Catholics write to back Iker

by
21 November 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Catholic support: the Rt Revd Jack Iker (left) and the Rt Revd Robert Duncan outside the General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, last summer THE LIVING CHURCH

Catholic support: the Rt Revd Jack Iker (left) and the Rt Revd Robert Duncan outside the General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, last summer T...


THE Catholic Group on the General Synod has initiated a letter of support for the Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker. He has been warned by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, of disciplinary action if his diocese changes its constitution to effect secession from the Episcopal Church.

The letter has 51 signatories. It applauds Bishop Iker’s “stand for scripture and traditional Faith and Order” and describes the Episcopal Church’s “departure” from this as “deeply damaging and divisive within the Anglican Communion and in our relationships with major ecumenical partners”. It describes the leadership’s use of litigation as “nothing short of a scandal”.

It continues: “We are delighted by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement in response to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida that any diocese compliant with Windsor remained in communion with the See of Canterbury and the mainstream of the Anglican Communion, and trust that you and your diocese will be encouraged thereby.”

The signatories “look to the Church of England to give a lead in modelling better ways of handling disagreement to the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Communion”.

Thirty-four of the 51 names are common to an earlier letter sent by conservative Evangelical members of Synod in support of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt Revd Bob Duncan, who received an identical letter from Dr Jefferts Schori. Prebendary David Houlding, who signed the letter to Bishop Iker, confirmed that the Catholic Group had had no involvement in the letter to Bishop Duncan.

That letter described the leadership of the Episcopal Church as “unitarian and universalist in theology, and coercively utopian in social practice”. It also expressed the signatories’ “disturbance” that the Episcopalian leadership was to be invited to the Lambeth Conference, but not “faithful Anglican bishops”.

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Prebendary Houlding said on Tuesday that he would not have felt able to sign the Duncan letter, even if he had been asked.

“The concerns are slightly different. There is a general concern about the use of secular courts to try and solve what is an ecclesial problem, and that would be shared by a lot of people who didn’t support either Iker or Duncan,” he said. “Threatening secular legislation, as far as we are concerned in the Church of England, is an unthinkable way of going about things.”

But, importantly, the letter to Bishop Iker differed in supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury in his handling of the Communion issues, Prebendary Houlding said. “This is not a letter critical of Dr Williams. What Jack Iker has done in Fort Worth is try on the one hand to distance himself from the Episcopal Church, but also try to retain the unity of the Church with Canterbury — to retain a genuine place in the Anglican Communion. That’s what we’re supporting,” he said.

“I think our letter is slightly more positive. The other is really a hard-line Evangelical letter, and, although there may be some overlaps, I was very unhappy with it for that reason. I heard between the lines lots of criticism of Rowan Williams coming through, and lots of criticism of the Episcopal Church, and I was not comfortable with that.”

An earlier draft of the letter to Bishop Iker was rejected as too hard-hitting and too critical. Prebendary Houlding said: “We are not out to criticise the Episcopal Church as such, but to put down a marker about the way they are handling the crisis, through the secular courts.” Catholic concerns were to do with ecclesiology and authority: “the way we are Church; how we behave as a Church and make our decisions and retain our unity”.

The Catholic Group hoped that the C of E would model a better way of resolving disputes, through proper synodical means, and was encouraged that the Synod had consistently, in all the voting on women bishops, agreed that there would be proper provision for those in conscience who could not accept it. 

 “We don’t want to be persecuted, and we don’t want to do it by breaking away from the Church of England. We want a solution whereby the Church of England embraces everybody,” Prebendary Houlding concluded. He confirmed that Dr Williams had been informed about the letter to Bishop Iker.

The Catholic Group hoped that the C of E would model a better way of resolving disputes, through proper synodical means, and was encouraged that the Synod had consistently, in all the voting on women bishops, agreed that there would be proper provision for those in conscience who could not accept it. 

 “We don’t want to be persecuted, and we don’t want to do it by breaking away from the Church of England. We want a solution whereby the Church of England embraces everybody,” Prebendary Houlding concluded. He confirmed that Dr Williams had been informed about the letter to Bishop Iker.

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