The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, has today issued a Pastoral Letter that seeks to chart a course forward for the diocese on the vexed question of marriage.

In his letter, issued to leaders across the diocese, he draws attention to the current tensions in the Anglican Church of Australia over the debate, noting the following key points:

  • That the position of many in the diocese is contrary to that established by the General Synod
  • That “LGBTIQ+ people” have “shown restraint”
  • That he found conversations at the recent Bishops’ meeting “deeply troubling”

He goes on to compare the current debate with that in the 1970s over the remarriage of divorcees.

In a frank observation he states:

Each year the bishops’ meeting seems to edge closer to the possibility of a deep breach in episcopal relationships within the Anglican Church of Australia.

Rather than seeking to work against such a breach, Stuart now appears to be prepared to accept the reality and even no longer avoid it. He asks “Can we find a way of accommodating this difference?” and then offers his suggested accomodation:

Within the law of the land and under the Constitution and applicable Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia, the Bishop together with the Synod and Diocesan Council is responsible for the good order and government of this Diocese. In our Diocese of Newcastle, we have many perspectives. My desire is that we find a loving way to express our shared life. It is of the Gospel that we continue to welcome and affirm LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and welcome their use of their gifts for the service of God, his people and his cosmos. I have diminishing confidence that the national church is going to help us find a way forward. I have some confidence that together we might be able to find a ‘Newcastle Way’ which will incorporate living with strong difference in an open and Godly way.

Given that Bishop Stuart argued at the most recent General Synod that the doctrine of marriage was “not yet fixed” it is hard to not read this as a suggestion that he is open to approving liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships and even marriage and is now preparing for the Diocese of Newcastle to act on its own in this matter, independent of the national church.

At Bishop Peter’s own invitation we have asked him the following question:

You write that “the Bishop together with the Synod and Diocesan Council is responsible for the good order and government of this Diocese” and “I have some confidence that together we might be able to find a ‘Newcastle Way’ which will incorporate living with strong difference in an open and Godly way”,

1. Does the Diocese have the right and authority to act unilaterally in legislating for liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage even when such a position has repeatedly been rejected by the General Synod?

and

2. Are you willing to give your assent to such motions or legislation so that the “Newcastle Way” effectively means accomodating in “a loving way to express our shared life” such a move and the tensions it will bring?

Bishop Peter’s reply is as follows:

Q: Does the Diocese have the right and authority to act unilaterally in legislating for liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage even when such a position has repeatedly been rejected by the General Synod?
A: The legal situation in the Australian Church around liturgy and order is not clear. The Archbishop and Diocese of Sydney have set a significant precedent for unilateral action by authorising liturgies additional to the Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book and A Prayer Book for Australia. Those liturgies not being authorised by the General Synod. They have also set significant precedent with the Archbishop unilaterally authorising Diaconal Administration of the Holy Communion. The latter not being authorised by the General Synod.
In this church, a resolution about doctrine by the General Synod is not determinative. Ultimately if doctrine is contested, the disagreement must be resolved by the Appellate Tribunal. That was the situation with the marriage of persons who have been previously married while their former spouse is still alive, the ordination of women and the order of the administration of the Holy Communion.
There were no proposals before the Newcastle Synod in 2018 of this kind. The Synod has shown a cautious but genuine desire to listen very attentively in the spirit of Lambeth 1:10.

Q: Are you willing to give your assent to such motions or legislation so that the “Newcastle Way” effectively means accomodating in “a loving way to express our shared life” such a move and the tensions (“strong difference”) it will bring?
A: In the Province of New South Wales the Bishop is not a member of the Synod meaning that a motion is an expression of the House of Clergy and the House of Laity as assembled at that time. The Bishop has no role in assenting to motions and motions do not bind the Bishop, unless moved in accordance with an Ordinance that has established such power.
In relation to legislation, the question significantly preempts any conversation or deliberation in which the Synod may engage. The Synod has heard my desire that the Diocese of Newcastle will be an expression of comprehensive Anglicanism. The next step for the Synod will include exploring how Christians who have theological differences live together. The work of the General Synod Doctrine Commission and the Diocesan Faith and Order Commission will be important parts of ensuring that the Synod and the Diocese continues to give prayerful, biblical and theological reflection to the life of the Diocese.
In relation to legislation, the role of the Diocesan Bishop is to listen to the Synod, the National Church and the Anglican Communion in exercising his or her mind around assent.

Here at davidould.net we would say that doesn’t really look like a “no” answer. Only time will tell.

