Skip to comments.Bishop Coffin breaks pledge; Archdeacon resigns
Posted on 03/08/2006 6:43:37 PM PST by sionnsar
Despite his pledge at the last General Synod that he would make no decision on same-sex blessings until after the next General Synod in 2007, Peter Coffin (right), the Bishop of Ottawa, has gone back on his word - or so think some of his clergy.
On Dec. 16 Bishop Coffin granted a letter of permission for Linda Fisher Privitera, a priest in a same-sex relationship, to function as a priest in good standing in his diocese. While this is technically not a move on the specific issue of same-sex blessings, some Ottawa clergy see it as tacit approval of homosexual practice in Holy Orders. (Such a letter allows part-time work. A full-time paying position requires a license.)
Privitera is currently serving at St. John the Evangelist. Its rector, Rev. Garth Bulmer, proposed the motion that General Synod 2004 passed "to recognize the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex unions." Privitera herself gave the Gay Pride Day sermon at the church in 2003.
In ministry for 20 years, Privitera was formerly the rector of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Arlington, Massachusetts and has blessed same-sex unions for over a decade.
On Jan. 12, the archdeacon of Privitera's deanery, Désirée Steadman of Ottawa Centre, resigned as archdeacon. For seven years she had had pastoral responsibility for all the clergy of the deanery. In her letter of resignation to Bishop Coffin she wrote: "By granting permission to function as a priest to the Reverend Linda Privitera, who is in a same-sex relationship, you have not only shown where you stand personally on the issue but you have also implemented a new policy for our Diocese.
"My issue is not with the individual who has been licensed, but with the radical departure from Scripture that this change in direction means. I must above all be true to Jesus Christ and to my ordination vows. At my priesting, I solemnly declared my belief in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God and promised to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ 'as this Church has received them.' This radical shift has made it impossible for me to remain true to my declaration and vows while continuing to hold a Diocesan office as Archdeacon."
The Canadian House of Bishops has pledged a moratorium on same sex-blessings until after the outcome of General Synod 2007. Archdeacon Pat Johnston, Commissary, spoke officially on Bishop Coffin's behalf to The Anglican Planet:
"The Diocese of Ottawa does not permit the blessing of same-sex unions. After General Synod in 2007 it is quite likely that the Synod of the Diocese of Ottawa will discuss the issue. The Bishop would want to see a strong mandate from Synod to change our current practice. The Bishop waits on the Spirit and will respect Synod's decision as we work together to seek God's truth.
"At the same time, as Anglicans far and wide are considering the subject of same-sex unions, it is the custom in our diocese to grant hospitality to clergy who are in good standing in their home dioceses and who move to or visit us in Ottawa. Recently the Bishop has granted such permission to clergy from various parts of Canada, the United States and Nigeria. I will not make comment on any one particular permission out of respect for the privacy of individuals involved."
The Anglican Gathering of Ottawa, an orthodox group, wrote an open letter saying, "in welcoming this priest to function in our diocese, [Bishop Coffin] has in effect acted preemptively. Orthodox Anglicans feel betrayed by his recent actions and are dismayed by the fracture that will inevitably follow.
"Priests are supposed to be held to a high moral standard. That standard has always been faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman or abstinence. If a bishop sanctions same-sex 'marriage' in the priesthood, surely there can be no basis for refusing to marry any same-sex couple."
The group noted that the "current teaching of the Anglican Church is that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture" and called upon Coffin to rescind his permission to the priest, whom they did not name.
The Elmhurst Committee, a long-standing body of orthodox Ottawa priests, published an open letter on the Diocesan e-mail list serve. They wrote, "We are distressed that our Diocese has taken actions that deepen the crisis in the Anglican Communion. We regret that we must publicly disagree with our Bishop." They noted that his action is "in breach of the General Synod process in place in this country and puts our relationship with the world-wide Anglican Communion in jeopardy.
"As well this Diocese has a history of making decisions by due synodical process and consensus. The recent actions, however, have bypassed Synod and jumped even further into this controversy by legitimizing same-gendered relationships as holy and as an appropriate lifestyle for ordained persons. The discussions on doctrine, world-wide communion and historic, biblical teaching have been closed by this clear action to affirm the orders of this priest.
"Arguing that this is not a change of policy but rather nothing more than the extension of hospitality is a word game. Our Diocese is under no canonical obligation to license or grant permission to a priest who moves here from another Diocese, so the action taken is not due to canonical compulsion or requirement. There is no valid distinction between being 'licensed' and 'granting permission' by the Bishop. Either way there is a breach in the understanding of what constitutes 'good standing' for a priest and jeopardizes our place in the Communion."
The Elmhurst priests claim their bishop's decision has "set us on the course to fully embracing a new policy with regards to same-gendered blessings and issues surrounding Holy Orders. De facto, there is no Biblical constraint to faithfulness in heterosexual marriage or sexual abstinence in singleness; same-gendered unions are acceptable.
"Dialogue, debate and study have been answered by this action. The question before the Diocese is no longer, 'Can we bless same-sex unions?' The question now is, 'Can we, as a Diocese, return to traditional Scriptural teaching in all areas of human sexuality?' This action causes a crisis of conscience for all Anglicans who desire to be faithful to Christ and His Word and to those who wish to remain within the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Their letter does not name the priest and closes, "This is not an attack on a person and no ill will is intended towards this particular couple or anyone else in same-gendered relationships. We are compelled by the Gospel to love. We repudiate any suggestion that we feel otherwise. However, in light of world-wide events and the actions taken by this Diocese we must speak out, in conscience, so that members of the Diocese of Ottawa know clearly what has transpired and what it means for us all."
The Elmhurst letter cites the Lambeth Conference of 1998, the Windsor Report of 2004, the Primates' Communique of 2005 and the St. Michael Report of the same year which states that blessing same-sex unions is "an issue of doctrine and must be decided by General Synod."
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