St Michael Report author talks of what it DOESN'T mean
Thank you for your balanced and thoughtful
article on the St. Michael Report. As part of the Theological Commission
that drafted it, I found both your approval and your concerns useful in
trying to understand where the Report is going from here, and how it may
be helpful or unhelpful to the Church.
I do, however, have one major concern with
the piece: it tends to reinforce the widely-held misapprehension that
the Report implies that same- sex blessings must be treated as a matter
of canon (and would thus require a two-thirds vote by orders at two consecutive
This is an interpretation that I consider disastrous for the Church, and
I am disappointed to see it further disseminated in Integrator.
The history of this interpretation of the
Report is quite troubling. It arose, I believe, from a written opinion
the Chancellor presented to the Council of General Synod at its May meeting,
at the same time the Report was presented. The Chancellor finds that,
should General Synod accept our opinion that same-sex blessings are a
matter of doctrine, the most appropriate way to deal with it would be
through canonical change.
But the Chancellor also makes it clear
that he is expressing an opinion, and not a formal ruling. His report
makes it clear that the question is considerably differentiated and open
to opinion: the Declaration of Principles says that doctrinal matters
are to be settled by General Synod, and canons on doctrinal matters need
a 2/3 majority vote by houses at two General Synods to pass; but it does
not state that all doctrinal matters must be handled by canon. As your
article mentions, General Synod has in the past dealt with significant
doctrinal matters by resolution rather than by canon: the approval of
the Book of Alternative Services, the ordination of women, and, one might
add, the admission of children to Holy Communion.
In the event, it will be General Synod
(should it accept the St. Michael Report's finding) that must determine,
by a simple majority vote, whether to require a canonical change on this
Unfortunately, this differentiated opinion of the Chancellor was taken
up by a number of sources and passed on as a simple, absolute fact. The
press report that appeared on the National Church website stated categorically
that this would be the consequence of the Report being adopted by General
Synod. This has since been corrected (at my insistence), but the damage
has been done: this press report was circulated to the dioceses together
with the St. Michael Report, and in many cases I suspect it, and not the
Report itself, is what got read. Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster,
unfortunately, has also been a vehicle for this misinformation, as in
some of his public statements (such as the one you quoted) he accepts
and promulgates the view that this will now have to be a canonical matter.
To set the record straight:
1. The St. Michael Report nowhere suggests
that same-sex blessings should be dealt with by a change in the canons.
We quite intentionally did not make that statement.
2.Nor is that implied by our decision.
The constitution of General Synod (the Declaration of Principles) does
not say that doctrinal matters must be canonical. General Synod has
dealt with other doctrinal matters by simple resolution. The decision
on which path to follow is a second decision, separate from the determination
of whether or not the issue is doctrinal, which General Synod will make
3.The Commission was quite conscious
of its mandate and vocation as a "theological" commission. Our opinion
that same-sex blessings are doctrinal is a theological, not a canonical
opinion. We consider the issue to be doctrinal in that it is connected
with a number of fundamental Christian teachings, and that any change
we might make has to take place in the context of a common theological
reflection on these connections.
4.The Commission's call for "intentional,
deep, prayerful listening" is an attempt to move the discussion beyond
rhetorical manipulation and power struggles to an open and common discernment.
Any attempt to reduce the Report's finding to a political tool (such
as by "raising the bar" through procedural manoeuvring) is profoundly
counter to the intention and spirit of the Report.
5.The Report is clear that any action
on this matter should be accompanied by theological reflection and discernment.
It also states that action does not necessarily follow a completed process
of discernment; but that action and reflection often occur simultaneously
(para. 12). Therefore, one cannot use the Report's finding to justify
an indefinite delay on any movement on same-sex blessings until some
future day when all things will be clear.
None of this is to imply that the Report
is anywhere near perfect. It is a consensus document, not the Report that
any one member of the Commission would have liked to have written. However,
I hope I have made it clear that some of the assumptions made about the
Report's implications are unwarranted and ignore some of the careful distinctions
we have attempted to make.
In particular, I hope that we can begin to put the brakes on the rumour
that the Report implies that same-sex blessings should be handled as a
Canon Paul Jennings
Director of Pastoral Studies
Montreal Diocesan Theological College