US conservatives deny they want a split

02 November 2006

A LEAKED memo from the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC) has been used by groups within the Episcopal Church in the US (ECUSA) in an attempt to “totally derail” the launch this week of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, an AAC spokesman said on Tuesday.

The network was launched at a gathering of 100 bishops, clergy and lay people from 12 Episcopal dioceses. Its elected Moderator, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, declared on Tuesday: “There is now no reason for orthodox Episcopalians to leave Anglicanism.”

The network would operate “within the constitution of the Episcopal Church and in full fellowship with the vast majority of the Anglican Communion,” said an AAC statement from the launch. The AAC’s declared goal, following the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, has been to realign Anglicanism in North America, by means of alternative episcopal oversight within ECUSA.

However, the Revd Geoffrey Chapman, Rector of St Stephen’s, Sewickley, in the diocese of Pittsburgh, sent a memo on behalf of the AAC to orthodox congregations stating that the AAC’s “ultimate goal” should be a “replacement jurisdiction”. The document emphasised: “We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment.”

Negotiated settlements over property would be sought, and if these could not be reached, then “faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary,” it said.

On property disputes, it concluded: “We think the political realities are such that American revisionist bishops will be reticent to play ‘hardball’ for a while. They have just handed the gay lobby a stunning victory, but are being forced to pay a fearsome price for it. The opposition at home is far greater than they anticipated and the opposition overseas is serious and inflamed.”

Mr Chapman urged recipients of the six-page strategy to keep it confidential. However, it came to light in a Tennessee newspaper and in the Washington Post last week.

The Bishop of West Tennessee, the Rt Revd Don Johnson, a moderate conservative who voted against the consecration of Bishop Robinson, promptly accused the AAC “subversive sabotage”. He asked congregations in his diocese to disassociate from the AAC.

In response, the AAC accused Bishop Johnson of “abuse of the office of bishop, by dictating the conscience of Episcopalians in his diocese”. It declared that the Council had “long worked for the reformation and renewal of the Church.

“This is still our desire. We have never said we are leaving,” it said.

Bruce Mason, director of communications for the AAC, said on Tuesday, that it was unfortunate that the memo had got into the public domain, because it had led to “misunderstanding and also misuse” by those wanting to quieten the orthodox voices in the USA.

“Whether or not we even wished that there be a replacement jurisdiction, it’s not our decision to go ahead and decide whether anything created here is going to replace anything. It’s up to the Primates to make that decision,” said Mr Mason.

The Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, Canon John Peterson, expressed concern last week at the “intemperate language and the extravagant claims being made about the state of the Anglican Communion” at a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury had appealed for restraint and time for the Commission to work prayerfully through the issues.


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