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Back to the page on Lay Presidency

Statement from the Most Rev Harry Goodhew, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney concerning the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney vote in favour of diaconal and lay presidency — November 10, 1999

On 19th October 1999 the Synod of the Diocese passed the third reading of the above Ordinance by a majority of 122 to 66 in the house of clergy with 2 informal votes, and 224 to 128 in the house of laity with 1 informal vote.

Section 5 ( c ) of the Anglican Church of Australia Constitution Act 1902 states that,

no ordinance shall take effect or have any validity unless within one month after the passing of the same the Bishop shall assent thereto in writing....

Unless I give my consent prior to 19th November 1999 the Ordinance will not take effect and will have no validity.

I have given this matter considerable thought. I have sought to weigh the options and the issues and consequences associated with each. I value the prayers that have been offered on my behalf and the comments and letters I have received.

Three matters have emerged as the most important in coming to my decision.

The first is the strength of the vote in favour of the Ordinance. It cannot be said that the matter has not been well canvassed and the Synod has delivered a clear verdict. The majority was not quite 2/3. No bishop can ignore the opinion of his Synod so strongly expressed. It certainly has great weight with me if for no other reason than that in 1985 I presented to the Synod, on behalf of a Committee appointed to consider this issue, a Report that supported Lay Presidency. The substance of my dissenting view can be read in the Report but I am well aware of, and appreciate, the strength of the Scriptural and theological arguments advanced in support of the Synod's decision..

The second is my role as a Bishop in this Church. Though elected as the Bishop of this diocese I am bound to uphold the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia. The matter touches not only the life of my diocese but the Church in Australia and the wider Communion and I must consider my constitutional responsibilities. I am bound to ask whether this Ordinance is one which a single diocese can validly make? I do not believe that I am required to weigh the answers of individuals to this question. As a bishop I have both the right and the duty to accept the opinion of the body established by this Church for giving an opinion on such an issue. On 24th December 1997 the Appellate Tribunal gave an Opinion by a majority of 6 to 1 that an individual diocese did not have the power to pass an Ordinance of this kind without the authority of a General Synod Canon. This opinion cannot be taken lightly.

The third is the impact on the Australian Church and the wider Communion of my decision. If I was not aware of it before, correspondence and phone conversations over the last weeks have certainly convinced me that whatever we do will have a significant impact. I am particularly sensitive on this point because I have been engaged since Lambeth with other parts of the Communion arguing against unilateral action over crucial moral issues and attendant theological norms. To act unilaterally myself and without wide consultation would undermine my credibility in those ongoing debates.

Having carefully and prayerfully weighed these matters I have decided to withhold my assent to the Ordinance.

I hope that the members of the diocese will understanding my reasoning even if they cannot share it. I hope those elsewhere who may be pleased with my decision will exercise similar restraint when dealing with the moral issues on which the Bishops of Lambeth expressed such a strong and clear view.

November 10, 1999

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