Grafton bishop defends appointment of priest in same-sex marriage

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The Diocese of Grafton has provided a very timely “2019 Synod recap” providing confirmation of the results we reported on Wednesday and, more importantly, the full text of the bishop’s answer to questions surrounding the appointment of a priest in a same-sex marriage to the Cathedral.

As we reported, the bishop was asked the following question in the light of that appointment and the 2018 Bishops’ Agreement:

1. Was the Bishop informed of the Same Sex marriage prior to licensing Ms Rogers?

2. Did the Bishop seek advice about the legalities under our constitution prior to issuing Ms Rogers a license?

3. As such an appointment has the potential to dramatically affect the life of the diocese and the potential to breach the constitution, will the Bishop make any advice received available to Synod?

Bishop Murray Harvey’s answer is lengthy and contained in the full “recap” document embedded below. The most important segments are as follows:

…the preamble [of the question] notes that the bishops have agreed to uphold the Constitutions and Canons and to move forward together by acting within the framework of the Constitutions and Canons. However, in my view, that means by not conducting blessings of Same Sex Marriages. I have clearly stated that no one is authorised in this diocese to offer blessings of Same Sex Marriages, in accordance with the Bishops’ Agreement.

Bishop Harvey is therefore applying a strict “letter of the law” application of the Agreement, even if many will consider it to be clearly against the spirit of the Agreement.

He also goes on to note that there are questions surrounding Faithfulness in Service, the national church’s guidelines on appropriate behaviours in ministry. Bishop Harvey notes an important distinction between the national guidelines and those that Grafton has adopted. The national guidelines related to sexual conduct read as follows:

Section 7 Sexual Conduct

The sexual conduct of clergy and church workers has a significant impact upon the Church and the community. Sexuality is a gift from God and is integral to human nature. It is appropriate for clergy and church workers to value this gift, taking responsibility for the sexual conduct by maintaining chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.

AS CITED BY BISHOP HARVEY, EMPHASIS HIS.

Harvey then writes the following:

The term Marriage as it is used here is not defined anywhere.

Here at davidould.net we’re pretty sure that the church has a clear definition of marriage, not least that consistently reaffirmed by many General Synods and more than implicit in the Bishops’ Agreement.

Harvey also notes a change to the Grafton standard from the national standard,

Standard 7.4 of the Grafton version states that “Your sexual behaviour should be characterised by faithfulness and integrity”.

In effect he is arguing that since the Grafton standards are notably looser, they use the wider term “integrity” (which can be read in many different ways) rather than “chastity” which has a specific meaning.

Readers should also note that while the 2018 Bishops’ Agreement dealt directly with the question of blessings and liturgies for same-sex relationships, previous meetings had grappled with precisely the issues being discussed here. The most prominent case study before them was the appointment and public promotion of a man in an openly homosexual relationship to a position in the Diocese of Gippsland.

While Bishop Harvey was not present at any of those meetings (including the 2018 meeting) he cannot begin to pretend he is not aware of the ongoing discussion surrounding these matters and especially the clearly set out mind of the national church as emphasised by numerous motions at General Synod and bishops’ agreements and statements.

Bishop Harvey’s answer is ingenious. He relies upon a very strict legalistic reading of the agreements that is quite obviously contrary to their spirit. He may convince those in his own diocese and elsewhere who are keen to continue to push forward on this issue (not least by establishing facts on the ground like this) but his response will only further break down trust that revisionists leaders in the church sincerely intend to keep to the agreements that they have made.

One senior Anglican figure described his answer to davidould.net as “outrageous”. We find it hard to disagree.

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