New Zealand Herald, 6 June 04


Top bishop's vision: a world without gays


The new head of the Anglican Church [in New Zealand] has a vision of a world without homosexuality.

Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, 75, is a controversial replacement for Archbishop John Paterson, who has headed New Zealand's largest church for seven years.

Bishop Vercoe is a staunch supporter of the Treaty of Waitangi and has been outspoken over the years on homosexuality, immigration and the place of women in the church.

In his first big interview since his appointment, he told the Weekend Herald he believed that homosexuality was unnatural and not morally right.

"And that's not quoting scripture either... I'm just basing it on my human - I'spose I should be basing it on scripture also, but I'm basing it on human accepted norms."

His words come as the country prepares to debate the Civil Union Bill, which would give gay couples the same legal rights as married couples.

The Anglican Church welcomes homosexuals in its congregation but is divided worldwide over same-sex marriage and ordaining gays.

In New Zealand there are a number of gay priests, but it is up to individual bishops whom they ordain.

Bishop Vercoe says he does not condemn homosexuals as individuals, rather he loves them as people, but he says ordination is like saying it is all right to have same-sex marriages and same-sex parents.

One day society would find homosexuality unacceptable, he said.

"It may not come in our time but it will come. There will be a strong reaction, well, for later generations, we [will] suddenly discover a morality, a new morality."

Bishop Vercoe's appointment is particularly significant as the country debates race relations.

He has supported separate structures for Maori and said recently that Maori were here before Pakeha and had nowhere else to go.

The Rev. Dr Janet Crawford, from the Auckland School of Theology, credits him with shaking up the church after a speech at Waitangi in 1990 before the Queen where he said Maori had been marginalised and the treaty had not been honoured.

"He is a remarkable man really. I think when he spoke at Waitangi that was a courageous thing to do and it certainly had a huge impact on the church over time. I think it was a real wake-up call and people took what he said seriously. In combination with other things, that has influenced the direction of the church."

In 1992 the church rewrote its constitution and split into three tikanga (cultural) sections - Pakeha, Maori and Polynesian. Each is run according to its own traditions and cultures.

Bishop Vercoe headed the Maori church and is the first Maori to be made archbishop since the change.

Richard Randerson, Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, said the Pakeha synod had felt it was time the leadership passed to tikanga Maori.

Bishop Vercoe's views on homosexuality and women in the church arose out of a cultural context, he said.

"There are areas within Maoridom today where leadership by women is not accepted as well as it is in other parts of Maoridom.

"Likewise with issues of homosexuality, I think probably most Maori would find that culturally very difficult."

A leadership with a more Maori dimension would be good for the church -- and good for the nation.

"From what I've heard, there's a lot of people within Maoridom generally, outside the church, who have seen this as a very far-sighted appointment.

"They're saying that this is a real signal to the nation that we are not just one culture."

Glynn Cardy, vicar-elect of the liberal St Matthew-in-the-city in Auckland, said he hoped that in time the Anglican Church in New Zealand would unequivocally welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and would not withhold any sacrament from them because of their sexuality.

But he also said that the appointment of Bishop Vercoe did notsend a negative signal.

"He is a man of many gifts and much mana. I have especially valued in the past his alignment internationally with minority indigenous groups seeking justice."

Oliver Hall, editor of the gay newspaper Express, said the views on homosexuality came as no surprise.

"It's weird, though, that it's the Anglican Church who elsewhere have been making leaps and bounds towards trying to include homosexuals recently, so it's kind of sad, but it's not really unexpected."