decentralisation does not mean that the episcopal conferences are given more power,” he wrote in an article on curial reform for L’Osservatore Romano ahead of the consistory, “but only that it carries on genuine responsibility which they are entitled to under the episcopal power of teaching and governing their members”.

There are feelings of both relief and tension in the Rome of Pope Francis. There is a perception that it is possible to speak a little more freely, of a little more space having been created for thoughtful discussion of awkward questions. But there is also that slight fearfulness that can be sensed in a classroom when a friendly but enigmatic new teacher enters. Is this just a temporary lull before the head teacher returns? Or, almost as frightening, is everything about to slide into chaos?

Francis appeared to allude to the opposition to his reforms in his homily during Mass with the new cardinals on Sunday, which has been described as his “mission statement”. He pointed out that Peter and Paul both faced down opposition in their day, and that Jesus caused scandal by “reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family”. The Pope said: “Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal. He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalised even by a work of healing, scandalised before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes.”

He called for a rejection of a “closed caste” Church that instead leaves its “four walls” to go to the furthest reaches to find the imprisoned, the persecuted, the poor, the sick, the unemployed, those in difficult circumstances and those who have lost their faith.

Changing curial structures is not, said Francis, “an end in itself”. He is setting out a new path for the Church: a “People’s Church” that puts the peripheries in the centre, that is in a constant state of mission, reaching out to the margins. If he can achieve this, then he will have done something spectacular.


“Few imagined the whirlwind that his (Pope Francis’) election was to unleash.” – This sentence, from the above article in this week’s ‘Tablet’, echoes the feelings – not only of the Curia, but also of lay Catholics around the world – as a direct consequence of the reforming zeal of the new Pope, in the spirit of Vatican II.

Perhaps our world-wide Anglican Communion could note the Pope’s desire to promote a spirit of collegiality among the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, where local Bishops are given more responsibility for the leadership of their own diocesan affairs – as opposed to ‘rule from on high’ at the Vatican. This could be a signal to our Province of Canterbury, to loosen the ties of patriarchy among the Provinces of our Church, in order to allow the other Provinces to initiate their own provincial polity and missionary objectives. In this way, for instance, the tensions of differences on gender and sexuality issues might be more easily dealt with – without any need to separate out from one another on matters of seeming adiaphora.

Of course, the constitution of the Roman Catholic Church is far more complicated than that of any other of the Christian Churches around the world. Not only is it centralised around the Roman Curial tradition – with Pope as virtual Emperor – it is also heavily constrained by a history of dogmatic pronouncements that are at odds with all the other Churches of Christendom. One such dogmatic pronouncement is its claims to infallibility of doctrine – through what is traditionally considered to be the leadership role of its Pope, by unique succession from the Apostle Peter. That this infallibility is strongly contested by other Churches of both East and West shows itself in the division that still exists within Christendom. In his striving towards collegial responsibility in his own Church, Pope Francis is seen to be de-emphasising the issue of infallibility that has for so long been a stumbling block to a more fraternal relationship with other parts of Christendom.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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A TEC Response to ACI’s Radner on S/S Marriage

On the matter of discretion re marriage: Radner’s question

I follow the ongoing discussions about marriage in Episcopal land with great interest.I have been married now for some 48 years, have officiated at a great many weddings, and have been actively engaged in the movement for the marriage of persons of the same sex, both on a civil and a religious level. So it is with some interest that I note that The Task Force on Marriage has published its report. You can read the Task Force Report HERE.

Now, of course, the cards and letters are coming in.Ephraim Radner, over on the Anglican Communion Insititute, has written a paper reprinted in part by The Living Church. Unlike Bishop Dan Martins, I don’t think Radner’s response to the Task Force on Marriage is all that good, bu still, read Radner’s article in its full – HERE.

I’m somewhat amused by the name, Anglican Communion Institute, which leads me to imagine it being some sort of recognized Anglican Communion entity. I imagine it with impressive buildings and research facilities with ivy covered walls and so forth. It is not. It is mostly four Anglican scholars working from wherever they are located and an advisory committee of pretty heavy lifting conservative Episcopal / Anglican worthies. But amusement is just that, amusement. The content of what these folk write has stand – alone worth, sometimes quite valuable, sometimes not so much.

Radner raises many issues about the several sections of the first resolution proposed by the Task Force, but one stands out for me as an issue that need to be addressed.

The matter of discretion to decline.

