March 25, 2017

March 6, 2014

(updated) [Oz] Bishop Sarah Macneil Conducted Same-Sex “Blessing” While Diocesan Archdeacon

The following comment was left on my website on Wednesday evening,

A few years ago a person who is the daughter of Christian friends of mine entered into a lesbian relationship in Canberra. The two young women participated in a same gender civil union ceremony at an embassy as one of them came from that country. They then participated in a faux “wedding” ceremony conducted by Rev Sarah Macneil at Sarah’s Canberra church. Sarah “got around” both the Church and civil law illegalities of the Church ceremony by describing the ceremony as a “blessing of two individuals” or some such phrase. My friends tell me that the ceremony had all the hallmarks of a church wedding with invitations, walks down the aisle, hymns, prayers with the couple standing at the front before the congregation of invited family and friends etc.

It’s obviously a serious accusation so I’ve done a bit of further work and I can confirm that the ceremony in question did take place in 2007 at All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie when Dr Macneil was rector. It has been suggested to me by a number of sources that Dr Macneil has conducted other such services but I would stress that I’m unable to confirm at the time of writing whether that’s true.

Dr MacNeil was Archdeacon of South Canberra 2001-02 and Diocesan Archdeacon 2003-9 therefore at the time of the ceremony she was in a senior position in the diocese.

It’s also important to note that this occurred under the leadership of Bishop George Browning, prior to Stuart Robinson’s consecration.

I approached Grafton Diocese and asked the following questions:

  1. Did Dr Macneil conduct a ceremony, by any name, that celebrated and endorsed the civil union of these two young women?
  2. Has Dr Macneil conducted any other similar ceremonies that would be understood by concerned observers to be an endorsement of a permanent homosexual relationship?
  3. What would Dr Macneil now do if a minister in Grafton Diocese conducted such a ceremony?

The diocese acknowledged receipt but I have not received any answer.

The facts already established are, of course, entirely consistent with Dr Macneil’s position on human sexuality that we have already reported on. It would be helpful for Dr Macneil to clarify her position on this matter. In particular if she has now changed her position on human sexuality and, if so, what has caused that changed. Since she will be expected to sign up to the Bishops’ Protocol on human sexuality this historical action of hers will be seen to further compromise her ability to do so with integrity. Whether our bishops (and not least those who consecrated her) think that is a problem remains to be seen.

If Dr Macneil was in a senior position in the diocese (as she was at the time, Archdeacons are effectively second only to the bishops) then it also speaks to how people may view her commitment to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the church as a senior figure.

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She learned her lessons well from TEo.  She’s simply providing “prophetic witness.”

Canons, shmanons.  If you can bless a pet or a building, why not a “friendship?”  Geez.  Get with the program.

[1] Posted by Bill2 on 3-6-2014 at 06:47 PM · [top]

“If Dr Macneil was in a senior position in the diocese (as she was at the time, Archdeacons are effectively second only to the bishops) then it also speaks to how people may view her commitment to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the church as a senior figure.”

Unfortunately, it demonstrates that no one cares.  This did not happen in a vacuum, any number of people in the diocese must have known- no one did anything at all about it.  Therefore, you probably have several bishops and senior clergy already in need of being disciplined, and probably deposed.  I would have thought it near impossible for some of her consecrators not to have been aware. 

I assume from what is in the article that she was archdeacon under a previous bishop’s administration, and that the current bishop has at least plausible deniability.

Does Australia have any disciplinary procedures?  I seem to read a good deal about this or that diocese or parish, or individual clergy, violating any number of canons, rubrics, etc.  Never hear about charges being brought.

[2] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-6-2014 at 08:20 PM · [top]

Well, then, I guess Putin won’t be worrying anymore about complaints from either TEc or the Australian church about “creating facts on the ground.”  I can hear his sigh of relief here in mid-continental-America.

[3] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 3-6-2014 at 10:20 PM · [top]

That sounds much more out in the open the the usual sneaky, small, private “generous pastoral response” that has been going on in TEc for years. I am not aware of any disciplinary action in TEc against clergy guilty of performing back alley blessings/marriages, and I would be pleasantly surprised if the Aussies act on this matter.

[4] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-6-2014 at 10:30 PM · [top]

Aren’t you glad she’s on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion:

[5] Posted by Robert Lundy on 3-7-2014 at 01:23 PM · [top]

And people wonder why I am now quite happily an LCMS layman, rather than an Anglican priest.

[6] Posted by Chip Johnson+, cj on 3-7-2014 at 01:56 PM · [top]

Twenty years ago, the thing that did the most to convince me that conservatives were losing in the Episcopal Church (actually, that the cause was already lost) was to look at the composition of TEC’s Executive Council.  I get the same awful feeling looking at the list of members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, especially when I remember how this Standing Committee was created to nullify the effect of decisions by the Primates.  Thank you for the link to that list, Robert (#5).

