Canadian Anglican bishops vote for status quo, reject same-sex marriage blessings

Toronto, Canada - Canadian Anglican bishops issued a pastoral statement Tuesday that essentially rejects the blessing of same-sex unions but acknowledges there will be further votes on the matter when the church's governing body meets next month.

The statement was posted on the Anglican Church of Canada website and will be sent to delegates of the church's General Synod in Winnipeg in June 19-25.

"Where we are today - not in June, but as of today - our doctrine and discipline does not allow the blessing of same-sex unions," Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, said in an interview.

"So we're acknowledging that's where we are, understanding that that could change in June."

The bishops voted by e-mail on the statement, which is a revision of a draft proposal they discussed during a meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., last month.

"Not all bishops can conceive of condoning or blessing same-sex unions," the statement said. Feheley said there are 41 active bishops in Canada and a "substantial majority" voted for the statement.

The bishops say they recognize that the provisions of the statement are less than a blessing of same-sex unions or marriage.

But they add that it is "a Gospel imperative to pray with the whole people of God, no matter their circumstance."

For example, the statement suggests a parish, with its bishop's knowledge and permission, could pray with a civilly married gay or lesbian couple that wants recognition of their union and celebrate a eucharist with the couple.

They also say they hope that "no child is denied baptism solely on the basis of the sexual orientation, or the marital status, of the parents."

"It is inconsistent and unacceptable to deny baptism to children as a way of imposing discipline on the sexual behaviour of the parents," says the statement.

Also, "we hope no baptized Christian will be denied communion or confirmation because of being in a committed homosexual relationship or because of their marital status."

The bishops say the ministry of gay and lesbian clergy in the church is "deeply valued and appreciated."

"We acknowledge the pain and conflict that many of you live with daily in your ministry in Christ."

A split in the worldwide Anglican Church has been growing for years over these issues.

The head of the U.S. wing of the Anglican church supports ordaining gays and allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. The Americans could be expelled from the international communion if they don't ban the blessings of same-sex couples and ordination of gay bishops by Sept. 30.

The Canadian church has placed a moratorium on such blessings at least until the General Synod, which is a gathering of about 400 Anglican delegates, staff, national and international partners. A General Synod is held once every three years.

Of the 30 dioceses in Canada, Feheley said only one, the Greater Vancouver diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia, allows the blessing of same-sex unions.