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Tumult in the Torres Strait

Press releases from the Anglican Communion Office said that most of the clergy and all of the seminary students at the Torres Strait Theological College had resigned from the Anglican Communion and joined a competing organization.

The Anglicans Online News Centre has tried to learn why. This article was assembled from online newspapers, various web pages, and information provided by Howard Harris.

The story was first reported in newspapers in Australia in middle February 1998. For example, The Age (a newspaper in Melbourne, which is almost as far away from the Torres Strait as you can get and still be in Australia) carried this story, which we have excerpted below:

The Anglican Church of Australia has lost much of its clergy and lay membership and all 20 students at its Torres Strait theological college in a dispute over the consecration of a bishop some locals say they do not want.

An estimated 23 of 27 ordained priests, nine deacons and large numbers of parishioners from island and North Queensland parishes are said to have resigned over the appointment of Ted Mosby as bishop, who was chosen despite withdrawing his candidature.

The disaffected Anglicans have formed a new church, The Church of Torres Strait, with links to the American-based Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which has 32 priests in Australia. There are now threats of legal action by the new church against the Anglicans to recover about $1 million in investments, an estimated $100,000 in trust funds and rights to leases on church properties.

The crisis is unique in Australian Church history

In Australia the Torres Strait islanders are culturally quite different both from the Aboriginal population and from the European immigrants. There has been a movement for separate government in the islands. They are at the top of Queensland, and you can walk from the northernmost island to Papua New Guinea at low tide, it is said. The people there are Melanesian, with villages and fixed landholdings.

It was from a Torres Stait community that the seminal native title land legal case was run, as Eddie Mabo was able to demonstrate that he and his ancestors had lived and worked on the same block of land since before the European arrival, and that the community acknowledged that this was Mabo land.

An Australian priest named David Chislett, who lives in Brisbane and who is Provincial Secretary of the Society of the Holy Cross, has written a public letter on the Torres Strait issue, which does a good job both of explaining his point of view (he brings an opinion to the situation, but he tells us what it is) and what he has seen from that point of view. To read the letter online you may need to use the "increase font size" feature in your browser. His letter was republished by Forward in Faith, using a much larger type size.

If we at Anglicans Online get any more relevant information on the situation in the Torres Strait, we will update this article and re-list it in the News Centre.


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