The full letter is set out below:

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12 comments on “Anglican Bishop of Newcastle Proposes “Newcastle Way” on Marriage Question

  1. Bishop Stuart seems unashamed of speaking differently from many others in holy orders on the topic of those of LGBTIQ+ persuasions who seek to change traditional Christian views of morality and human sexuality. That does not surprise.
    He is less forthcoming on the other major topic that he says was discussed at the bishops’ meeting, that of accountability in relation to the Child Abuse Royal Commission (as he terms it). Could that be because his own response, the so-called Safe Ministry program, included provision for seven paedophiles named in the Royal Commissioner’s report to remain involved in activities in the diocese, with access to children? Bishop Stuart’s way of showing his accountability was to ask each of those seven men named by the Royal Commissioner as perpetrators to sign a “Safe Worship Agreement” as an undertaking not to engage in paedophile activity. Most if not all seven declined to sign the Agreement, whereupon Bishop Stuart just allowed them to continue as before. Indeed, his program went further by providing each of the seven with a “Support and Accountability Team” to protect them from those who oppose their involvement in church activities! One can only wonder how he sees this as showing accountability and to whom for what, but only he could know what is in his mind.
    If this all sounds too far-fetched to be credible, it can be validated as it is recorded exactly as described above in the Royal Commission report, Case Study 42: Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, especially pages 8, 84-85 and 283-284.

    • hello Robert,
      That’s quite a serious charge to make. I note that the report doesn’t go as far as you claim and has not criticised Bishop Stuart in this area. Do you have evidence you can present that those named in the Commission report are still active in ministry?

  2. Ochayetha’noo David.

    Well, yes it is serious, very serious, but so is sodomy of innocent little boys by powerful clergymen. Also very serious is protection of those perpetrators by other powerful clergymen, especially bishops who are not immediately accountable within a diocese for their actions.

    I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with your second sentence. The Royal Commissioner said, and I quote verbatim from his report on the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle (Case Study 42):

    On page 264 under the heading 5.11 Dysfunctional culture within the Diocese:
    “Mr. Cleary said that there was a ‘pro-respondent culture with no apparent consideration for the victims’ (1856). . . . He cited as an example of a ‘pro-respondent’ culture some of the changes to the Professional Standards Ordinance 2005 that Assistant Bishop Stuart proposed in 2012. . . . Assistant Bishop Stuart said it was not correct that he had sided with people who wanted to undermine the professional standards system and that Mr. Cleary’s suggestion that he was making changes that were ‘respondent-driven’ was completely unfair. (1859)”
    The whole of the next page is redacted.

    On pages 283-264 under the heading Operation of the Safe Ministry Policy:
    “The Safe Ministry Policy, as amended in November 2013, (05) remains in effect (2057). . . . Assistant Bishop Stuart told us that a Safe Worship Agreement requires the consent of the person of concern, and it is not uncommon for persons of concern to refuse to sign (2062). . . . the Safe Ministry Policy requires the person concerned to have a ‘Support and Accointability Team’ to protect the person from those who oppose their involvement in church activities . . . .”

    On page 319 under the heading Systemic Issues:
    “This case study provided the Royal Commission with insights into systemic issues relating to the institutional response of the Diocese to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse. . . .
    Mrs. Sanders, Mr. Cleary, Mr. Michael Eliot and Bishop Thompson stand out in particular for their dedication, determination and diligence in seeking to uncover the extent of child sexual abuse in the Diocese and in the compassion and care they showed for survivors and their families.”

    If the third quote is read with the first, it seems clear that the Royal Commissioner considered Mr. Cleary to be a truthful and reliable witness and, ipso facto, Bishop Stuart’s disavowal of Mr. Cleary’s evidence about his changes to the professional standards system show him (the bishop) to be unreliable. You may choose to believe that the report has not criticised Bishop Stuart in this area, David, but if so I suggest your generosity is clouding your judgement. Did Mr. Justice McClellan have to spell it out for you in words of one syllable or less?

    There are many other instances of criticism of the Diocese and its leadership, including the current leadership, in the Royal Commissioner’s report, far too many in the 400 page document to enumerate here, but the overview is that the Diocese has a long way to go to get its house in order. Given the fact that paedophiles are mostly recidivist in their horrifying crimes, it seems more than likely that little boys are still being abused in the diocese to this day while the diocesan leadership does little to prevent it.

    When will something effective be done to stop this evil?

    Your third sentence, David, you ask about evidence that those named in the Report as perpetrators are still active in ministry in the diocese. I have no objective evidence of that but the clear circumstantial evidence is that (1) they are still around, (2) they have tended to refuse to sign undertakings that they will not continue to offend (as Bishop Stuart reported) and (3) they are known to be recidivist: on the balance of probabilities it is likely they are still pursuing their filthy habits. If Christ has called all his followers to be ministers, is it splitting hairs to discriminate between those who go to church and sit in the congregation and those who lead services? That said, someone may know that perpetrators are active in formal ministry such as leading services in homes, leading Bible study or fellowship groups, or even (perish the thought) leading youth activities. If so, those who know of such things must make that evidence public so as to end the abuse at last.

