Group proposes standstill to ease Anglican tensions

by
31 July 2008

Pat Ashworth reports from Canterbury

One way forward: Bishop Handford’s group presents its preliminary observations to the Lambeth Conference ACNS

One way forward: Bishop Handford’s group presents its preliminary observations to the Lambeth Conference ACNS

IN LIEU of any other indicators, the “preliminary observations” of the Windsor Continuation Group were seized on on Monday as a sign of how the Anglican Communion might patch up its divisions.

The group, chaired by the former Primate in Jerusalem & the Middle East, the Rt Revd Clive Handford, calls for moratoriums on blessings for same-sex unions; on the consecration of anyone living in an openly gay relationship; and on any cross-border acts and interprovincial claims of jurisdiction.

It also recommends the swift formation of a “pastoral forum” at Communion level to engage “theologically and practically” with divisive situations that might arise. It would be “a body that could respond quickly to pressure points in the Communion”, Bishop Handford said.

The forum would be responsible for addressing “those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the Communion against the recommendations of the Windsor report. It could also offer guidance on what response and any diminishment of standing might be appropriate where any of the three moratoria were broken.”

The Windsor group suggests that the moratorium has some retro-active force. It “requires the cessation of . . . practices that may already have been authorised as well as proposed for authorisation in the future, and anything in the pipeline must cease”.

Bishop Handford said, however: “We are not anywhere intending to imply that Bishop Gene Robinson should resign as a result of what we have called for in our observations, because we are aware that [he] was elected bishop according to the processes of the Episcopal Church. Whatever we may think about that, none the less we recognise that they went through a process.”

The document acknowledges the difficulty of making moratoriums stick in the past: “The failure to respond presents us with a situation where, if the three moratoria are not observed, the Communion is likely to fracture. The patterns of action currently embraced with the continued blessings of same-sex unions and of interventions could lead to irreparable damage.”

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On the matter of encroachments into overseas provinces, the Windsor group says unequivocally: “The proliferation of ad hoc episcopal and archiepiscopal ministries cannot be maintained.” It recommends a scheme in which existing ad hoc jurisdictions could be held “in trust” in preparation for their reconciliation within their proper provinces.

As Bishop Handford described it: “They will not then be dependent on Primates or others in other provinces, but they will be held together in what you might call a kind of holding bay, a safe space, which will have a very real link to the pastoral forum. They will be there, ‘held in trust’, as it were, until the day when, through dialogue, they can return to their parent bodies.”

This was a temporary solution, he said: “The ‘holding-bay’ principle is not designed for people to opt into in the future, nor to be a growing body.” It is meant to be a diminishing body, as dioceses or parishes return. What would happen to property has yet to be worked out. This was “broad brush . . . a lot of teasing out to be done”.

The document reaffirms the assurances given to gay men and lesbians in the Lambeth ’98 Resolution 1.10, and calls for all bishops to influence their governments to work towards the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The Windsor Continuation Group drew up its observations before the Lambeth Conference, though it has “tweaked” them in Canterbury, Bishop Handford said later. The group heard verbal responses at a special hearing on Monday. At the hearing, humidity was at its highest so far, and the heat perhaps accounted in part for the weariness of many as they emerged.

The arrangement was that those who wished to speak queued at a microphone. There was no selection of speakers to ensure balanced representation. Of the 25 speakers, 18 were reported to have been North American, from both sides of the divide. “They were basically just slagging each other off,” said one bishop.

The timetable is to present the observations and the bishops’ responses at the next Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica next May, although Bishop Handford acknowledged that something might have to be done sooner than that.

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