This concerns the clause in both the existing and proposed marriage canon, (with an addition by the Task Force indicated by underlining):

“Sec. 4 (renumbered as Sec. 6.) It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.”

Radner writes,

“given that one conscience clause allowing priests to refuse to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter is left in “tension” with another existing canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, the canonical change also opens the door to disciplinary and perhaps legal challenge to individual clergy who maintain classical views about Christian marriage. ”

Well, first, it is not a canonical change so much as a repositioning of an existing subsection to the marriage canon. So the criticism is not only about the revised canon, but the existing one. It is the change in the rest of the canon that brings the issue to the fore.

Neither the original nor the revised reading makes any reference to refusing “to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter,” the “their” being clergy and “the matter” one supposes that the couple are both of the same sex. The canon only mentions “ decline.” The proposed canon does include “to bless” as well as to “solemnize” which is an indication that the writers wanted to extend the discretion to include blessing separated from the solemnizing that is involved with legal marriage.

But given that, Radner’s point still remains. A member of the clergy can decline to solemnize or bless, supposedly without giving reason to anyone. But suppose I were to consistently decline to solemnize or bless persons who had been married before, no matter the circumstances, or declined always when the couple was of different races (however defined),or because one was of one nationality and the other of a second? I believe we would consider this discrimination, prohibited by canon.

What about declining when the two persons were both men, or both women? Is this, if done on a consistent basis, discrimination or not?

As Radner points out there is a canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality. He is referencing, I believe, Canon I 17:5 –

“No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.”

The question is, does the marriage canon, in its current or revised form provide a specific exception to Canon I 17:5?

There is no indication in the revised canon of such an exception.

Is there a “tension” between the two canons, made all the more evident by the “matter” of marriage of two persons of the same sex? Are those holding “classical” views subject to possible canonical or legal challenge?

I think the answer is, “yes.”

From the standpoint of Canon I 17:5 discrimination against a class of people, by virtue of the class alone, is prohibited. Clergy can refuse case by case as a matter of discretion. But to refuse all of a class over time would be indication of prohibited discrimination. There is no indication in the marriage canon that discretion can be applied to a class of persons, as a matter of general principle.

So what is a “classically” informed clergy person (by that Radner means a clergy person who believes that marriage is only possible, as far as the church is concerned, between a man and a woman) to do? Refusing either by announcement or actual practice to solemnize or bless any same sex marriages is prohibited discrimination against a class of persons. At the same time the “classically” informed clergy person would supposedly hold that solemnizing or blessing any such marriage is a against conscience, and therefore prohibited by conscience.

Such clergy persons are indeed in a tense situation.

I believe these worthies must then either decline to officiate at any marriage, believing that any other course places them in danger charges of specific discrimination or in personal moral jeopardy, or act as conscience dictates, and live in the tension arising from such action, or leave this Church and finding another context for ministry.

Of these possibilities I would hope such clergy would decline to officiate at any marriage, or act as conscience dictates, living in the tension of that fact. I fear that some clergy might indeed take the third option, feeling that the church is no longer a safe place. What might make it be a safe place? Or barring that, what would make it at least a place where there was clarity?

Safety is hard to come by. But I believe we need to be clearer in what the canonical change will mean, by clarifying the extent to which a clergy person can decline to solemnize or bless a marriage as a matter of general principle.

In all candor, I think the real problem is not on the level of the individual clergy exercise of discretion. It is much more important on a diocesan level. If a bishop refuses to allow his clergy to officiate at such services the bishop has clearly made a judgment concerning the exercise of “clergy discretion” that is about a class, not about a particular case. That, it seems to me, would be grounds for a charge of discrimination.

The question for me in the proposed canon is this: If there is to be an exemption clause for those who in good conscience will not marry persons of the same sex, what will it look like, and if there will not be an exemption clause, how will we relate to, work with, support or even argue with those who are thereby exposed to possible charges of conflict with the non-discrimination canon?

There are various times when the church is not “safe” for some of its own clergy. Over the years I have had close friends loose position and even orders because of their actions. Some have been people whose actions I agreed with, some not. Some have involved matters of conscience, some not. It turns out that safety is not one of the guarantees that comes with ordination.

It is helpful to friends we agree with and those we don’t to at least be as clear as we can. So, what does the canon mean, can a clergy person be charged with discrimination for consistently refusing to marry persons of the same sex or not? As long as we are changing the canon at all, why not be clear about its application?

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