    • While I don’t think I would go as far as Robert in his response & I do think that regardless of how you feel about marriage the Diocese of Newcastle has a lot of clean up todo in regards to its history. Maybe +Stewart should concentrate on this rather than putting his energies into a distraction. People are not going to forget what has gone on before just because the church is flying a rainbow flag out the front.

    • Your third sentence, David, you ask about evidence that those named in the Report as perpetrators are still active in ministry in the diocese. I have no objective evidence of that but the clear circumstantial evidence is that (1) they are still around, (2) they have tended to refuse to sign undertakings that they will not continue to offend (as Bishop Stuart reported) and (3) they are known to be recidivist: on the balance of probabilities it is likely they are still pursuing their filthy habits.

      That seems to be the guts of it, doesn’t it?
      So far no substantive evidence has been presented that (1) and (2) have occurred with knowledge by the Diocesan leadership. I assume that if they knew even (1) & (2) was happening they would deal with it most firmly. But if they knew that it was occurring and that those individuals were involved in any ministry at all – that would be damning.
      But, as I’ve observed, nobody has actually presented such evidence.

      • Friends, while this is a topic that is obviously of concern to some on the thread, it’s now off-topic with regards to the original article.
        Robert has made his case and I’ve pointed out that there is no evidence presented to substantiate it.
        Can I suggest we all now move back to the original topic, please.

  3. Well researched & put Robert. Clearly the Bishop has very serious matters to address before moving to a cock-a-mammie suggestion that his diocese move independently on blessing same-sex civil marriages in church or even solemnising ssm’s in church.

  4. Re Bishop Stuart’s pastoral letter. In the second paragraph he writes “While the General Synod has passed resolutions about marriage, our experience as a Diocese is that members of this church (diocese) have different understandings about the nature of marriage with some seeing it as a relationship that is only possible between a man & a woman, and others supporting a view that marriage is possible between people of the same sex.” It may have been prudent to also observe that Australian adults have the same division of opinion, be they religious, secular, agnostic or none of the above.

    The rest of the letter outlines difficulties the ACA is having in trying to reconcile the differing sides within the Church. Some congregationalists, clergy & Bishops want civil same-sex marriages blessed in church after the event. Some want same-sex couples to be married legally & sacramentally in church, as opposite-sex couples have been in Anglican churches since 1788. Many want neither of the above. The Bishop suggests the Newcastle diocese goes it alone in deciding what, if anything, should be done.

    What cannot be disputed is what Jesus taught about marriage in the accounts of Matthew & Mark which is that God made male & female so that a man can leave his parents & cleave (adhere) to his wife. Whatever a current Caesar may declare marriage to be, in God’s eyes it is the union of a man & a woman.

    Before any of the internal difficulties the Bishop outlines & the episcopal split he fears may arise, he & his fellows must fix first things first. They must tell the Government that the ACA considers God’s teaching on marriage to be more important than conducting civil marriages on their behalf. Something like – “We will offer religious marriages only, held in accordance with our marriage liturgy. If the law requires a couple to be civilly married first, we will ensure that occurs.”

    Internal squabbles about how gay members should be treated within the ACA will never be resolved without breaking the nexus of combined civil & religious solemnisations. With that stake in the ground, blessing existing same-sex civil marriages in church becomes unproblematic. Marrying same-sex couples religiously is a much bigger step requiring at least changes to liturgy & canon law. I think that is many years away, if ever, & may turn on what the English Church does. In all of this we should never forget that the general public, in voting to change the law so that same-sex couples can marry, had the civil law in mind not any canon law, and the marriage equality people only ever asked for civil marriage.

    I would like the moderator of this blog to invite Bishop Stuart’s response to this.

  5. What a pathetic situation to be in to claim that the doctrine of marriage is “not yet fixed” in the diocese of Newcastle. 🙄 I guess it’s a way of saying the doctrine of marriage in the diocese is an open book.
    The pastoral letter of the Bishop which is crafted in all the pastorally-flowery language is just a cop out of the real issues. At best, it’s a prelude to ”fix” the doctrine of marriage in the diocese in the very near future with the Marriage Canons revised or rewritten altogether. I guess this is what the bishop is hinting at with his slogan: ”the Newcastle way”! I wouldn’t be surprise at all if this Newcastle way is light years away from the Way (Acts 9:2; 18:6, 25; 22:4; 24:14 etc).

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