Perth Synod: Archbishop’s “Breach of Trust and Failure of Integrity” Disappoint Conservatives

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This past Saturday and Sunday has seen the annual synod of the Diocese of Perth on Australia’s west coast. Over that weekend and since then many delegates who were present have contacted me to let me know of what happened. In particular, many of them voiced deep frustration over Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy’s handling of the most contentious matters before the synod, with one even describing her actions a “breach of trust and failure of integrity” with regard to her stance towards conservatives in the diocese.

The main areas of contention, as always, centred around matters of sexual ethics and conduct.

Prior to those debates, another matter that had concerned synod members across the theological spectrum was the proposal to provide a significant amount of funding to establish a theological college. Figures of around $1m have been suggested to me, which seem to many to be unreasonable when the current college has so very few students (less than 10) and the Diocese is already in such a difficult financial situation. The motion to delay this funding was ruled as “out of order” by the President (the Archbishop), who was advised throughout the synod by the Chancellor Eric Ross-Adjie and Diocesan Secretary Keith Stephens. Goldsworthy appealed to a standing order that states that synod may not overrule a decision of the Diocesan Council.

Attention then turned to the great question currently hanging over the Anglican Church of Australia; human sexuality. Central to the debate on the floor of synod was motion 7.1:

Conservatives were immediately concerned. By referring to “all married couples” in sections c&d the motion was artfully drawing an implied equivalence between two different (and contradictory) definitions of marriage set out in a&b, namely “between a man and a woman” and “same-sex marriage”.

At the same time synod was waiting for the Archbishop to provide an answer to a question put to her earlier in the day around the definitions used in Faithfulness in Service (“FiS”), the diocesan standards for those involved in ministry (itself an adaptation of a nationally-accepted document). The relevant section in Perth’s version of FiS read as follows:

The Archbishop was asked some clear questions about 7.4:

Q: How do you define “chaste” as it is used in Faithfulness in Service?”

Q: What is “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature”?

Q: The President in her address has spoken about the pejorative language that has been used in the past to label and shame, which it is right to condemn. But would the President please advise the Synod is lesbian/gay/bi-sexual sex is sin – and it is is considered “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature” by the Diocese and the Professional Standards Unit?

Q: Clergy and Church Workers who identify as LGBTQIA+ – are they required to be celibate and chaste?

Q: FIS 7.7: Speaking of all church workers – why have you licenced clergy including those in senior leadership positions who identify as LGBTQIA+ and who cohabitate with a same sex partner in apparent breach of FIS 7.2, 7.4 and 7.7.?

The Archbishop took the questions on notice, saying that she needed time to prepare an answer. This action only further infuriated conservatives who had provided the text of many of the questions to her at least two weeks in advance. Nevertheless, the question remained unanswered on Saturday with debates on motions coming to the floor, including 7.1 above.

Debate on 7.1 continued for some time with, I am told, the expected arguments being made. As the growing impasse and concern about the implications of whatever decision might eventually be made became clear, one member stood up to raise a point of order. The cited Standing Order 52.1 (text follows) arguing that since the matter was both controversial and vital (ie existential for the ongoing common life of the Diocese) it should be treated as such and the motion be rescheduled to a later time:

The Archbishop adjourned the debate, moved to a vote of thanks on the standing orders and then to Evening Prayer. She then said “I crave leave of Synod to conclude early today” and was met by cries of “aye” before even finishing her sentence.

Synod resumed on Sunday. The Archbishop provided the following answers to the questions put to her:

Q: What is the definition of “chaste” and “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature”?
A: I’m answering the first two questions together, being the questions as to what is the definition of “chaste” and “disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature” as those terms are used in Faithfulness in Service (FIS). The terms are not defined in FIS nor in any Diocesan statute, and, it is not appropriate to give an answer as it is a legal answer and I am not a lawyer, nor the daughter of a lawyer.

Q: As your Grace noted in your speech the use of pejorative language has been used to label and shame members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which is to be condemned, but would the President please advise the Synod if lesbian/gay/bisexual sex is sin, and if it is considered to be ‘disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature’ by the Diocese and the Professional Standards Unit?
A: this raises complex theological and pastoral issues, which are being explored in the national church and the wider Anglican union. There will be new opportunities in the next months to discuss this. It is for the Professional Standards Board to assess on the facts of each case what is “chaste” or not and what is “disgraceful conduct” or not.

Q: Clergy and Church Workers who identify as LGBTQIA+ – are they required to be celibate and chaste?
A: They are required to comply with FIS.

Q: FIS 7.7: Speaking of all church workers – why have you licenced clergy including those in senior leadership positions who identify as LGBTQIA+ and who cohabitate with a same sex partner in apparent breach of FIS 7.2, 7.4 and 7.7.
A: This question assumes that clergy are in breach of FIS. All clergy ordained by me are required to comply with FIS. When I ordain someone I am satisfied they comply with FIS.

