A new hot spot appears to be forming in the Anglican Communion’s decade old war over human sexuality following the appointment of a partnered gay clergyman to a parish benefice in Australia. The Bishop of Gippsland has rejected suggestions he violated the letter and spirit of Australian canon law and pan-Anglican agreements on human sexuality by licencing Mr. David Head to serve as minister of the Anglican Church in Heyfield, Victoria.
On 27 February 2012, Bishop John McIntyre told the ABC radio service the appointment was not improper. “If [conservatives] think that I have acted against the Lambeth Resolution [1.10 of 1998 on human sexuality], they need to think again, because I didn’t actually ordain this man. He was ordained over 30 years ago in the diocese of Melbourne.”
The appointment of Mr. Head has caused some controversy in the rural diocese in Victoria as the announcement was made via a front page article in the December issue of diocesan newspaper that pictured the minister with his partner. Sources within the diocese tell The Church of England Newspaper they were perturbed the bishop had chosen to make the announcement in this way, and one large parish has already voiced its objections to the bishop’s unilateral decision to change diocesan policy.
One Gippsland clergyman, who asked not to be named, told CEN that the bishop’s actions were not unlike shifting abuser clergy between posts with the new diocese taking no responsibility or notice of inconvenient truths arising from the old diocese. The issue will likely be brought before the May meeting of synod, CEN was told.
The Sydney-based Anglican Church League (ACL) released a statement expressing its “dismay” with the bishop’s actions on 12 Feb 2012, which it said violated Scripture, Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, the Jerusalem Declaration of 2008 and the Australian Church’s professional standards for clergy.
“Appointments like this put unwanted strain and tension upon relationships between the various dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia. It also contributes to the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion,” the ACL said.
Bishop McIntyre rejected this argument, saying he had told his diocese at is 2011 synod that Gippsland would be a welcoming diocese for gays and lesbians. Nor had he violated any rule, guideline or canon.
Mr. Head “has been a priest in a parish in the diocese of Melbourne where, when he was inducted into that parish the bishop of the day welcomed not only him, but his partner Mark into the life of the parish and the people of that parish were well aware that David was in that relationship, living in the vicarage of that parish,” he said.
“I see myself simply as having appointed to a position in this diocese a person who was, to use the formal language, ‘a priest in good standing in his previous diocese’,” Bishop McIntyre said.
ACL chairman Dr. Mark Thompson told CEN this argument was specious. “In the face of all that has gone on since Lambeth 1998 Bishop McIntyre’s decision cannot be excused as a mere oversight,” he said.
He noted that while the appointment of Mr. Head “may not be an ordination – what an extraordinarily narrow reading of the central issue – it was still an appointment which should not have been made.”
“Bishop McIntyre is aware” he added, of the “official reiterations of biblical teaching on the subject [of human sexuality] by Anglican authorities in Australia and elsewhere. Nevertheless he would seem unwilling to draw back from this scandalous appointment and by going ahead he has heightened tensions within the Anglican Church of Australia.”
“Actions such as this have torn the Anglican Communion apart. In the face of all that has gone on since Lambeth 1998 Bishop McIntyre’s decision cannot be excused as a mere oversight.