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Fall-out from the Primates' Meeting

IT COULD have been much worse. Before absorbing the reactions, and especially the disappointment of non-conservatives, it is as well to acknowledge this. We had been assured repeatedly that all the Primates wished to retain the one, global, united Anglican Communion; but there was a strong possibility that some of their number would lose patience in the search for it post-New Hampshire, post-New Westminster. The conclusion of the meeting in Newry, however, was that they would continue to seek it together.

There was no formal break, though the declarations of impaired or broken communion made a year ago remain in force, as shown in the Primates' unwillingness to share the eucharist. Nor was there any mention in the final communiqué of severing the Americans or the Canadians from three of the four instruments of Anglican unity: the Lambeth Conference, the Primates' Meeting or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The implications of voluntary suspension from the fourth instrument, the Anglican Consultative Council, are far from clear. Viewed from one perspective, the penalty is slight: rather like being told that you are barred from deanery synod for a while. It is debatable whether one Anglican in 100 has heard of the ACC or knows what it does. From another perspective, however, to be excluded from the foremost representative council in the Communion is a serious hindrance. Consulting and advising is the level at which Anglicanism works. It is all there is.

The invitation to withdraw is, above all else, a foretaste of how the Communion might function if the Windsor report's recommendations for an Anglican Covenant are approved in the future. Conservatives are clear that these sanctions, though the mildest imaginable, are the start of a process that could leave parts of the Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the US out of the Communion. This was strengthened by Dr Williams's opinion, voiced in a radio interview, that repentance was needed to restore the two provinces to a full relationship.

The Americans and Canadians will have many questions: exactly what undertakings are expected of them in the next three years; whether their participation in other Communion activities might be affected; and, most important, what might happen at the end of those three years, especially in relation to Lambeth '08.

They will also want an assurance that the debate about homosexuality will be pursued in all provinces. If this exercise is simply about waiting for the North Americans to come back into line, it runs contrary to the letter of the Lambeth '98 commitment to listen to homosexuals in the Church. If all the provinces do this with an open mind, we cannot know the outcome. The Canadian and US Churches need not yet feel out in the cold.

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