Kay Goldsworthy 2.jpg
Kay Goldsworthy

This past Saturday and Sunday has seen the annual synod of the Diocese of Perth on Australia’s west coast. Over that weekend and since then many delegates who were present have contacted me to let me know of what happened. In particular, many of them voiced deep frustration over Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy’s handling of the most contentious matters before the synod, with one even describing her actions a “breach of trust and failure of integrity” with regard to her stance towards conservatives in the diocese.

The main areas of contention, as always, centred around matters of sexual ethics and conduct.

Prior to those debates, another matter that had concerned synod members across the theological spectrum was the proposal to provide a significant amount of funding to establish a theological college. Figures of around $1m have been suggested to me, which seem to many to be unreasonable when the current college has so very few students (less than 10) and the Diocese is already in such a difficult financial situation. The motion to delay this funding was ruled as “out of order” by the President (the Archbishop), who was advised throughout the synod by the Chancellor Eric Ross-Adjie and Diocesan Secretary Keith Stephens. Goldsworthy appealed to a standing order that states that synod may not overrule a decision of the Diocesan Council.

Attention then turned to the great question currently hanging over the Anglican Church of Australia; human sexuality. Central to the debate on the floor of synod was motion 7.1:

Conservatives were immediately concerned. By referring to “all married couples” in sections c&d the motion was artfully drawing an implied equivalence between two different (and contradictory) definitions of marriage set out in a&b, namely “between a man and a woman” and “same-sex marriage”.

At the same time synod was waiting for the Archbishop to provide an answer to a question put to her earlier in the day around the definitions used in Faithfulness in Service (“FiS”), the diocesan standards for those involved in ministry (itself an adaptation of a nationally-accepted document). The relevant section in Perth’s version of FiS read as follows:

The Archbishop was asked some clear questions about 7.4:

Q: How do you define “chaste” as it is used in Faithfulness in Service?”

Q: What is “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature”?

Q: The President in her address has spoken about the pejorative language that has been used in the past to label and shame, which it is right to condemn. But would the President please advise the Synod is lesbian/gay/bi-sexual sex is sin – and it is is considered “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature” by the Diocese and the Professional Standards Unit?

Q: Clergy and Church Workers who identify as LGBTQIA+ – are they required to be celibate and chaste?

Q: FIS 7.7: Speaking of all church workers – why have you licenced clergy including those in senior leadership positions who identify as LGBTQIA+ and who cohabitate with a same sex partner in apparent breach of FIS 7.2, 7.4 and 7.7.?

The Archbishop took the questions on notice, saying that she needed time to prepare an answer. This action only further infuriated conservatives who had provided the text of many of the questions to her at least two weeks in advance. Nevertheless, the question remained unanswered on Saturday with debates on motions coming to the floor, including 7.1 above.

Debate on 7.1 continued for some time with, I am told, the expected arguments being made. As the growing impasse and concern about the implications of whatever decision might eventually be made became clear, one member stood up to raise a point of order. The cited Standing Order 52.1 (text follows) arguing that since the matter was both controversial and vital (ie existential for the ongoing common life of the Diocese) it should be treated as such and the motion be rescheduled to a later time:

The Archbishop adjourned the debate, moved to a vote of thanks on the standing orders and then to Evening Prayer. She then said “I crave leave of Synod to conclude early today” and was met by cries of “aye” before even finishing her sentence.

Synod resumed on Sunday. The Archbishop provided the following answers to the questions put to her:

Q: What is the definition of “chaste” and “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature”?
A: I’m answering the first two questions together, being the questions as to what is the definition of “chaste” and “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature” as those terms are used in Faithfulness in Service (FIS). The terms are not defined in FIS nor in any Diocesan statute, and, it is not appropriate to give an answer as it is a legal answer and I am not a lawyer, nor the daughter of a lawyer.

Q: As your Grace noted in your speech the use of pejorative language has been used to label and shame members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which is to be condemned, but would the President please advise the Synod if lesbian/gay/bisexual sex is sin, and if it is considered to be ‘disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature’ by the Diocese and the Professional Standards Unit?
A: this raises complex theological and pastoral issues, which are being explored in the national church and the wider Anglican union. There will be new opportunities in the next months to discuss this. It is for the Professional Standards Board to assess on the facts of each case what is “chaste” or not and what is “disgraceful conduct” or not.

