by Solange de Santis
[ACNS source: Anglican Journal] The controversy in the diocese of New Westminster over whether to bless gay relationships took a grave turn on October 8 as Archbishop David Crawley moved to discipline the diocesan bishop of the Yukon, Terrence Buckle, for asserting "episcopal authority" over disaffected parishes in Vancouver-based diocese.
"Bishop Buckle is acting unlawfully," Archbishop Crawley stated in a message to the members of the Anglican Church of Canada. "Disciplinary proceedings against Bishop Buckle as provided in the canons have begun and will take their proper course."
Archbishop Crawley, as metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical (church) province of British Columbia and the Yukon, is Bishop Buckle's supervisor. In his message, he noted that the bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, "has formally inhibited (Bishop Buckle) from functioning within the diocese of New Westminster. I ... have required Bishop Buckle to respect that inhibition and refrain from interfering in the life of the diocese of New Westminster."
Archbishop Crawley wrote that "parishes cannot remove themselves from the authority of their diocesan bishop and place themselves under the authority of another bishop. Any parishes in the diocese of New Westminster accepting Bishop Buckle's claim to authority over them are acting unlawfully and contrary to the canons (church laws) of the Anglican Church of Canada."
He noted that the basic unit of the Anglican Church of Canada is the diocese and that in the civil province of British Columbia, diocesan boundaries are fixed by acts of the provincial legislature. "No bishop .. can claim or assert any authority within the bounds of another diocese," he wrote. "Any bishop proven to be doing so can be suspended, deprived of his or her position as bishop, or be deposed from the order of bishops."
There were no details provided about what form the disciplinary action might take. Archbishop Crawley and Bishop Buckle were unavailable for comment. David Skillings, chancellor (church lawyer) for the province, declined to comment and referred to the provincial canons.
Canon 8, "The Discipline of Bishops and Clergy," says the metropolitan may investigate charges against a bishop, then a board of inquiry may be named. If warranted, a final step would be a provincial court of appeal. There was no indication from Archbishop Crawley's statement as to which proceedings are underway.
"He should be more specific," commented Peter Turner, a lay member of St Simon church in Vancouver, one of the parishes critical of Bishop Ingham. "Outrage" was his reaction to the announcement from Archbishop Crawley, he said. "When a bishop offers pastoral care, this is not something that should be disciplined; it should be lauded," he said in an interview.
"We feel that Bishop Ingham, and now Archbishop Crawley, are acting illegally," he said. "A year ago, we presented a legal brief to Bishop Ingham that said blessing same-sex unions went beyond what a bishop and a diocese could lawfully do. What they were doing impacted on the definition of the sacrament of marriage."
In June 2002, a majority of New Westminster's diocesan synod voted to allow parishes to offer blessings to gay couples, and Bishop Ingham concurred. Eight parishes, out of 80 in the diocese, disagreed with the move and formed a coalition called the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW). Three more parishes have since joined the coalition. The parishes, declaring they could no longer trust Bishop Ingham, sought episcopal oversight from Bishop Buckle.
As far as the jurisdictional issue, Mr Turner said, "What happens when a bishop (Bishop Ingham) usurps his authority and can't be trusted? The parishes have to go elsewhere."
On 7 September, a service was held in Delta, B.C., attended by about 1,600 people, eight Canadian Anglican bishops and two primates (archbishops) from Africa and India. The bishops "commissioned" Bishop Buckle to provide pastoral oversight to the ACiNW parishes. Earlier this year, Bishop Ingham offered to provide an "episcopal visitor" in the person of retired Bishop William Hockin, to disaffected parishes, but the offer was rejected.
Bishop Hockin has no authority to perform confirmations or appoint clergy in New Westminster and the parishes have said they want an outside bishop with full authority.
However, the principle of episcopal jurisdiction is a very old one, noted the Revd David Neelands, a church historian and dean of faculty at the divinity school of Trinity College in Toronto. "The Council of Hertford, in 672 in England, at the time of Bishop Theodore of Tarsus, declared that no other bishop has jurisdiction in another bishop's diocese. So although he is having a quarrel with his parishes, Michael Ingham is still the bishop of the diocese," Mr Neelands said.
He said he was unaware of any similar case in recent years.