Church of Norway re-evaluates

While the Episcopal Church weighs how to deal with the differences in whether to ordain partnered homosexuals or to develop rituals for blessing same sex relationships, and while the House of Bishops debates crucial issues, the National Council of the Church of Norway is reevaluating its pastoral practice after 14 years experience with civil unions in that nation.

The national council of the Church of Norway announced on September 13, 2007 that it has recommended that the church’s General Synod, which meets November 12-17, 2007, rescind guidelines prohibiting the ordination and appointment of members living in state-registered same-sex partnerships.

In a decision taken 13 September, the Church of Norway National Council states in a recommendation to the General Synod that there is no longer the relatively high degree of consensus in the Church of Norway on this sensitive issue as there was in 1995 and 1997. Since that time, the reality is that both the church’s Doctrinal Commission and the Bishops’ Conference are divided near the middle in their assessment of homosexuality. The National Council states, therefore, that it finds it difficult to continue the application of the earlier Synod decisions.

Recognizing that there is not uniform consensus on the issue within the Church, the national council recommends that local bishops and local councils will be responsible to decide on the appoints of all pastors and deacons, and also that each diocese recognize each others decisions whether or not to ordain or appoint.

The recommendation bases itself on what is already Norwegian church law, sc. that the formal authority in matters of ordination and appointment to positions of ordained ministry lies not with the General Synod, but with the relevant bishop and the appropriate appointing church body. For pastors and deacons, the diocesan councils are the appointing bodies. In light of this, the National Council recommends that the General Synod no longer gives general guidelines to the bishops and appointing bodies with regard to ordination and appointment of candidates living in registered same-sex partnership to positions of ordained ministry.

If the Church of Norway General Synod, which will meet 12-17 November 2007, follows the recommendation by the National Council, it will be recognized in the church that the ecclesial bodies responsible for appointments may either appoint, or not appoint, persons living in same-sex partnership. In their procedure they can, if they so wish, take the candidates’ civil status into consideration, without being in breach of Norwegian law or guidelines by the General Synod.

The National Council also requested that the Bishops develop for their dioceses “consistent” processes “whether or not they will ordain homosexual persons living in partnership, and/or provide them with the (normal, but not legally required) episcopal letter of recommendation to the parish(es) they are to serve. The bishops are also requested to consult with each other on how they handle cases where bishops with different practices are involved.”

Previous guidelines had been passed in 1995 and 1997 that persons living in registered same-sex partnerships could serve in some church positions but could not be ordained nor function as pastors. Fourteen years of experience with civil partnerships, which took effect August 1, 1993, has created problems with the enforcement of the current rules. The National Council notes that Norwegian society has generally embraced civil unions, while there remains some differences within the Church. Their recommendations are meant to address the current situation in both Norwegian church and society.

The Council recognizes that “there is still a basis in the church in support of not ordaining or appointing or granting an episcopal letter of recommendation to persons living in same-sex partnership” and, while placing the practice of individual dioceses and bishops in local hands, the Council also recommends a process for working out differences between jurisdictions.

The National Council recommends to the General Synod that all bodies involved in church appointments be asked to actively strive toward good and orderly solutions when different views meet in particular cases.

The recommendation passed the National Council by a vote of 11-4.

Read the rest here.

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