Invitations to the next Lambeth Conference were sent to nearly all the bishops in the Anglican Communion on Tuesday.
Three bishops known not to have been invited are the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, a gay man living in a partnership; the Missionary Bishop consecrated in Virginia by Archbishop Akinola, the Rt Revd Martyn Minns; and the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, a staunch supporter of Robert Mugabe.
None is named in the letter sent by Dr Williams with his invitations; but he writes: “There are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice.” The names were confirmed by the secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon. A fourth bishop, so far unnamed, is also being investigated after questions about his consecration.
The invitations end speculation about whether a welcome would be extended to the bishops in the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Both Churches have key debates ahead about whether they will have a moratorium on gay consecrations and the blessing of gay couples. In 2005, archbishops in the Global South wrote to Dr Williams: “We do not see why you cannot warn [the US and Canada] that they will not be invited to Lambeth 2008 unless they truly repent.”
Anger among liberals about the exclusion of Bishop Robinson, however, means that the row is likely to continue. In a statement on Tuesday, the Bishop called the move “an affront to the entire Episcopal Church”.
“At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a ‘listening process’ on the issue of homosexuality, how does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion? Isn’t it time that the bishops of the Church stop talking about us and start talking with us?”
Invitations to the Lambeth Conference, held every ten years, are in the personal gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In a letter with the invitations, Dr Williams writes: “The Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion, which would require us to be absolutely clear about the standing of all the participants. An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy.”
None the less, Dr Williams goes on, “I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions, or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. . . I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us, and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Canon Kearon said that there were three categories of bishop who had not been invited. The first was Bishop Robinson, named in the Windsor report as a cause of division. Dr Williams was exploring the possibility of inviting him as a non-voting guest. The Canadian bishop at the centre of a related dispute about same-sex blessings, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, has been invited.
The second category was bishops belonging to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), currently the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, consecrated by the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, earlier this month (News, 11 May). Canon Kearon said that he was being bracketed with the bishops of the Anglican Mission in America. In 2000, Lord Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, had called their consecration “irregular” and stated that he was not in communion with them.
The final category was bishops whose standing was being explored. Canon Kearon declined to name them, but admitted that one was the Bishop of Harare.
Dr Williams has asked bishops to reply by 31 July.
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