On March 20, the decision of an Anglican Bishop’s Court that homosexual minister James Ferry should be suspended from his duties was announced. Welcome as the decision was, it had disturbing aspects.
The proceedings of the Court, followed with great attention by the press, contained elements almost of farce.
• When Ferry’s lawyer Valerie Edwards tried to press her claim that the central issue in the case was not just Jim Ferry’s behavior but how the Church deals with homosexuals – otherwise “I might as well sit down and rest my case and pack my bags” – an exasperated presiding officer, former Ontario Chief Justice William Parker, replied, “Don’t tempt us.”
• When the former Anglican Archbishops Edward Scott, was asked, according to the usual formula, to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” he refused: no one has the whole truth, he said.
• Asked about the 1979 bishops’ guidelines on sexuality which Mr. Ferry had contravened, he upheld them but said they should not be considered the Church’s final position. In effect, therefore, he left the way open for the approval of homosexual activity by Anglican clergy.
• Bishop Douglas Blackwell testified that active homosexuality is a sin for clergy, but when Miss Edwards asked him whether the sexuality of a homosexual is a gift from God, he answered, “I don’t know.”
• The maverick American Bishop, John Spong of Newark, N.J., was an important witness for the defense.
In the past he has denied many basic Christian doctrines, called the Bible a product of the ignorance and prejudice of a pre-scientific age, and conjectured that St. Paul was a self-loathing, repressed homosexual.
In Toronto he said that Christian love knows no boundaries, and that the treatment of homosexuals is a justice issue of worldwide concern.
Out of all this confusion, or what Jack Kapica of the Globe called the “taffy-pull of ecclesiastical authority,” came a decision made public on March 20.
The Bishops’ Court ruled that the charges that Ferry had violated his oath of canonical obedience and that his conduct was dishonorable and disorderly had not been proven. But it did decide that his admitted conduct constituted disrespect for his bishop. Bishop Finlay, therefore, suspended him from his clerical duties, saying that he had been found guilty of wrongdoing “by refusing to refrain from continuing a homosexual relationship contrary to the bishop’s instructions….”
Throughout the hearing, the Anglican Journal reported, the Church’s position was constantly attacked as unjust, contradictory and hypocritical.
James Reed even claimed that Ferry had lived up to his ordination vow to be “a wholesome example to the flock of Christ” and “a model that can be held up to be followed.”
It seemed almost impossible for Anglican ministers and even bishops to declare forthrightly that sodomy is a sin; it is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Ferry was not suspended for sinful behavior but for defying episcopal authority.
Since Bishop Finlay had announced well before the Ferry case came into prominence that the Church’s guidelines on human sexuality will be reviewed, the “taffy-pull,” obviously, is far from over.
• Professor Cyril Powles, an Anglican Church historian, noted that the guidelines passed in 1979 were not illegal but did not have the force of law. Over the centuries, he said, change in the Church has had a history of disorder. “Bishops must be pushed, and one of the great sports in the Anglican Church is pushing bishops.”
• Rev. James Reed, psychotherapist, head of the Toronto School of Theology, and chairman of the Anglican Primate’s commission on sexuality which made a report before the 1979 guidelines were drawn up, noted that his commission had recommended that heterosexual and homosexual relationships be treated the same. He called the guidelines “fundamentally contradictory,” and said they were “potentially harmful to homosexuals.”
• Rev. Douglas Fox startled those at the hearing by saying that before he was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1981 by the then Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, he had told the Archbishop that he was an active homosexual. The Archbishop had ordained him just the same.
• Rev. James Ferry himself, in highly emotional testimony about the love which can exist between man and man, accused his church of a “conspiracy of silence.” It condemns homosexual priests to live lives of isolation, with the opportunity to “know God” through the love of a nurturing, supportive partner. He also claimed that there were more than forty homosexual clergy in the Toronto Anglican diocese – and that the bishops knew it.
• John Garshore, head of an Anglican ‘gay’ and lesbian organization called Integrity, commenting on the case, added that a number of Anglican bishops in Canada are homosexuals as well.