Q: Clergy and Church Workers who identify as LGBTQIA+ – are they required to be celibate and chaste?
A: They are required to comply with FIS.

Q: FIS 7.7: Speaking of all church workers – why have you licenced clergy including those in senior leadership positions who identify as LGBTQIA+ and who cohabitate with a same sex partner in apparent breach of FIS 7.2, 7.4 and 7.7.
A: This question assumes that clergy are in breach of FIS. All clergy ordained by me are required to comply with FIS. When I ordain someone I am satisfied they comply with FIS.

Again, conservatives in the Diocese were very unhappy with the manner in which these questions were answered. Several have pointed out to me that they have been prepared to work with the Archbishop as far as possible, giving her more than enough time to prepare a clear answer. They also noted that she has previously written privately to conservatives stating that she upholds the position that marriage is between one man and one woman and stating that she understands celibacy for all outside such marriage is the appropriate application of the chastity required by FiS. The definition of chastity had been clarified at the recent General Synod but the Archbishop declined to use that as a reference (hardly unsurprising since she is widely believed to have voted against it).

So the Synod was told by the Archbishop – who is not a lawyer, nor the daughter of a lawyer, but who is advised by lawyers and gave an answer worthy of the best lawyer – that there is no clear definition of key terms in Faithfulness in Service yet at the same time confirming that ministers would be held to that (undefined) standard.

Debate later returned to 7.1 Supporting Married People.

One member of synod, a lawyer, spoke to another point of order, this time referring to Standing Order 3.2(b). Stating that they neither spoke for or against the motion, they pointed out that basic legal training was that all key terms ought to be carefully and precisely defined. The motion as it stood had an obvious lack of clarity on the definition of the word “marriage” and that until this was rectified the debate “will achieve nothing more than obfuscation of what is a matter that is vital to the life of the Diocese”. They also appealed to the Archbishop on the basis of SO52, as had already been argued the previous day. The point of order was rejected by the Archbishop.

Nevertheless, Synod was waking up to the idea that the motion in its original form was unnecessarily divisive and unhelpfully ambiguous. Amendment were passed to remove section d and change some of the wording of section c (on the basis that not all married couples could be commended for their behaviour, Synod having already received a distressing report on the incidence of abuse within marriages). I understand the final version passed by Synod read as follows:

7.1 Supporting Married People

That this Synod

a understand that clergy of the Anglican Church of Australia can only solemnise a marriage between a man and woman;

b recognises that same-sex marriage has been legal in Australia since 2017;

c encourages all married couples in the depth of their faithful, loving, lifelong commitment to one another.

Synod then moved to another controversial motion:

Again, many conservatives were concerned that it was impossible to debate, let alone pass, this motion while definitions of chastity and disgraceful sexual conduct remained undetermined. Would Synod end up approving a motion that was in breach of FiS? The vote was called by houses. In Perth the Diocesan Bishop votes in their own house. Despite the fact that the Archbishop had 28 days to consider her position, a course of action conservatives were hoping she would take given the highly contentious nature of the wording of the motion, she voted in favour immediately and called Synod to “prayerfully” consider that there was a “wide and diverse approach to this matter”.

As I noted in the opening of this piece, I have been approached by many delegates who are very concerned. The overwhelming pattern of response I am hearing is of a rapidly accelerating lack of trust in the Archbishop. They hear her appeals to a “broad church” but are now convinced that her actions point to a clear agenda to promote revisionist positions. She had promised a clear conversation in the diocese on these key topics and yet no process has yet been provided. She “keeps building resentment” by “shirking the issue”. There is now “no confidence that the issue will be dealt with in a healthy way”.

One member of synod told me that the Archbishop’s actions at Synod were,

…a breach of trust, a failure of integrity and a dashing of any kind of confidence that we can move forward together.

I’ve been following events in Perth for quite a while now. Conservatives there have, in the past, noted that their Archbishop’s actions have never been as deliberately antagonistic and hostile as, for example, those related by conservatives in Brisbane. There has been a general willingness to seek to make things work. I’m no longer hearing that mood from them. It’s now sadness that their Archbishop appears to have it very clear what direction she is pursuing and is doing so in such an unhelpful way. For the first time I’ve heard from them the language of “joining GAFCON” and mention of the Diocese of the Southern Cross.

As one source commented to me, “it lies with the Archbishop as to what she will do next”. The ball is now very clearly in her court if there is to be any attempt to win over deeply disapointed conservatives.