As conservatives in Canada move toward discussion on the possible formation of a breakaway Anglican body this week, one diocesan bishop says the Canadian church is now facing "a full-blown schism."
Traditionalist members of the Anglican Network in Canada are expected to present the option of forming a separate Anglican body to those who want to remain "biblically faithful" in the global Anglican family but are in "serious theological dispute" with the national church. Details will be outlined at the network's national conference, which opens Thursday.
"This is a full-blown schism now within the Canadian church and it is a direct attack upon the catholicity of the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster in a recent interview with Anglican Journal, the church's editorially independent newspaper. "It is one thing to hold differing opinions as many Anglicans obviously do on matters of sexual ethics. It's quite another thing to establish alternative ecclesial bodies, which is schism."
Divisions have deepened over what conservatives contend is the Anglican Church of Canada's liberal direction on homosexuality and scriptural authority.
Last week, the southern Ontario Diocese of Niagara became the third diocese in the national church to approve blessings for same-sex couples. The dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal recently passed similar motions and their bishops said they will consult widely before deciding whether to implement the decisions.
The Rt. Rev. Donald Harvey, retired bishop of Eastern Labrador, announced last week that he was relinquishing his ties to the Anglican Church of Canada and would affiliate with the orthodox Province of the Southern Cone, the Anglican church in South America.
Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, said he will be resuming full-time Episcopal ministry on behalf of "biblically faithful Canadian Anglicans who are distressed and feel they no longer have a home in the Anglican Church."
"The network says the church has already crossed the line in the sand, and they either repent and reverse some of the decisions they've made or we will find it difficult to be able to follow them where they seem to be leading," he told The Telegram newspaper.
"If [that] means separating from the Anglican Church of Canada, we will go with the communion of the world."
Although the homosexuality debate has drawn the most attention, Harvey noted that even if that issue was resolved in the Anglican Communion, there would still be conflict.
"I do not like what some of the leaders … are now doing to [the church]. They are diluting that faith, and doing their best to make it acceptable to a society, that, in the long run, won't appreciate it anyway," he said.
Harvey's departure comes as Ingham, whose New Westminster diocese was the first Anglican jurisdiction to formally authorize the blessing of same-sex unions, warned clergy in his diocese that he would discipline those who take part in ordinations planned by Harvey next month. Ingham asserted that only the bishop of the diocese or another bishop to whom the bishop has delegated authority may ordain priests or deacons.
The Council of General Synod further stated that Harvey's secession was unnecessary to provide pastoral care to parishes and that such actions are "not a valid expression of Anglicanism."
"Interventions in the life of our church, such as ordinations or other episcopal acts by any other jurisdictions are inappropriate and unwelcome," council members said on Saturday. "In particular, we cannot recognize the legitimacy of recent actions by the Province of the Southern Cone in purporting to extend its jurisdiction beyond its own borders."
The Nov. 22-23 conference of the Anglican Network in Canada will unveil what Harvey calls its "lifeboat" on Thursday, according to The Telegram. Details have not been given but Harvey suggested it could be a historic moment.