The two bishops of the Dioceses at the centre of this week’s Appellate Tribunal opinions have issued their first responses. Bishop Peter Stuart of Newcastle sent his clergy a letter on Friday:

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Bishop Clarence Bester of Wangaratta issued a statement on Thursday.

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While both statements do not openly encourage clergy to conduct such “blessings”, neither do they urge ongoing restraint.

The House of Bishops met online on Friday (after Wangaratta’s statement but prior to the Newcastle letter). davidould.net understands that at that brief meeting the Bishops agreed to wait on offering comment on the Tribunal opinions until they had had the opportunity to confer properly together. A working group has been formed to prepare a joint statement that will be released following next Friday’s Bishops’ meeting.

Revisionist bishops in the meeting had argued that in the interim something needed to be said. I understand that the tone of their position was that they would move ahead. One is reported to have said “we are powerless to stop this”. Whether the Bishops are that powerless within their Diocese, or whether they choose not to exercise what power or influence they might have, remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, this position and the content of the letter and statement has disappointed senior conservative leaders. A very highly place source told davidould.net:

Before the Appellate Tribunal opinion was known, the Bishops were urged by the Primate not to act until General Synod has met, regardless of the outcome of the Tribunal.

For all the language that we might “listen to one another” and “hold together as a Church”, it is beginning to look like the restraint that the Primate asked for will not be kept nor encouraged by those Bishops who are most able to ask for and even implement it. What they choose to do, especially as they preside over their upcoming synods, will be closely watched by the entire national body. Any assessment of a genuine commitment to unity may depend upon it.

davidould.net will keep you updated.

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7 comments on “Wangaratta and Newcastle Bishops Issue First Responses to Appellate Tribunal

  1. I am perplexed by these letters.

    Newcastle out rightly states that he would prefer that Clergy do not bless any of these unions until they talk to him and I have the feeling that Wangaratta wants people to wait until their synod meets before acting. I can understand why this is so, if I was in their position I would want to feel like I was in some sort of control of what will happen when one of these blessing is done.

    However this feels like giving a can of cold lemonade to a child on a hot day and saying “you are allowed to drink it but I would rather you didn’t right now.” As a parent I would never do this and I wouldn’t be surprised when my child decided they wanted to drink it. Also I would have to be the responsible one when the inevitable sugar crash came.

    These blessing are something that are important to everyone involved and come at a cost one way or another. It seems a little irresponsible to me for anyone to create a situation like this (granted Wangaratta inherited it) and then say just wait a moment. What do they think was going to happen?

  2. I will send this in two parts. My laptop seems to buffer on this site.

    As I thought & as is now confirmed in the Bishop of Newcastle’s letter (above), the ACA has no stand-alone form of service to bless the civil marriages of any couple, whether of opposite-sex or same-sex composition. This is because its marriage service (“Holy Communion”) includes a Godly blessing as part of a combined religious & civil marriage ceremony. The officiating minister represents God in the religious side of the service & the Commonwealth in the civil (legal) side.

    It is most unlikely the Church will write a form of service (liturgy) for blessing the civil marriages of same-sex couples & most likely “rebel” provinces like Newcastle & Wangaratta will use the one Wangaratta wrote to do so. That will split the Church.
    TBC

  3. I expect the next move will be rebel Synods writing a gender-neutral marriage liturgy which their ministers may use to marry same-sex couples in church. That will complete the split.

    All this could & should have been avoided by the Church deciding back in 2017, when Parliament changed the Marriage Act definition of marriage from “the union of a man & a woman” to “the union of 2 people”, not to use the Act at all.

    Of course the Church could make that decision tomorrow, but I expect its hierarchy will not swallow their pride in order to do so.
    PN

  4. In his letter Peter Stuart says that any form of blessing of couples must not be contrary to or a departure from the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia. Could it be that he has changed his views or does he speak with forked tongue? I am reminded of the serpent in the Garden.

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