Church Leaders challenge Sydney Archbishop

Same-sex marriage: Anglican Church leaders accuse Sydney Archbishop of silencing supporters

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies

In the wake of the likely failure of the plebiscite bill, a group of 68 priests and church leaders across Australia have signed a petition urging the Archbishop of Sydney to allow “free and open debate” about same-sex marriage within his church.

Key points:

  • Archbishop refuses to provide priest licence if he continued to discuss same-sex marriage
  • Church leaders unite against Archbishop, calling for open debate
  • Church says priest rejects ‘authority of the Bible’

The move — unprecedented within the Anglican church — comes after the Sydney Archbishop, Glenn Davies, refused to renew the licence of a Sydney priest, Keith Mascord, due to theological differences, particularly his support for same-sex marriage.

Reverend Mascord was offered the opportunity to continue to minister to his own congregation at Dulwich Hill, with the proviso that he not preach in favour of same-sex marriage — he refused.

On Sunday, Archbishop Davies issued a statement which said: “Because of his rejection of the authority of the Bible and the doctrine of Christ (as received by the Anglican Church), the Archbishop formed the view that it is not appropriate for Dr Mascord to hold a licence to preach in the Diocese of Sydney.”

In their statement, the Anglican leaders asked the Sydney Archbishop to reconsider their decision.

They argued that the national and global Anglican view was to accept that Anglicans could disagree on the question of marriage equality.

Anglicans hold ‘variety of positions’ on same-sex marriage

The signatories, who include the Dean of Brisbane Cathedral, the Very Reverend Peter Catt, and Reverend Rod Bower from the parish of Gosford, wrote: “In September, the Primate (or head) of the Anglican Church in Australia, Dr Philip Freier, wrote to the Church’s Bishops on a plebiscite.”

“He affirmed the traditional view of marriage, but also observed that Anglicans hold ‘a variety of positions in good conscience’ on marriage equality,” they wrote.

“This reflects the global Anglican view. The 1998 Lambeth Report on Human Sexuality stated that Bishops, clergy and laypeople are ‘not of one mind about homosexuality’.

“Anglicans accept that there is room for a traditional view while recognising that some, in good faith, hold different views, or are still forming an opinion.”

The petitioners argued the decision to delicense a member of the clergy who had advocated for same sex marriage had “deeply shaken” the church.

“For most clergy, delicencing means losing job, income, accommodation, peer networks and spiritual community,” the petition read.

They also pointed to the fact that Sydney Anglicans had “called for a publicly-funded plebiscite to promote respectful and genuine debate”.

The priests, chaplains, deans and deacons from a range of parishes continued: “If they won’t allow their own clergy freedom to speak, how can their representation have integrity?

“How can they ask for public money for a position that needs coercive support?

“How does their plea for a plebiscite fit with suppressing internal debate?”

Church leaders ‘reluctant’ to criticise another diocese

Muriel Porter, a church historian, member of the General Synod and signatory to the petition, said the action taken by the 68 church leaders was highly unusual.

“Generally reluctant to openly criticise another diocese and particularly a powerful diocese like Sydney, clergy and lay church leaders are now saying that enough is enough,” she said.

“They are tired of the bullying, especially when it comes to the issue of human sexuality.”

Dr Porter, a long time critic of the more traditional Sydney Diocese, and author of Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism: The Sydney Experiment, said: “For too long, moderate Anglicans have remained silent in the face of such heavy-handed tactics.”

“Perhaps it signals a new determination to speak up in support of LGBTI people who have been so appallingly treated by the Christian Church,” she said.

Some priests told the ABC they wished to put their names to the petition but were either worried about retribution or wished to approach the Archbishop personally.

On reading the petition, Reverend Mascord said: “Having the freedom to be honest and up-front about my beliefs is something I value highly.”

“I long for the day when that freedom will be extended to my clerical and lay friends who are presently fearful that if they express their private beliefs they will most certainly be punished,” he said.


I have selected items from the above-mentioned ABC-Network Australian website to draw attention to the current spat going on in the Sydnay Anglican Diocese about the recent move by the Archbishop of Sydney, ++Brian Davies’ decision to withdraw the Licence to Minister of the Revd. Dr. Keith Mascord, in order to silence his support for the Same-Sex Marriage legislation currently being discussed in the Australian Parliament.

A Petition of 68 prominent Clergy and Laity from around Australia is requesting freedom of speech for Anglican Clergy to discuss the possibility of some accommodation for the legalisation of Same-Sex Marriage (or the Blessing of Same-Sex Partnerships) in Australia.

Archbishop Davies, who followed the former Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, in his support for the conservative GAFCON para-Church organisation in the Global South, was present at the recent meeting of this body in Cairo ,which met to consider its opposition to measures being taken in the Church of England and other Province of the Anglican Communion to discuss how to best deal with the reality of legalised Equal Marriage. Also discussed was the prospect of possible separation from the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury was leading a team of non-Gafcon Bishops to meet with Pope Francis in Rome to discuss future joint mission by a team of paired Bishops from both Churches. (Our own Anglican Bishop of Auckland, Ross Bay, was partnered with the Roman Catholic Cardinal, John Dew, of New Zealand

After his return, to Sydney, the Archbishop defended his withdrawal of Doctor Mascord’s Licence on the premise that Mascord was teaching against the Church’s doctrine of Marriage when, in fact, what he and other clerics who have discussed this situation have been saying is; that the Church needs to be more open and to enter into the discussion about marriage and human sexuality, and asking what might be done to deal with parishioners who may be affected – a pastoral initiative that the petitioners are now urging upon the Church.

The Diocese of Sydney has long been known to work on its own agenda with regard to its Evangelical provenance within the Australian Anglican Church. It was the then archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, who helped start the conservative, sola-Scriptura movement in the Global South Provinces of the Communion which led, eventually, to the establishment of a rival Anglican sodality with its own ‘Jerusalem Statement’ of Faith and its own ‘Primates Conference’ in Africa and other Third World Provinces, called the GAFCON. From this has arisen the invasion of other Provinces of the Communion; the U.S.A. and Canada, and now in the territory of the Church of England, to raise up rival Churches to compete with the local Anglican Churches in Communion with Canterbury.

This recent opposition to Sydney’s Evangelical ethos of homophobic and misogynist confrontation of the rest of the Australian Province, and the more liberal provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion is a hopeful sign of the fact that most Anglicans in Australia  – and indeed the rest of the Western civilised world – have moved on from the era of injustice towards women and minority groups in the Church and the world.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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