The leader of St. John’s Shaughnessy, the largest of the dissident four parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster whose leaders have brought a lawsuit against the diocese, said in BC Supreme Court Thursday, May 28, that he had hoped to find a Canadian solution to the impasse over the same sex blessings issue.
But David Short, who had been appointed incumbent rector of St. John’s Shaughnessy in 1993 and had remained there as a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada until relinquishing his license from the bishop last year, in the end turned to a group of “14 to 18” Primates from the Global South at a meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2007 to get the support he wanted.
The lawsuit was brought by 22 leaders in four congregations, including Short and two other former diocesan priests, who have left the Anglican Church of Canada, but want to keep their parish buildings, which the Diocese of New Westminster says it owns.
In court Short said that the group of Primates with whom he met was those sympathetic to Anglican groups in Canada who opposed the blessing of same sex unions, and American groups upset by the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the US.
These Primates made up a bit more than a third of the 38 men (and now, one woman) Primates. All are Anglican Archbishops or Presiding Bishops who head the national and regional Churches in the international Anglican Communion.
The meeting was held before the official Primate’s conference. Short recounted how the chairman of the meeting (whom he did not name) asked Archbishop Gregory Venables, head of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, whether he would take in the dissenting Canadians so that through him they could remain members of the Anglican Communion. “Are you willing to do this?”
Venables, whose diocese in South America covers most of its larger countries except Brazil, said that if his own bishops agreed, he would.
Short said that all at the meeting were asked if they would be behind the move, and said they all said they would be.
In court, the diocese’s lawyer, George Macintosh, asked: “You knew the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury [Rowan Williams] is that he was against this?”
“I wouldn’t characterize his position as being against it,” replied Short. “I would say he could not advise or consent to it.”
Macintosh directed the witness’ attention to a letter from the Archbishop to Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Canadian Church, which said, “I have not canonical authority to prevent these things, but would simply repeat what was said in my Advent Letter, to the effect that I cannot support or sanctions such actions.”
“I suggest you know full well that he was against it.”
Short countered that the Archbishop had signed on to a statement coming out of the Dar es Salaam conference that said that they did not feel there was a “moral equivalence” between cross-boundary interventions, and innovations like same sex blessings.
On the fourth day of the trial Short was the only witness. His lawyer, Geoff Cowper, QC, led him through the sequence of events that began with his concern over Bishop Michael Ingham’s 1997 book, Mansions of the Spirit, about interfaith issues. He and a group of conservative clergy went to the bishop to express their views contrary to what the book proposed.
He said however that at that time there was no intention to leave the diocese. “These were the bishop’s own views. There was no attempt to institutionalize these views.”
The issue of the blessing of same sex unions differed, Short said, especially after the Diocesan Synod in 1998 by a few votes asked the bishop to authorize a rite of blessing for committed homosexual couples. Bishop Ingham withheld his consent at that time.
Short said that later the same year the Lambeth Conference, a meeting of all the world’s Anglican bishops that meets once a decade passed a resolution strongly opposed to same sex blessings. “This was the consensus of the Anglican Communion,” said Short. He said he thought the blessings issue was dealt with.
Instead, after three years of diocesan-wide study, conservative clergy were again “surprised and shocked” that the request for a blessing was voted again by the Diocesan Synod. “We could not be part of a diocese that went ahead with this.”
Conservative clergy went to the bishop with a legal memorandum prepared by a law firm that a bishop had no authority to issue a blessing rite. “We hoped he would be able to use this as a way to avoid the train wreck,” said Short.
The bishop’s consent was not given to the second request, but in 2002 Synod made a third request. It specified that there be a “conscience clause” for clergy and parishes who felt the blessing wrong. They would be allowed to have nothing to do with it.
Short said he and his conservative allies felt a conscience clause could not work in this case. A conscience clause might have application to issues on which that Christians can legitimately differ. He gave as examples, how much water one might use for baptism, or how the Church is structured. But authorizing a same sex blessing changed “core doctrine” of the Church.
When the blessing was voted on for a third time and the bishop announced he would consent and issue a rite of blessing, Short was among those who walked out of the Diocesan Synod. “When the event actually happened was when I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Asked about appealing at that time the decision to authorize a rite, Short said he had never heard of an appeal of a decision made by a synod, and consented to by a bishop. Judge Stephen Kelleher then asked for clarity as to whether the decision to have blessings was the synod’s or the bishop’s. Short agreed it was the bishop’s.
When the diocese was considering the blessing, Bishop Ingham appointed a three person canonical commission to clarify whether he had the authority to do so. Macintosh, the diocese’s lawyer, asked Short whether he had made a submission to this group. He said he had not.
After the blessing was approved, the dissident group tried to find a Canadian bishop who would take them in. Bishop of the Yukon Terrance O. Buckle offered episcopal oversight, but Bishop Michael Ingham refused to cede jurisdiction to him.
Short said the conservatives were unwilling to settle for an alternative bishop who didn’t have full power to do all the things a diocesan bishop can do, such as appoint clergy. They didn’t want “a kind of suffragan [assisting] bishop.” Bishop Buckle would appoint appropriate priests.
“The point is you wanted a conservative bishop who held your views,” said the defense lawyer.
“We wanted a bishop who would hold to the doctrine of the Church,” replied Short.
“Isn’t it true that Bishop Ingham always appointed conservative priests to parishes that wanted them?” asked Macintosh, who then listed a number of the bishop’s appointments. Short agreed that he one was conservative in his theology.
“Generally, I would think that would be true,” replied Short, qualifying his answer by saying it was true at least before 2003, and that he didn’t know what had been happening since.
By the General Synod in 2007, said Short, it was clear that relief would not come from within the Anglican Church of Canada. The General Synod declared the issue of same sex blessings “not core doctrine in the sense of creedal [doctrine]”
“There was going to be no Canadian solution for us.” In 2008, St. John’s members voted 98 per cent to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. Short said he left, but insisted he remained an Anglican priest, through the Southern Cone. He has not, he said, abandoned Anglican ministry, as Bishop Ingham formally stated after he relinquished his license from the bishop.
Cowper, the plaintiff’s lawyer, asked Short about the charge that he had been acting more like a Congregationalist, rather than a priest in a diocesan church. “Some have said you may be a Baptist in disguise.”
“The fact that we have been looking for alternative episcopal oversight is an answer to that,” said Short. “I am an Anglican.”
St. John’s Shaughnessy continues Anglican worship, Short said. He estimated that about 200 people had left his congregation due to the controversy, with some members going to St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, some to Christ Church Cathedral, and other to other Anglican parishes.
He said that before the blessing, the membership totalled 2000, but the list at that time had been “fat” at that point, since it hadn’t been recently checked to remove people who had dropped off. In 2007, membership stood at 1,100; currently it is 1,500, he said. It remains one of the largest in the country.
Short and the defense lawyer differed on how much money in assessments St. John’s failed to remit to the diocese since 2002 when its delegates and clergy walked out of the Diocesan Synod. Macintosh suggested it was in the order of two or three million dollars; Short said it was more like $700,000.
He agreed the congregation refused to contribute to a fund to for residential schools survivors that dioceses across Canada were asked to pay into. But the money for the settlement actually had come from a fund the diocese had built up from previous assessments, including St. John’s, and was really asking parishes to replenish the fund.
“We felt that because communion was broken we could not replenish that fund.” However, he said the parish wrote a letter to its membership telling individuals they could make contributions to residential schools’ survivors’ settlement fund, if they wished.
After Short finished in the early afternoon, Cowper, the Network congregation’s lawyer, said he had no more witnesses. Judge Kelleher adjourned the trial till Monday, June 1.