TRADITIONALIST dioceses wanting to secede from the Episcopal Church in the United States have been offered an ecclesiastical home in the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America.
The offer had come out of an ongoing dialogue with the disaffected dioceses, and in terms of who took the initiative, it was difficult to say which had been the chicken and which the egg, the Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Greg Venables, said on Tuesday. Speaking from Buenos Aires, where he leads the smallest province of the Anglican Communion, he said the US dioceses in question had reached a point where they could not, in all conscience, stay within the Episcopal Church.
“We simply told them, if you are going to leave, then we will do our best to receive you in a temporary and pastoral way,” he said. “Knowing the Southern Cone’s desire for everyone to be able to stay within the Communion until this situation is in some way or another resolved, the dioceses who are already in close relationship with us discussed the possibility.
“Once people are out of the Anglican Communion, it’s very difficult for them to participate in what’s going to happen. There are so many American groups who have left and lost their status in that way.” Representatives of four US dioceses had gone to Buenos Aires and met with the House of Bishops in mid-August, he confirmed. The Bishops had consequently presented a motion for affiliation to the Synod in Valparaiso last week, which had been overwhelmingly approved.
Bishop Venables already has the Brazilian diocese of Recife under his wing, to which he offered “extra-provincial recognition” in October 2005, after the Primate of Brazil deposed its former bishop, the Rt Revd Robinson Cavalcanti, and 32 of his clergy. He lent his support “until such time as the panel of reference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Anglican Communion has, in some way, adequately addressed this crisis” (News, 7 October 2005).
“We are not going to cross boundaries in this. If [dioceses] want to leave, then they’ve made their decision, and the doors are open — but only those who have taken the steps to walk away from the Episcopal Church,” he emphasised. The three Forward in Faith (FiF) dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, and San Joaquin confirmed at the FiF international conference in London last month that conversations about affiliating with an overseas province were “very far along” (News, 26 October).
When asked if it made any difference whether disaffected dioceses joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) or the Province of the Southern Cone, Bishop Venables said there was “No difference whatsoever. We just feel we’re here to help, and they decide where they’d like to find a home. People are free to choose. If a decision is to be made, we want it to be an accountable and shared decision that we all make, not just an unravelling that happens because circumstances take it that way.”
The Bishops of the Southern Cone have justified their action as a response to a “deep and desperate crisis”. They have cited the absence of references, in the US bishops’ response to the Primates from New Orleans, to Lambeth resolution 1:10 on human sexuality, and to the Anglican Covenant. They also cite the Episcopal Church’s continuing “blessing of what God seeks to redeem”; increasing lawsuits; disregard of the needs of orthodox parishes; and failure to provide alternative oversight.
A call for restraint over the consecration of gay or lesbian bishops could not represent repentance or a moratorium, they considered; blessings had continued unabated. The Joint Standing Committee report of the Anglican Consultative Council had ignored the facts, and the Episcopal Church went unhindered in its efforts to “sanction sexual licentiousness”.
Bishop Venables, who was unanimously re-elected as Primate at the Synod meeting, confirmed that he had had a one-to-one meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury before taking the decision. “We would not have moved if I had not had that conversation with him,” he said.
Official figures for the Southern Cone, comprising the dioceses of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Northern Argentina, put membership at 22,940 — compared with the Scottish Episcopal Church (42,571), and the Church in Wales (78,000).