Robert Munday+  (not to be confused with my near namesake, Robert Lundy)  smile

[7] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 3-7-2014 at 01:59 PM · [top]

#5- with Janet Trisk gone, there was a risk that sanity might return to the Standing Committee, and obviously the ABoC could not allow such a thing.

This is the result when you allow racism to overrule democracy (with 60% of the standing committee representing 20% of the Communion).  Time to rearrange the ACC geographic regions to coincide with membership- of the 5 ACC regions, 3 of them should be in Africa, one in Asia-Australia, and 1 for everyone else.

Australia likes to pretend to be moderate, but so long as they are represented at the Communion level by the likes of MacNeil and Aspinall, I doubt very much they will be perceived that way outside their bailiwick.

[8] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2014 at 02:34 PM · [top]

“Unfortunately, it demonstrates that no one cares.” Sarah MacNeil was the local favourite at the last Canberra-Goulburn episcopal election. The lay people thought otherwise and elected a (moderate) Sydney Anglican, Stuart Robinson. He’s just appointed a Moore College lecturer a Andrew Cameron to head Canberra’s theological college.

Now there’s a great deal that David Ould and Stand-firmers will disagree about how Stuart has handled the situation, i.e. the consecration.
But the election showed that people do care. Heaps of them.

John Sandeman

[9] Posted by obadiahslope on 3-7-2014 at 04:46 PM · [top]

#9- My remark was perhaps ill phrased.  Obviously some people care- David Ould enough to write about it, and you and others enough to read the piece and comment.  What I was intending to say was that the leadership of that diocese, and the leadership of the Church of Australia are OK with archdeacons blessing gay partnerships/civil unions/gay marriages, and made this evident by taking no action whatsoever when a priest openly violated canons and

[10] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2014 at 05:55 PM · [top]

sorry, computer glitch, time to clean the keyboard…

At any rate, this episode demonstrates that no one in the Church of Australia who is in a position to file charges against those who oppose Biblical marriage and flagrantly violate church canons is willing to file those charges.  Else they would have. 

Essentially, it appears that the church leadership outside of Sydney is on the CoE bandwagon.  Even Sydney seems to have its hands tied.  Reading these stories from the states, one gets the impression sometimes that an Australian bishop or archbishop has about as much actual disciplinary authority as the dean of a Michigan deanery.

[11] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2014 at 06:02 PM · [top]


I agree with your par “At any rate….” I rather think I made that point earlier in this debate. not saying I was first or anything.

Not sure I agree with your par that begins “Essentially….” There are a couple of bishops
outside of Sydney that seem to me to be quite good at quiet discipline. For example
Sarah MacNeil resigned as dean of Adelaide. Why? In protest at a gay priest leaving the church.

Not knowing much about Michigan deaneries I could not possibly comment on your comparison.

[12] Posted by obadiahslope on 3-7-2014 at 09:13 PM · [top]

“Reading these stories from the states, one gets the impression sometimes that an Australian bishop or archbishop has about as much actual disciplinary authority as the dean of a Michigan deanery.”

That’s cruel but fair, tj, as Monty Python would say. 

Although, it would also be fair to say that a bishop has considerable disciplinary authority within his or her own diocese.  As John observes at #12, when Sarah Macneil was Australia’s first female Anglican Dean in Dio Adelaide, she resigned after only two years, at about the same time a homosexual priest was forced to leave.  More about the Archbishop of Adelaide below.

But now the diocese of Grafton has chosen Sarah McNeil as their bishop, that makes her a little like a Pope within that diocese.  It is a little smaller than Rome, however… rolleyes

Can charges be brought?  Yes, I believe there are ways.  But what is the point of bringing charges if they will be shot down by her fellow bishops and clergy?  No-one is accusing her of any serious impropriety, such a fraud, aggression etc.  Even orthodox Anglicans would think twice about condemning her in those circumstances.  Plus, in these country areas extreme liberal theology often predominates, among ageing, struggling churches.  They are often served by part-time priestesses, with literature that quotes Jack Spong and J.A.T. Robinson.  Lay power-brokers are entrenched.  She would also be supported by many other bishops if any move was made against her except on serious grounds.

Her former boss, ++Driver of Adelaide, brought charges against the bishop of the Diocese of the Murray in 2010, and it seems that the accused resigned before the hearing - here is an article on it:

But the Diocese of the Murray is one of the few genuinely anglo-catholic (as opposed to affirming catholic) dioceses in Australia, plus I would have thought that the charges against +Davies were far more serious than anything suggested against +Macneil.

[13] Posted by MichaelA on 3-11-2014 at 12:49 AM · [top]

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