By Kirralee Nicolle
25 January 2023
The GAFCON-linked Diocese of the Southern Cross has established a congregation in the Diocese of North Queensland, despite North Queensland synod’s vote in 2021 to recognise marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The DSC announced a new congregation on 8 January in Cairns, running its first official gathering that day. Its leader is the Reverend Trevor Saggers, who was previously a priest at a Cairns Anglican Church of Australia parish.
A letter from Bishop Glenn Davies presented at the first meeting of the new congregation said Bishop of North Queensland Keith Joseph was complicit in the legalising of same-sex blessings in the Anglican Church of Australia.
Bishop Davies referenced the refusal of Bishop Joseph to vote on a motion at General Synod in 2022 which sought to affirm marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman.
But Bishop Joseph said he supported the substance of the General Synod motion but chose not to vote as a protest at the manner of the debate.
It comes as there are differing perspectives on the legal status of same-sex blessings in the Diocese of North Queensland.
Bishop Davies letter said Bishop Joseph’s “inability or unwillingness to affirm the statement and the doctrine of the Anglican Communion” had “effectively made same-sex blessings legal in the Diocese of North Queensland”.
The letter went on to say that Bishop Davies believed Bishop Joseph had failed in his episcopal leadership of the diocese.
“He has failed to make an unequivocal statement that same-sex marriage, let alone homosexual behaviour in general, is sinful,” it stated.
“His not voting for the statement at General Synod on such an important matter before the Church, was irresponsible, if not reprehensible. This is not how a bishop in the church of God should lead his people as a shepherd should lead, following the doctrine of Christ.”
Bishop Joseph said he had been in support of the motion at General Synod which upheld marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, but had abstained from voting as a protest against the politicisation of the issue and a lack of the Holy Spirit in the process.
“I found the General Synod process to be so tainted by politics and so just so dirty,” he said.
In a 13 January ad clerum from Bishop Joseph he said the North Queensland Synod in April 2021 passed a motion “recognising … that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one women” [sic]. The ad clerum said that in full the motion read:
Recognizing that the issue of the blessing of same-sex marriage is divisive both in this Diocese and in the broader church and that the Word of God teaches that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one women, this Synod resolves that the Bishop be requested to direct that clergy and lay ministers not be permitted to conduct orders of service for the blessing of same-sex unions and that services for the blessing of same-sex unions not be conducted in places of worship.
In this ad clerum Bishop Joseph said the 2021 North Queensland Synod motion was then given effect by him in a letter sent to all clergy and laity in the diocese on 21 April 2021.
Bishop Joseph said many North Queensland parishioners with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage were opposed to same-sex marriage on cultural grounds.
He said a small percentage of North Queensland parishioners were in favour of same-sex marriage, but most of the rest were either indifferent or opposed to the practice.
A spokesperson from the Diocese of the Southern Cross said that same-sex blessings were in fact currently legal in the Diocese of North Queensland as a result of the Appellate Tribunal’s Wangaratta Blessing Service Opinion from November 2020.
“Same-sex blessings are currently legal in the Diocese of NQ, as they are in any diocese of the ACA where the Bishop has not declared such services either irreverent or unedifying, in accordance with the Canon Concerning Services 1992,” the spokesperson said.
A Diocese of Melbourne legal officer said the legal position was broadly that a minister in a diocese can bless a same-sex marriage unless the Diocesan synod has made a regulation forbidding it, or the Diocesan bishop has determined that the form of service is not reverent and edifying.