By the Rev. Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Raphael Hess, Bishop of Saldanha Bay in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has declared his support for same-sex blessings. In a letter to diocesan clergy, Bishop Hess dissented from the February decision of Southern African bishops to reaffirm the Lambeth Conference’s Resolution 1.10 (1998). He said a diocesan task force would prepare alternative legislation in support of same-sex marriage for the provincial synod in September.
Bishop Hess explained that in a series of meetings since the February bishops’ synod, leaders throughout the diocese had “expressed commitment to work in and with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to proclaim the good news that human sexuality is a complex and a splendid gift of God and that no one is excluded, from the reach of God’s embrace, by any Gift of God’s endowing.”
A pastoral letter issued by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said the bishops’ synod had attempted to draw up guidelines for clergy who wanted to bless couples in same-sex relationships or to enter same-sex unions themselves. South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.
Drafting the guidelines proved impossible, Archbishop Makgoba said, when a group of bishops who represented a cross-section of views on the topic found that “the only agreement we reached is that we were not of one mind.” A statement issued by the synod outlined a spectrum of views.
Bishop Hess counted himself among “those who believe that the Church should accept and support or bless monogamous covenanted relationships between homosexual people and that they may be ordained.”
“In this instance,” he said, “it is important that I declare to you all unequivocally where I stand on this matter.”
Bishop Hess wrote that the Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, an Episcopal priest and the daughter of the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, is no longer licensed to officiate in the diocese.
The canon, director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Capetown, married Marceline van Furth in a civil ceremony in Oegstgeest, Netherlands, on December 30, 2015. Professor van Furth is the Desmond Tutu chair of medicine at Vrije University in the Netherlands. They plan to hold a second celebration this month at the wine estate of British tycoon Sir Richard Branson in Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa.
The canon was ordained in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, served on the staff at Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and was the director of the Tutu Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage in Alexandria. She remains canonically resident in the Diocese of Washington.
The board of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation suspended the canon for several months earlier this year as it investigated whether her marriage constituted a “potential conflict of interest.”
Professor van Furth is employed as the head of a Dutch institute that works closely with the foundation. In April, Tutu van Furth was ordered to return to work, and foundation spokesman Don MacRobert said that “no impropriety was alleged‚ suspected, or discovered.”
The canon’s father has spoken out widely in support of same-sex marriage in recent years. Archbishop Tutu has announced that he plans to attend the South African celebration of his daughter’s union.