Primates agree: hold the moratoriums while we talk further

05 February 2009

by Pat Ashworth

All ears: the Primates listen to the Arch­bishop of Canterbury speak in St Mark’s Cathedral (Al-Qiddis Morcos), Alexandria, on Sunday AP

All ears: the Primates listen to the Arch­bishop of Canterbury speak in St Mark’s Cathedral (Al-Qiddis Morcos), Alexandria, on Sunday AP

THE PRIMATES have laid down the terms under which the parallel jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is to be considered by the Anglican Communion.  It will be discussed as a matter of urgency in a “professionally mediated conversation” initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, they say in a communiqué.

The communiqué was issued at the end of the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria on Thursday. All the Primates were there bar the Moderators of the Churches of North and South India and Pakistan, and the Presiding Bishop of the Philippines. They shared, the communiqué states, “a strong desire to see our Christian World Communion flourish and remain united”, and experienced “a discernible mood of graciousness”.

The ACNA was set up last year as a coalition of conservative Anglicans in reaction to what they portray as the liberalisation of the Episcopal Church in the US. It has been recognised by a handful of conservative Primates, but not by Dr Williams or the Communion as a whole.

The Primates say that they unanimously support the recommendations in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group report, which was published two or three hours after the communiqué. This states that there must be no attempt by ACNA to recruit and expand its membership; nor should it expect to negotiate with the rest of the Communion. “It is not for individual groups to claim the terms in which they will relate to the Communion,” says the report. It recommends finding “a provisional holding arrangement”, to be revisited when the Covenant process concludes or when long-term reconciliation in the Communion is achieved.

The Windsor Group’s report does not share the eirenic tone of the Primates’ communiqué. Instead it knock heads together for “intransigence”, and complains about “active fear-mongering, deliberate distortion and demonising” on the internet (details below).

Despite the “honest, deep, and transforming” nature of their discussions in Alexandria, the Primates admit that there is no consensus among them about how ACNA is to be recognised. But they commit themselves to “support these processes and to participate as appropriate”. They insist: “We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important.”

The principles for the conversation stipulate “an ordered approach to the new proposal within, or part of a natural development of current rules.” Unanimity is paramount: “The leadership of the Communion needs to stand together, and find an approach to which they are all committed.”

The Primates say the complexity of the situation and depth of feeling had been manifest when they came to look at the continuing deep differences and disrupted relationships in the Communion. “Matters are not as clear cut as some would portray,” they acknowledge, describing the soul of the Communion as “stretched and threatened by the continuation of our damaged and fractured relationships”. But they said there had been “a common desire to speak honestly about our situation”.

The Primates admit that there are “continuing deep differences” over the three moratoriums requested by the Windsor Group and reaffirmed at the Lambeth Conference: the election of bishops in same-gender relationships, rites of blessing for same-sex unions, and cross-border interventions.  They say: “If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding and hostility cease.”

They acknowledge the “depth of conscientious conviction” held over the Lambeth ’98 Resolution on sexuality, but reiterate that that is the Communion’s position. They urge: “Gracious restraint on all three fronts is urgently needed to open the way for transforming conversation.”

They endorse the Listening Process, extending it beyond the experience of gay and lesbian people to also “require listening to those with different experiences and positions in the current tensions”. They declare the securing of the Covenant to be “a vital element in strengthening the life of the Communion.” The text is to have “a relational basis and tone. . . It is about invitation and reconciliation in order to lead to the deepening of our koinonia in Christ, and which entails both freedom and robust accountability.”

Statements are appended on the urgent needs of Sudan and the “tragic situation” of Gaza. A note of humility marks this communiqué. The Primates say, “We are conscious that the attitudes and deliberations of the Primates have sometimes inadvertently given rise to disappointment and even disillusion.  We acknowledge that we still struggle to get the balance right in our deliberations.”

Windsor Continuation Group report:

ACTIVE fear-mongering, deliberate distortion, and demonising on the web have contributed to the breakdown of trust in the Communion, the report says. The complexity of situations and attitudes has been caricatured.

Both sides come in for heavy criticism: parishes “feel free to choose from whom they will accept episcopal ministry; bishops feel free to make decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures.”

“Litigation and interventions have been locked into a vicious spiral — each seeing the actions of the other as provoking and requiring response.” The purpose, timing and outcome of GAFCON is questioned, and the establishment of the GAFCON Primates’ Council and FOCA “has further damaged trust”.

The report recommends: “On both sides we need to move from intransigence and the conviction that ‘our’ interpretation is the right one to a shared waiting upon God.”

On the moratoriums, it is acknowledged that “the epicentre of the tensions arising out of the moratoria is located within North America, and largely within the Episcopal Church in the US. . . It is here that actions have been taken that exacerbate the sense of hostility and persecution perceived by some conservatives, including the recent action of the Episcopal House of Bishops to depose Bishop Bob Duncan.”

Cross-border interventions by the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone and others have proceeded “apparently in contradiction of the 2005 Dromantine Statement”. In Canada, though, the moratorium on the authorisation of same-sex blessings is being observed in the majority of its 29 dioceses.  Breaches of the moratoriums are considered to be  “equal threats to our life in Communion”. The way they have been challenged or ignored raises the question “how can any decisions or recommendations be given authority or force in the life of the Communion?”

ACNA is named in the report as “a serious and unprecedented development in the life of the Communion”.  If it wants to seek formal membership of the Communion, that presents “formidable problems”. One observation is: “The Windsor report set its face against the concept of parallel jurisdictions; it would be especially tragic if a generous accommodation of the new entity were to be seen as carte blanche for the new province to establish a presence in  localities where no cogent theological basis for differentiation could be advanced.”

Instead, the group believes difference should be accommodated within the official structure. In seeking an undertaking from the Common Cause Partnership (the coalition of Episcopalians and breakaway Anglican Churches that set up ACNA) not to proselytise, the report makes clear: “WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.”

Text of communiqué.

See Dave Walker's blog

Text of communiqué.

See Dave Walker's blog

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