The Archbishop replies

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has published a reply on behalf of himself and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to an open letter sent in January alleging a failure in the church’s duty of care toward LGBTI Christians ahead of the Primates’ meeting. Read our original story on the open letter here.

In his reply, Archbishop Sentamu reminds Jayne Ozanne and her many co-signatories that

at the concluding News Conference when the Primates’ Communique was first publicised, the Archbishop of Canterbury emphasised that LGBTI people had been very badly treat by churches; for that he offered a personal, heartfelt and unequivocal apology. This is echoed in the communiqué, in which the Primates express their sorrow.

However there needs to be clarity as to what such an expression of repentance does and does not mean. It should not be misconstrued as to include an implicit rejection of the Church’s doctrine of marriage as we have received it. …

Dr Sentamu continues with a fifty-year defence of the Church of England’s actions with regard to human sexuality, beginning in 1957 with the Rt Rev Dr Michael Ramsey’s support for the decriminalization of sexual activity between consenting adults, and concluding,

Most recently in 2014 the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage cited and extended the Dromantine Communiqué statement against homophobic prejudice,… emphasising that members of the Church who entered same sex marriages should “be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments.”

The letter goes on to discuss the nature of a “duty of care” held by the church towards its members, and to question “a culture … that favours repentance and apology in sweeping terms without clarity on what was done wrong.”

It is never wrong, of course, to admit false steps that can be identified and repudiated, but it would be wrong to invoke the language of repentance insincerely, without clarity on what is to be repented of.

The Christian doctrine of marriage continues to be  subject of discord, but the rejection of homophobic prejudice is undisputed. The Primates were also unanimous in their desire to continue walking together, despite their disagreements.

Finally, the Archbishop addressed the issue of “consequences” for the Episcopal Church.

The temporary restriction on the participation of The (American) Episcopal Church in some subsidiary bodies has been wrongly reported as a “sanction” or “suspension”. As with other members of the Communion, The Episcopal Church is self-governing and that is readily acknowledged. Nevertheless, as the Statement from the Primates Meeting said, “unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity, is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.” When a member church thus takes unilateral steps which cause deep pain to other member churches and threatens the unity of the Communion, there are inevitable consequences.

Read the original open letter here, and Archbishop Sentamu’s reply on behalf of himself and Archbishop Welby here.

Photo: The Most Reverend Dr John Sentamu, via

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