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Worley and the Windsor moratoria in Canada

I am a sheep. I follow with the flock, mostly, led by bishops whom I trust are ultimately led by Jesus. Most of the time I keep silent and happily plod along. Occasionally, however, my sheep brain is shocked by the direction my bishops are leading. I grant that I might not be able to grasp the full rationale and weightiness behind their decisions. I trust them — I do — even if it is with a nervous eye, and I bleat now and then (politely, I hope), when their decisions don’t make sense to me.

The Rev. Jacob Worley was elected to be Bishop of Caledonia on April 22, but then denied consecration by the House of Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon. The denial was on the grounds of a breach of the province’s Canon 4(b)vi, “That he or she teaches or holds or has within five years previously taught or held anything contrary to the Doctrine or Discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

What did he teach or hold? His canonical breach involved Canon XVII.5.a. of the Anglican Church of Canada which reads: “No bishop, priest or deacon shall exercise an ordained ministry within a diocese without a license or temporary permission from the diocesan bishop.”

The bishops referred to Fr. Worley’s involvement with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), in which he served as a priest within the jurisdiction of a diocese of the Episcopal Church, without the consent of the diocesan bishop, but rather under license from the Anglican Church of Rwanda. Apparently, from the reports by Anglican Journal, Worley continues to hold that his ministry at this time was appropriate.

If this all seems somewhat complicated, that’s because it is. Yet all of the furor surrounding Fr. Worley’s election and the bishops’ objection may remain fairly opaque to many. There are questions: Why is this only happening now, after the election? Was it not known before that Fr. Worley had been involved in AMiA? (It seems so; the Anglican Journal reported it at the time.) Further, why did it seem congenial to the whole Diocese of Caledonia — lay and ordained — to elect him as their bishop? And perhaps the most troubling question: If Fr. Worley is teaching or holding something contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada, should he be a priest, let alone a bishop?

At the end of the day, however, this decision seems reasonable enough. If all I understand is true, and Fr. Worley is prevented from exercising episcopal ministry due to a canonical impediment, then the decision of the bishops of the Province of British Columbia and Yukon was the correct one. (Though I note here Bp. David Parsons and his objection that this decision is simply increasing the momentum of division in the ACoC.)

Where my little sheep brain becomes confused is with the inconsistency across the church.


If anyone has been following the streak of episcopal elections in the Anglican Church of Canada during the past year, something may sound eerily familiar about all this. The canon cited is quite similar to Canon 3.2.e of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, which states that an objection to the election of a bishop may be made if that person has been “teaching or holding at the time, or within the five previous years, anything contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.” This was the precise objection made to the election of Fr. Kevin Robertson as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto, specifically because he was “a candidate in an active same-sex relationship” and this “contradicts, by word and example, the doctrine and discipline of the Church.”

The priests who made this objection would have had in mind Canon XXI.2: “The Church affirms in like manner the goodness of the union of man and woman in marriage, this being of God’s creation,” as well as the rest of the canon that assumes marriage to be between a man and woman.[1] Similarly, consider XXI.17.b: “The contract of marriage requires the free and voluntary consent of the parties to marry each other upon the terms set out in the Preface of this Canon, based upon adequate understanding by each of them of the nature of the union and of the mutual relations of husband and wife and of parents and children” (emphasis added). The thought here is that being in an active same-sex relationship contradicts the current teaching of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Now there are some differences in the two cases cited above: First, those objecting in Fr. Worley’s case were bishops, while those objecting in Bp. Robertson’s case were priests. Second, the decision of the bishops was thus final and binding, while the objections made by several priests to Bp. Robertson’s election were ultimately dismissed by Abp. Colin Johnson. Third, the objection to Fr. Worley was purely on legal grounds, with no scriptural or theological rationale to go along side of it. Meanwhile, in the case of Bp. Robertson, the legal objections were couched in an argument undergirded scripturally and theologically. (One may disagree with the legitimacy of these arguments; I am only pointing out that there was an attempt to ground them in something beyond canon law.)