Again, conservatives in the Diocese were very unhappy with the manner in which these questions were answered. Several have pointed out to me that they have been prepared to work with the Archbishop as far as possible, giving her more than enough time to prepare a clear answer. They also noted that she has previously written privately to conservatives stating that she upholds the position that marriage is between one man and one woman and stating that she understands celibacy for all outside such marriage is the appropriate application of the chastity required by FiS. The definition of chastity had been clarified at the recent General Synod but the Archbishop declined to use that as a reference (hardly unsurprising since she is widely believed to have voted against it).

So the Synod was told by the Archbishop – who is not a lawyer, nor the daughter of a lawyer, but who is advised by lawyers and gave an answer worthy of the best lawyer – that there is no clear definition of key terms in Faithfulness in Service yet at the same time confirming that ministers would be held to that (undefined) standard.

Debate later returned to 7.1 Supporting Married People.

One member of synod, a lawyer, spoke to another point of order, this time referring to Standing Order 3.2(b). Stating that they neither spoke for or against the motion, they pointed out that basic legal training was that all key terms ought to be carefully and precisely defined. The motion as it stood had an obvious lack of clarity on the definition of the word “marriage” and that until this was rectified the debate “will achieve nothing more than obfuscation of what is a matter that is vital to the life of the Diocese”. They also appealed to the Archbishop on the basis of SO52, as had already been argued the previous day. The point of order was rejected by the Archbishop.

Nevertheless, Synod was waking up to the idea that the motion in its original form was unnecessarily divisive and unhelpfully ambiguous. Amendment were passed to remove section d and change some of the wording of section c (on the basis that not all married couples could be commended for their behaviour, Synod having already received a distressing report on the incidence of abuse within marriages). I understand the final version passed by Synod read as follows:

7.1 Supporting Married People

That this Synod

a understand that clergy of the Anglican Church of Australia can only solemnise a marriage between a man and woman;

b recognises that same-sex marriage has been legal in Australia since 2017;

c encourages all married couples in the depth of their faithful, loving, lifelong commitment to one another.

Synod then moved to another controversial motion:

Again, many conservatives were concerned that it was impossible to debate, let alone pass, this motion while definitions of chastity and disgraceful sexual conduct remained undetermined. Would Synod end up approving a motion that was in breach of FiS? The vote was called by houses. In Perth the Diocesan Bishop votes in their own house. Despite the fact that the Archbishop had 28 days to consider her position, a course of action conservatives were hoping she would take given the highly contentious nature of the wording of the motion, she voted in favour immediately and called Synod to “prayerfully” consider that there was a “wide and diverse approach to this matter”.

As I noted in the opening of this piece, I have been approached by many delegates who are very concerned. The overwhelming pattern of response I am hearing is of a rapidly accelerating lack of trust in the Archbishop. They hear her appeals to a “broad church” but are now convinced that her actions point to a clear agenda to promote revisionist positions. She had promised a clear conversation in the diocese on these key topics and yet no process has yet been provided. She “keeps building resentment” by “shirking the issue”. There is now “no confidence that the issue will be dealt with in a healthy way”.

One member of synod told me that the Archbishop’s actions at Synod were,

…a breach of trust, a failure of integrity and a dashing of any kind of confidence that we can move forward together.

I’ve been following events in Perth for quite a while now. Conservatives there have, in the past, noted that their Archbishop’s actions have never been as deliberately antagonistic and hostile as, for example, those related by conservatives in Brisbane. There has been a general willingness to seek to make things work. I’m no longer hearing that mood from them. It’s now sadness that their Archbishop appears to have made it very clear what direction she is pursuing and is doing so in such an unhelpful way. For the first time I’ve heard from them the language of “joining GAFCON” and mention of the Diocese of the Southern Cross.

As one source commented to me, “it lies with the Archbishop as to what she will do next”. The ball is now very clearly in her court if there is to be any attempt to win over deeply disapointed conservatives.

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Steven Smith

    Isn’t it about time the Anglican Church stopped trying to control and dictate to consenting adults? Is this the same Church that was happy to turn a blind eye when a number of it’s Priests were raping kids? Perhaps the Church should concentrate on loving and caring for people instead of trying to peek through their bedroom windows. Maybe then the Church could regain some relevance in the community

    1. anthonydouglas

      Steven, this is hardly a constructive comment. I doubt your third question is intended to imply that the church should not pay attention to clergy abusing children – but the ‘can’t have it both ways’ nature of your comment highlights precisely the issue. There is no point having an agreed set of standards (Faithfulness in Service) and then ignoring them. They are intended to safeguard church workers and the community, and deserve better respect than it sounds like they got.

      1. Steven

        It is fact. The Church ignored child sexual abuse for decades, yet is happy to whip itself into a lather over the sexual preferences of consenting adults. The hypocrisy is staggering. At least the moderates within the Church are in touch with the community.

