By Sue Careless
Only three days after he was elected as the next Bishop of Ontario, Bishop William Cliff of the Diocese of Brandon has been inhibited in both the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario by Metropolitan Anne Germond and in his home Province of Rupert’s Land by Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson.
An allegation has been received by Archbishop Germond, and she reports that “the proper authorities have been informed.” The nature of the allegation has not been made public.
While the allegation is being investigated, Bishop Cliff may not exercise the functions of ordained ministry.
He was to succeed Bishop Michael Oulton, who wrote to the diocese May 2:
“I want to be clear with you that inhibition does not in any way relate to the veracity of the claim. It is an administrative step in the process of investigation. I am not at liberty to discuss the particulars of the allegation, but would ask that you hold the complainant, Bishop Cliff, and the Diocese of Brandon in your ongoing prayers.”
While an electoral synod on April 29 gave Cliff an overwhelming victory on the first ballot, his election needed to be ratified by the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario’s House of Bishops. This is standard procedure in the Anglican Church of Canada: an episcopal election of a diocesan or suffragan bishop must be ratified by the bishop-elect’s Provincial House of Bishops. Archbishop Germond issued a letter dated May 2 saying:
“I am writing to advise you that I have suspended the concurrence process while an investigation into an allegation against Bishop Cliff takes place. This investigation will likely take longer than seven days and may take months to complete, meaning that the election cannot be ratified at this time.”
She continued: “While this is difficult news to receive, I am asking for your patience and your prayers. While the election is suspended matters will continue in the diocese as is. I know you will continue God’s mission as God’s faithful people. Be assured that as soon as I have something further to communicate regarding this matter I will do so.”
Cliff is probably best known nationally as a member of the Three Cantors singing group, which raised over two million dollars for relief and development work through two hundred concerts held across Canada.
William Cliff was born in 1966 in Sarnia, and grew up in nearby Wyoming, Ontario. He was raised in the Pentecostal Church where, he said, the music “grabs you by the soul and shakes you.” He is a graduate of both Huron University and Kings College at the University of Western Ontario. He has said that he discovered his vocation through music when one of his music professors took him to a cathedral. He joined the choir and not long afterward spoke to the dean of the cathedral about attending a seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.
Since then, he has served as Canon Precentor of the Diocese of Huron and as a board member of the Royal School of Church Music in Canada. He also has been the Chair of the Council of the North, which is responsible for ministry across Canada’s north in assisted dioceses. He is currently Secretary to the House of Bishops of Canada.
At General Synod 2019 Bishop Cliff voted in favour of changing the Marriage Canon. The only candidate running against him in the Ontario election was a priest living in a same-sex marriage. Cliff is considered a centrist bishop with strong preaching ability and a willingness to engage theological questions.
Oulton, who is 63 and has served as diocesan bishop for 12 years, had planned to retire after the installation of the new bishop-elect. In a letter dated May 4, he assured his diocese: “I will remain in office until the installation of my successor, whenever that occurs. There will be no period of vacancy in the Office of Bishop in our diocese.”
About 9,000 Anglicans are on the parish rolls in the Diocese of Ontario. They worship in 63 congregations in 42 parishes in eastern Ontario. The diocese borders the north shore of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River, extending from Quinte West to Cardinal. It is a largely rural diocese. Besides Kingston, which is the see city, other urban centers include Belleville, Brockville, and Trenton.
Metropolitan Kerr-Wilson is expected to appoint someone to lead the Diocese of Brandon until there is an electoral synod to select a new bishop. Cliff has been its bishop since 2016.
The Diocese of Brandon stretches from the top of the civil province of Manitoba at the border with Nunavut down the western half of the province to the border with North Dakota. The Anglican population is thought to be about 11,000; however, as in most dioceses, far fewer attend church regularly. There are about 50 mainly rural parishes, half of which are Indigenous, and almost half the clergy are non-stipendiary.