By Mark Michael
MacDonald’s Letter to the Indigenous People of the Anglican Church of Canada is posted at the bottom of this article
The Most Rev. Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first Indigenous Archbishop, resigned and formally relinquished his exercise of ordained ministry on April 20, following allegations of sexual misconduct. MacDonald, an American, served as a priest and bishop within the Episcopal Church for nearly two decades before beginning his ministry in Canada.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s church’s director of communications, Joe Vesci, told The Anglican Planet that MacDonald’s resignation came after an independent investigation, and that the church does not know who the complainant is, but does know that the accusations are not criminal.
“This is devastating news,” Archbishop Linda Nicholls wrote in a pastoral letter that accompanied the announcement. “The sense of betrayal is deep and profound when leaders fail to live up to the standards we expect and the boundaries we set. Our hearts hold compassion for human frailty and space for repentance while we also ache with the pain that such betrayal causes first to the complainant; then to so many others and to the life of our Church.”
“The ripple effects of this misconduct will be felt throughout the Church both in Canada and internationally, but most especially within the Sacred Circle and Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. We mourn with them,” she added.
MacDonald has served as chief pastor of Indigenous Anglicans in Canada since 2007, leading the community toward greater self-determination, a process that marked an important milestone in 2019, when the Council of Indigenous People was formally constituted as a self-governing church within the Anglican Church of Canada, and MacDonald’s role was elevated to an archbishopric.
Just last month, MacDonald was awarded the Cross of St. Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury, an award for distinguished service to the Anglican Communion, in recognition of his nurture of Indigenous leadership and self-determination. He has also served as North American President of the World Council of Churches since 2013.
Nicholls announced that the Rt. Rev. Sidney Black, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, would serve as the church’s interim Indigenous Bishop. Black was Indigenous Bishop in the Diocese of Calgary from 2017-2019, ministering to congregations across Southern Alberta, in a region called the Treaty 7 Territory.
MacDonald’s resignation likely poses challenges for the process of approving a set of foundational texts for the common life of Indigenous Anglicans in Canada. In late February, the church’s Council of Indigenous Ministries released The Covenant and Our Way of Life, texts similar to a constitution and set of canons, but reflecting distinctly Indigenous understandings of law, governance, and community life.
The two texts are scheduled for approval at the next Sacred Circle, the community’s churchwide gathering, which had been planned for May 2022, but which appears to have been postponed. In her pastoral letter, Nicholls said, “Bishop Sidney and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples will need the prayers of the whole Church as they discern the next steps in confirming the Covenant and Our Way of Life documents.”
MacDonald apologized for his actions and expressed deep gratitude for his fellow Indigenous church leaders in a letter shared via a Sacred Circle Facebook group (see below). “Your inspiration means so much and it deeply grieves me that I have given pain and failure in return,” he wrote. “Today, my failures eclipse anything that I have done — they are all that I can see — especially the ways I have hurt people personally. I ask your forgiveness and God’s, but will try to live so that there is some repair. Whatever may be, the grace of God in you is not even slightly dimmed by the failings that plague me.”
The archbishop also said in the letter that he intended to “return to the Land and, under wise spiritual guidance, live my life in penitence with, I hope and pray, the discipline of the Gospel.”
Alluding to the system of pastoral discipline outlined in Our Way of Life, MacDonald also noted, “At some point in time in the future, if God is so gracious, I will approach some of our elders for their guidance and discipline over what has happened. I do long to be and will endeavor to be in that system, regardless. In the meantime, please pray for my dear family, pray for my forgiveness — if you can – and pray for Sacred Circle that it becomes what it is meant to be.”
The revelations about MacDonald’s misconduct also follow two recent high-profile scandals involving sexual misconduct in the Anglican Church of Canada. In June 2021, the Rt. Rev. Lincoln McKoen, Bishop of the Territory of the People, resigned his orders after admitting he had sent “inappropriate sexualized electronic communications” via text and image to an adult with whom he was in a pastoral relationship.
McKoen stepped down after less than a year of ministry in the diocese, which was formed in 2015 in the territory of the former Diocese of Cariboo. In a nearly unprecedented move, the Diocese of Cariboo declared bankruptcy and dissolved itself in 2001, after being financially exhausted by legal costs resulting from its liability for sexual assault committed by Derek Clarke, a childcare worker at the former St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, British Columbia, which was owned and operated by the diocese.
In February 2022, the #ACCtoo website presented allegations that senior leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada failed to respect the confidentiality of “three survivors of sexual violence perpetrated by men ordained as clergy.” The mishandled testimony resulted in the September 2021 protest resignation of the editor and a reporter of the Anglican Journal, a magazine and website published by the church. #ACCtoo said on Twitter after the announcement, “To the best of our knowledge, there is no connection between Mark MacDonald and the privacy breach described in the open letter.”
MacDonald, 68, has native ancestry through both his parents and grew up among the Ojibway people. He was ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, and served parishes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon before being elected as the seventh Bishop of Alaska in 1997. He served in that diocese, which has a large community of Indigenous Episcopalians, until his election as the Anglican Church of Canada’s Indigenous Bishop in 2007. He was also an assistant bishop in the Episcopal Church in Navajoland from 2007-2009.
The Episcopal Church’s public affairs officer, Amanda Skofstad, confirmed that no allegations of sexual misconduct during MacDonald’s ministry as a bishop in the Episcopal Church have been received.