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VANCOUVER: Bishop's actions may have been illegal: Anglican parish

Bishop's actions may have been illegal: Anglican parish

VANCOUVER (CP) - An Anglican church defying the bishop of New Westminster by refusing to support same-sex unions has offered him a legal ultimatum.

In a letter delivered to Bishop Michael Ingham on Friday, St. Martin's parish in North Vancouver said that unless the parish is allowed to control its own finances and staffing, it would ask the B.C. Supreme Court to overturn the firing of two church wardens last year.

"We want our church and we want to be able to control our own destiny," parish spokeswoman Linda Taunton said Saturday.

Ingham has until Feb. 23 to respond, she told The Canadian Press.

Diocese chief legal officer George Cadman said the bishop was within church regulations.

"The steps that were taken last year were within the canons and constitution of the diocese," Cadman said.

Last September, Ingham invoked an obscure piece of church law to remove the wardens, St. Martin's parishioners say.

The parishioners maintain that as a legally incorporated organization, they have the right to make decisions for themselves.

They contend Ingham's actions violate the provincial Societies Act.

Cadman, though, says that's not quite accurate.

"The parish corporation is formed under a separate act of incorporation of the diocese which provides for parishes to be incorporated," Cadman said. "All incorporated parishes are subject ultimately to the jurisdiction of the diocese and have their corporate being only through the diocese."

Parishioners say officials appointed by Ingham have changed the church's locks, fired a youth minister, closed down the parish newsletter and website, suspended vestry meetings and blocked volunteers from holding key positions.

The parish has voted twice to seek alternative episcopal oversight.

Ingham has said before he acted only out of concern for maintaining order in the church, and insisted he did not remove the St. Martin's officials because of their views on homosexuality.

Jim Burns is one of the wardens removed by Ingham and says the views of the parish on same-sex unions are consistent with the worldwide church. It is the New Westminster diocese that is out of step, he said.

"The diocese has made decisions outside Anglicanism," Burns said. "Our decisions have been consistent with Anglicanism. So why are we being punished?"

Almost a dozen churches split away from the New Westminster diocese after it approved the blessing of same-sex unions in 2002.

Now, three of the worldwide church's top 38 leaders have come forward to offer episcopal oversight for the dissidents.

Several parishes are considering the offer by church primates from Africa and Southeast Asia, said Leslie Bentley, spokeswoman for the parishes.

The Canadian House of Bishops has established a task force to see how alternative oversight can be established.

"Some of the congregations are just very, very frustrated because it has taken a long time," Bentley said. "This really underscores the need for (the House of Bishops) to get its act together."

Ingham's decision to sanction same-sex unions, and the broader issue of homosexuality, has caused a deep division in the Anglican church.

In October, Anglican leaders met at a crisis conference in London called in part because of Ingham's approval of same-sex unions.

Priests at the protesting parishes have been defying Ingham's authority since 2002. The parishes have stopped paying annual dues to the diocese and started their own organization.

Late last year, Ingham closed one church.

Archdeacon Ronald Harrison had said the church brought the closure upon itself by seeking episcopal oversight from another bishop. He said that a result of the church declaring itself "independent" was that its funds had been stopped and eventually the bishop was forced to close it.

© The Canadian Press, 2004

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