VANCOUVER, June 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Supreme Court of Canada said last Thursday that it will not hear an appeal by a group of traditional Anglican parishes in British Columbia that had been threatened with the loss of their churches after they broke away from the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) due to its endorsement of homosexuality.
In November 2009, Mr. Justice Stephen Kelleher of the British Columbia Supreme Court issued a decision saying that the four parishes in the Vancouver area may not keep their buildings if they remove themselves from the jurisdiction of the ACoC.
The four parishes in question, including historic St. John’s in the upscale neighborhood of Shaughnessy in Vancouver, had voted in 2008 to disassociate from the Anglican Church of Canada and join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), a recognized separate diocese in the Worldwide Anglican Communion affiliated with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
The parishes had been in conflict with the Diocese of New Westminster since 2002, when Anglican bishop Michael Ingham decreed that all parishes must begin “blessing” ceremonies for homosexual couples, a move that was contrary to international agreements made by the ACoC at the time. Ingham’s decision was blasted by then-Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who called it, a “departure from the main thrust of Anglican moral tradition.”
The parishes went to court in 2008 asking for clarification of the trustees’ responsibilities in light of what they called the hostile action taken by the Diocese of New Westminster. Bishop Ingham threatened to fire and replace the trustees and take control of the churches’ properties and bank accounts.
The bishop issued a statement at the time of the 2009 court ruling saying that he would remove the clergy of the four parishes and replace them with others who would cooperate with him.
“I intend to invite these congregations to remain in the buildings where they worship and to move forward together with us in the Diocese as one people under God,” he said. “I intend to appoint new clergy who will respect and continue the worshipping style of the congregations, who will also work cooperatively with me and the Diocese.”
However, Justice Kelleher also ruled in 2009 that the bishop of New Westminster did not have the right under civil or canon law to terminate and replace the trustees of the parishes; but did say that the trustees must exercise their authority “in relation to the parish properties in accordance with the Act, as well as the constitution, canons, rules and regulations of the diocese.”
In a statement following the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling last week, Bishop Ingham said, “No member of any congregation in this Diocese need leave the buildings in which they worship. However, the clergy who have left the Anglican Church of Canada must now leave their pulpits. I will work with these congregations to find suitable and mutually acceptable leaders, so that the mission of the Church may continue in these places.”
The ANiC and other conservative Anglican groups, which have refused to follow the movement of the mainstream of Anglicanism to acceptance of homosexuality and the rejection of biblical authority, have been labeled as “dissident Anglicans” and “fringe groups” by the secular press.
However, numerous parishes and even whole dioceses have left the Anglican jurisdictions of their local areas and sought affiliation with the conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, led by Archbishop Gregory Venables, which encompasses most of the world’s Anglicans in the southern hemisphere.
In the United States, the entire Diocese of San Joaquin in California voted in December, 2007, to leave the U.S. Anglican Communion. That split included 47 churches and 8,300 people, all of whom put themselves under the authority of Archbishop Venables.
“We saw that the [Church] leadership was moving in a direction that was very different than classical Christianity,” said Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin. “They are redefining who Christ is and what it means to be a Christian. And so we really thought it was important that we be aligned with the majority of the Anglican Communion that still had an orthodox view of Christ and Christianity.”
A spokesman for the ANiC said the Supreme Court of Canada’s refusal to hear the appeal meant that any theological change of direction by a Christian denomination would automatically marginalize those parishes that disagreed with the changes.
Cheryl Chang, legal advisor to the ANiC, said, “We’ve always said from the get-go that we might have to choose between our faith and our buildings, and we chose our faith. Part of being Christian is to sacrifice. In the Third World people are tortured and killed for their faith. Here they take away your churches.”