THE Episcopal Church in the United States is to spend three years out in the cold because of its support for same-sex marriage, the Primates have decided at their gathering in Canterbury.
In a surprise move, a statement was posted on the Primates’ website at 5.30 p.m. on Thursday, a day before the planned press conference, in order to counter speculation that had begun to circulate during the afternoon.
The statement (in full, below) speaks simultaneously of walking together, and of a “significant distance” between some of the provinces. No mention is made of the walk-out by Uganda (see separate story).
The focus, instead, is on the Episcopal Church in the US for causing the current rift in the Anglican Communion, first, by consecrating the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, a partnered gay bishop, in 2003, and, second, by voting to permit same-sex marriage in church at its General Convention in July last year.
The US Church is censured because of its departure from the traditional teaching on marriage, the statement says, and because it acted unilaterally despite various commitments by the Primates to mutual accountability.
As a consequence, the Episcopal Church is required, for the next three years, to withdraw from ecumenical and interfaith talks where it represents the Communion; members cannot be elected to the Communion’s standing committee; and, although it can be represented on the “internal bodies of the Anglican Communion” — essentially the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and possibly at a future Primates’ Meeting — it “will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”.
A task force is to be set up to monitor progress: “to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ”.
The outcome of the gathering mirrors earlier sanctions proposed against the US Church. In 2005 the Primates’ Meeting at Dromantine asked it to voluntarily withdraw from the ACC. In Dar Es Salaam two years later, the conservative Primates were not persuaded by its stance on same-sex relations, and asked for a moratorium.
In the light of these past attempts at censure, the present sanctions may be regarded as relatively light, given the demand for repenance from Primates such as the Archbishop of Uganda. On the other hand, people in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere will be alarmed that the statement makes no mention of those who hold alternative views of marriage, beyond stating that the traditional view was held by “the majority of those gathered”.
No details are given about the composition or work of the proposed Task Group. Its work will be crucial if the Episcopal Church is not to feel punished for holding views that it believes to be right, and the more conservative Provinces are to be satisfied with the Americans’ censure.
Nor is any mention made of what is to happen at the end of three years — or in the interim, if other provinces vote in support of same-sex unions. The General Synod of the Church of Canada will vote this year on changing canon law to allow same-sex marriage.
The fact that the Communion remains intact will be seen by many as an achievement, given the fighting talk that proceeded this week’s meeting. On the other hand, the sketchiness of the plans for the future leave much uncertainty. The reactions of the different provinces over the next few days will be telling.
The Canterbury statement in full:
TODAY the Primates agreed how they would walk together in the grace and love of Christ. This agreement acknowledges the significant distance that remains but confirms their unanimous commitment to walk together.
The Primates regret that it appears that this document has been leaked in advance of their communiqué tomorrow. In order to avoid speculation the document is being released in full. This agreement demonstrates the commitment of all the Primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished.
Questions and further comments will be responded to at a press conference tomorrow at 1500. Full details are available here.
The full text is as follows:
1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.
2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.
4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.
5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.
6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.
7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.