But there is a broader difference related to the nature of episcopal authority and the willingness to exercise that authority in accordance with canon law. With Fr. Worley and the case of “cross-border intervention,” it seems that the canons were applied with clear consistency. With Bp. Robertson and the case of “sexuality,” they were not. It seems to be no accident that the application of the canons in these two cases relates to two fundamental problems within the Anglican Communion and even to the moratoria of the Windsor Report regarding episcopal elections, same-sex unions, and cross-border interventions (see §§ 134, 144, 155).

Occasionally, a problem within contemporary Anglicanism is that we think canonically, legalistically, or procedurally, without reference to the larger norms and figures of authoritative Scripture. In other words, there is a consistent failure to reason theologically or even to take counsel together with Scripture in mind. Canon law becomes everything; or voting and procedural decision-making become everything. However, in the Anglican Church of Canada, we seem to be facing an even worse problem: a readiness, in some parts, to jettison all of our communal norms.

And so we are set adrift. Where will all this lead?


[1] The objection may also refer to section 17.c.viii of the same canon, in which an inability or refusal to consummate the marriage means that consent is not present. Unless one expands the definition of consummation to include something other than vaginal intercourse — which seems to be assumed since one of the purposes of marriage is the procreation of children (if it may be) — then I think this presents problems for those in same-sex marriages.


  1. The author’s educational institution speaks to his point of view. If he had no issues with Kevin Robertson’s election, this article would not have been written. He seems not to be aware that the reason why the nomination was allowed to stand is that there is no mechanism in the Canons of that Province to object before an election. Worley’s membership in his diocese, and thus in the ACoC is a more important issue. He could not stand for election without being in good standing in his diocese, which is the decision of his bishop. He should not have been in the ACoC at all, but he found an amenable bishop, which is a problem in itself with the church. That bishop also tried to manipulate the Canons of his diocese to allow a co-adjutor to be elected at the same Synod where the Canon was approved and without any notice. Knowing Worley’s influence with that bishop, his election would not be a surprise in a small diocese where such things are tightly controlled. Worley, his wife, and son, were all members of General Synod last year. How convenient and how odd. The bishops of that Province were simply doing due diligence since Worley had made it clear that he would leave and take the diocese with him. Not only is there the cost of litigation and the uprooted lives of clergy whose jobs would would be in jeopardy, but there is also the simple fact that it would be inconceivable to allow something to happen which was not just a possibility, but a certainty. Objections to Robertson’s orientation seem absurd, since he was a faithful and loyal priest in good standing in his diocese. If he was not eligible for the episcopate, he was not eligible to be a parish priest. Worley’s threats would have been acted on. Better an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure. A small controversy today or a huge catastrophe tomorrow.

    • Adam,

      Thanks for your response on this.

      You are correct that if I had no issues with Bp. Robertson’s election I probably would not have written the article. As I wrote above, as far as I can tell the decision about Worley is fair:

      “At the end of the day, however, this decision seems reasonable enough. If all I understand is true, and Fr. Worley is prevented from exercising episcopal ministry due to a canonical impediment, then the decision of the bishops of the Province of British Columbia and Yukon was the correct one.”

      I would not have batted an eye if canon law was applied consistently in Robertson’s case as it was in Worleys; it was the inconsistency that troubled me. It was because canon law was applied in Worley’s case and no Robertson’s that caused me to write.

      I see your points about the potential fallout with the election of Worley, and I think they are probably legitimate.

      But this is precisely the point: In order to stand for election one has to be a priest in good standing, which is the decision of the diocesan. Both Worley and Robertson were seen to be in good standing, though, as I have argued, both seemed to be contravening canon law by holding positions contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. For Worley this is allegedly a rejection of jurisdictional principles and for Robertson it’s a rejection of the Church’s current teaching on sexuality. The objections to Robertson’s election were not focused on his orientation but his practice; Bishop Chamberlain of the C of E is openly gay, but he upholds the Church’s teaching on sexuality by keeping celibate – there is no scandal here. Orientation is not the issue.

      What I mean to say is that if you take canon law seriously neither Worley or Robertson were priests in good standing. If you don’t take it seriously, both decisions may be permissible (at least with respect to canon law). However, the only way to uphold one election and not the other is by turning a blind eye to canon law in one case.

      I’m not sure what you mean to do by noting my affiliation with Wycliffe College, however. Some of the most persuasive voices (at least in my view) on both sides of canon change at GS 2016 were Wycliffe College Alumni.


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