    2. Howard Alan Treesong

      The Anglican Church gets to dictate the rules to join its club, in this case, canonical and biblical law and teachings. Perhaps the LGBT+ ‘community’ should stop attempting to dictate to the Anglican Church a direction of travel that undermines key precepts of the Anglican faith since its inception. There are no doubt other churches that would accept LGBT+ practices, where their progressivism would be more than welcomed.

      1. Steven

        Yes, you are correct. The Anglican Church does get to dictate the rules to join it’s club. However, the problem is that you can’t seem to agree on what the rules actually are. The other problem is that certain factions within the Anglican Church are quite adept at turning a blind eye to some behaviours (eg raping children), yet are more than happy to shout from the hilltops in relation to the sexuality of consenting adults. It is this rank hypocrisy that confuses me. Certain Anglican groups have made an art form out of convincing themselves that they are an elite class and seem to take great delight in denigrating others ( eg women, the LGBTQ Community and abuse survivors)

  2. James D

    Steven, you’ve implied that the sexual morality of Anglican ministers does not matter (“Isn’t it about time the Anglican Church stopped trying to control and dictate to consenting adults?”). You also noted that the sexual morality of Anglican ministers matters a great deal (“Is this the same Church that was happy to turn a blind eye when a number of it’s Priests were raping kids?”).

    What you’re really arguing is for the Anglican churches to adopt your own sexual morality. Doesn’t that strike you as an absurd thing to expect?

    1. Steven

      So you are comparing raping kids to consenting adults being free to engage in consensual sexual acts? Wow, if anyone was ever confused as to why the Anglican Church is in such a mess, there it is.

      1. James D

        I did not equate them. I pointed out that they’re both matters of sexual morality, both matters to which the Anglican churches should not be turning a blind eye.

  3. Lay person

    Getting back to synod.

    The archbishop’s failure to answer the questions asked pretty much removed any trust I might have had in her. It came across as simply playing a political game and so any hope that synod was more than that was lost.

    An extra thing to note about synod was that in explaining her affirmative vote for 7.2, the archbishop seemed surprised that some people thought this motion touched on the definition of marriage. She made it clear that she viewed the motion only in relation to hospitality. The words “in couples” are the ones that contained the sting for a biblical view of marriage, but the archbishop either did not understand the implications or has chosen understand the motion without its implications (the heading of the motion seemed determinative for her).

  4. Robert Bruce

    The only surprise in this is that anyone is surprised. The Archbishop of Perth is totally predictable. She is a woke, ultraliberal, hypocritical apostate who can be depended upon to put forward Satan’s agenda at every opportunity.

    Let’s hope she enjoys it now: she’ll be a long time in the lake of fire. She can share her thoughts there with Peter Stuart.

    1. Marg Little

      Robert, you might well pray for Archbishop Kay to repent but to speak in these hateful terms is simply not worthy of a follower of the one who died so that all may have life

  5. PPSS


    When the House of Bishops at General Synod DID NOT follow the Clergy and Laity in their voting, Fr. David Ould was highly critical. The bishops should listen to the clear voting and follow suit.

    Over in Perth, when their Archbishop listens to clear voting and follows suit, there is criticism.

    Further Confused.

    Does the claim that the Archbishop of Perth is a predictable, woke, ultraliberal, hypocritical, apostate furthering Satan’s agenda who will burn in the fires of hell with the Bishop of Newcastle breach the House Rules here or is this just an echo chamber rather than a place of actual dialogue?

    1. David Ould

      I normally don’t allow anonymous comments (and won’t any more on this thread) but thought it helpful to allow this one through.
      The comparison is not valid. At General Synod there was a clear majority in both houses of clergy and laity and thus a jarring disconnect of the bishops when they voted.
      But in Perth the situation is somewhat different. The request being made was a different one – to take some time to consider whether a yes vote from the bishop, in their role as president/chair, was appropriate at that time in the life of the diocese given the nature of the matter being debated. It was a specific possibility set out in the standing orders of the synod of Perth: that the matter was vital to the life of the diocese and contentious. In that particular situation the bishop had the choice to delay her vote or even to have the matter dealt with in another way more appropriate. She chose not to.
      So two very different situations.

      1. JPRankin

        My interpretation is that a bishop is to uphold the Biblical teachings and to shepherd those in the diocese. At General Synod it showed that there is a disconnect in the interpretation of the Bible between the bishops and the rest of the church. In Perth, yes she is the chair of synod, but her responsibility to God and Scripture supersedes this. Her answer should have clearly shown this. Unfortunately, many bishops put their role as synod president/chair first. This will lead to what happened in New Westminster, when Bishop Ingham sided with synod rather than Holy Scripture. He then became an servant of synod (this world) and not God.

        I read the bishop’s reply and only one word came to mind. Bafflegab.

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