Accuracy of briefing paper on ACNA challenged

by
03 February 2010

by Pat Ashworth

A SENIOR CLERIC of the Anglican Church of Canada has identified inaccuracies in Lorna Ashworth’s briefing paper for her private member’s motion, which will come before the General Synod next Wednesday. Similar concerns are coming from the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Mrs Ashworth’s motion will urge the Synod to “express the desire that the Church of England be in com­munion with the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA}” (News, 22 Janu­ary). Canon Alan Perry, a lecturer in ecclesiastical polity and former Prolocutor of the Province of Canada, rebuts allegations on clergy and property in her paper.

The Revd Brian Lewis, a Synod member from Chelmsford diocese, circulated the note to all members on Monday.

Mrs Ashworth states that six bishops and 69 priests are involved in ACNA, and that bishops and priests who have not left Church of Canada “are deposed without due canonical process”. Canon Perry says that only three former bishops of Church of Canada have associated themselves with ACNA: Bishops Donald Harvey, Ronald Ferris, and Malcolm Harding.

None of these has been deposed, he says. “All three were already retired, and all three voluntarily relinquished their ministry pursuant to Canon XIX of the Anglican Church of Canada.” The other three bishops are “former presbyters recently con­secrated as bishops by ACNA: Stephen Leung, Charles Masters, and Trevor Walters”.

Canon Perry also questions Mrs Ashworth’s figure of 69 of the clergy. Fifty-two were former Church of Canada clerics, he con­firms; the remainder “includes the newly ordained and possibly some other transfers”. In contrast, he gives the total number of Church of Canada clergy in June 2009 as 3861.

He continues: “Not a single Canadian priest has been deposed for joining ACNA. The term is almost entirely unheard of in Can­ada. It is one of the penalties provided for in the Canon on Discipline. However, none of those who have left to join Rwanda or Southern Cone have been canon­ically disciplined.”

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The note suggests it is “quite incorrect to imply that there are not proper avenues of appeal of canon­ical decisions” in Church of Canada. Three levels of appeal are open to any cleric who feels mistreated. Nor is it true, he says, that “relinquish­ment of ministry is simply a mechanism to transfer jurisdiction”.

Canon Perry describes Mrs Ash­worth’s assertions that properties belong to members of congrega­tions as “fallacy”. He also challenges her suggestion that anyone has been “evicted” or “excluded” from Church of Canada. “Some have de­cided voluntarily to leave. . . The consequence of leaving is, well, to leave. But voluntary departure is not the same as exclusion or eviction, and cannot be depicted as such.”

Other statements that he finds incorrect or misleading include those about the use of civil litigation in disputes, and the suggestion that Canadian civil courts have recently adopted an “American” approach to property litigation.

Mr Lewis commented on Tuesday that Canon Perry’s note reinforced the importance of “not being mis­led” about the history of the break­away movements in North America. “There are groups there who were never part of the Anglican Com­munion,” he said.

“I am chiefly concerned at the unfairness of trying to create an impression of being excluded when they had chosen to leave.”

Neither the Episcopal Church in the US nor Church of Canada is able to give a corporate response to a motion before another Synod. But Synod members in the UK were also due to receive this week a note from within the Episcopal Church.

It is expected to contest Mrs Ash­worth’s figure of 12 bishops and 404 clergy “inhibited or deposed” across the spectrum of church tradition. She acknowledges in her paper that her figures are drawn from an American Anglican Council (AAC) paper, “The Episcopal Church: Overbearing and unjust episcopal acts”, written by a deposed Virginia cleric, the Revd Philip Ashey.

The AAC made public that paper (to which Mrs Ashworth provided a web link) with a press release on Tuesday, which says: “The Revd Philip Ashey, AAC chief operating officer and a practising attorney, originally authored the 29-page paper at the request of several members of the Church of England’s General Synod. . . The Synod is expected to vote on the nature of its communion with the ACNA next week.”

Mr Ashey takes as one example the case of the British-born Bishop Henry Scriven, of whom he says:

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“It appears that the Presiding Bishop has attempted to remove from the ministry — or at a minimum, bar from [the Episcopal Church] — a bishop of the Church of England who is subject to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Oxford and is work­ing in England as director of a missionary society of the Church of England, the patron of which is the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Bishop Scriven, a former assistant bishop in Pittsburgh, told the Church Times in January 2009 that he “bore no ill-will” towards the Presiding Bishop for interpreting his resignation from the US House of Bishops as a voluntary renunciation of his orders (News, 30 January 2009). He described the denunci­ation of the Presiding Bishop’s action in “releasing him from his orders” as “a storm in a tea cup”.

The Episcopal diocese of Pitts­burgh confirmed that it was its understanding that in order for Bishop Scriven to exercise his new ministry in Oxford, the canons required him to be released from the Episcopal Church.

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