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The Primates Meeting at Dromantine, February 2005
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
27 February 2005

Last week I wrote that:

The Church of England's General Synod is now widely regarded as having voted in favour of all the specific recommendations of the Windsor Report, although they have in fact done something quite different: they voted in favour of giving Rowan Williams their unstinting support in whatever course of action he is able to persuade the primates to agree to. This may or may not turn out to be exactly the same as the WR recommendations. The specific WR recommendations hardly figured at all in the course of the debate.

And indeed the specific short-term Windsor Report (WR) recommendations hardly figure at all in the primates' recommendations (PM), although many general principles of the WR are endorsed, particularly those in Parts A and B, and WR thinking lies behind much of their communiqué. However, a great deal of compromise by all sides is evident. In this article I make no attempt to treat the communiqué comprehensively, and limit myself to the specific short-term recommendations, although the importance of the primates' endorsement of WR principles should not be underestimated.

In what follows I use the following typographical conventions: The WR recommendations are in italics prefaced by paragraph numbers in parentheses. The PM recommendations are in bold and prefaced by paragraph numbers. The numbered footnotes to the communiqué are incorporated in the text but placed in bold italics.

First here are the introductory paragraphs from the primates concerning their specific recommendations:

6. ... There are a number of things which are quite clear. Many primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which should command respect as the position overwhelmingly adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion, has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America. At the same time, it is acknowledged that these developments within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements (vi).

(vi) In the statement of October 2003, we wrote “The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) has explained to us the constitutional framework within which the election and confirmation of a new bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) takes place. As Primates, it is not for us to pass judgement on the constitutional processes of another province. We recognise the sensitive balance between provincial autonomy and the expression of critical opinion by others on the internal actions of a province.”

We also wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship. (vii) See the Windsor Report, paragraph 146.

It is not often that Anglican bishops use the word anathema. Historians please note this.

11. We accept the principle articulated in Section D of the Windsor Report concerning the universal nature of the ministry of a bishop within Anglican polity (xi). Although formidable practical problems would attend any formal process of wider consultation in the election and confirmation of bishops, we request that Provinces should themselves find an appropriate place for the proper consideration of the principle of inter-dependence in any process of election or confirmation. (xi) The Windsor Report, paragraphs 124 – 132.

To clarify this recommendation briefly, WR para 131 said in part:

In our view, all those involved in the processes of episcopal appointment, at whichever level, should in future in the light of all that has happened pay proper regard to the acceptability of the candidate to other provinces in our Communion; the issue should be addressed by those locally concerned at the earliest stages, by those provincially involved in the confirmation of any election, and not least by those who, acting on those decisions, consecrate the individual into the order of bishop

The following paragraph has to be considered as a severe rebuke to North Americans, which sets the tone for much that follows.

12. We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness. Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered.

The communiqué then proceeds to deal with individual specifics. I previously listed elsewhere the specific WR recommendations under seven numbered headings. I re-use this numbering below and for each item copy in the relevant paragraphs of the primates' meeting communiqué. This does involve taking them out of numeric order in some cases.

1. To ECUSA as a corporate body, requesting an expression of regret

(WR 134) …the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion.

The Primates, rather surprisingly, make no direct reference to this recommendation. However, we also need to note the latter part of paragraph 14:

…for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion. (cf. paragraph 8)

This appears to refer to several WR recommendations, including this one. It is rather odd though that now there appears to be less urgency to the request than was formerly the case, since no immediate "reinstatement" will follow from compliance.

2. To bishops who took part in Gene Robinson’s episcopal consecration

(WR 134) …pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion…

The names to whom this applies are clear: here is a list and here is another version of the list. I wrote previously that "This clearly refers to functions representing the AC externally, i.e. to other bodies" and I was taken to task for drawing this conclusion from the language used by WR. Regardless of that, the meaning given it by the PM is now clear.

The Primates make no direct reference to this recommendation. It appears to be superseded by their paragraphs 13 and 14:

13. We are persuaded however that in order for the recommendations of the Windsor Report to be properly addressed, time needs to be given to the Episcopal Church (USA) and to the Anglican Church of Canada for consideration of these recommendations according to their constitutional processes.

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion. (cf. paragraph 8)

This extends the WR recommendation, which affected ECUSA only, to include also the Anglican Church of Canada, make the time period lengthy, and independent of any apology, and transfers the onus from the individuals previously listed to the provinces as a whole. And of course it applies to the individual provincial representatives regardless of their personal culpability in the matters under dispute, while apparently now removing any sanctions from those individuals previously listed, or extending sanctions to any other form of "representative functions in the Anglican Communion…". The recommendation can only be implemented if the provinces concerned agree to do so, or if the other members of the Anglican Consultative Council support it.

3. To ECUSA in general concerning the election of bishops

(WR 134) …the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges…

This was carefully worded so that, as Tobias Haller has pointed out, it is possible for a mere majority of bishops with jurisdiction (i.e. active diocesans, not suffragans or retired, or other bishops) to “effect a moratorium” in practice by agreeing among themselves that they will not confirm any such election. Thus it can be initiated by bishops without requiring any agreement by diocesan standing committees, or General Convention. It is less clear that it could persist in the long term, as when “subscribing” diocesans retired, the majority would be depleted, unless replenished by new bishops.

Concerning this, Bishop Pierre Whalon has written:

One point must be clearly understood: the Primates’ Meeting in February will determine whether or not the Windsor Report as it stands will be what we must work with. It was quite impossible to decide anything about moratoria until that happens. The Bishops committed to engage the process outlined in the Windsor Report, insofar as our polity allows.

How very wise, since it now appears that paragraphs 13 and 14 apply to this WR recommendation as well as to the previous one, and in addition:

18. In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.

What is noticeable in this paragraph is the change of terminology from "living in a same-gender union" to "living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage". This makes it clear that the intended policy in respect of bishops applies equally to heterosexuals and applies only to those living in a relationship which is "sexual". It could therefore be permissible - though only for "for purposes of an organised religion" - under UK employment law, though not necessarily in all European countries.

4. To bishops who have authorized public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions

(WR 144) …we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion…

As the status of this WR recommendation appears to be exactly the same as 2 above, my comments made there apply also here, although I am not clear whether the second part of paragraph 14 is intended to apply to these bishops individually in terms of issuing personal expressions of regret.

5. On care of dissenting groups

(WR 152) …we commend the proposals for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight set out by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) in 2004. We believe that these proposals are entirely reasonable, if they are approached and implemented reasonably by everyone concerned. We particularly commend the appeal structures set out in the House of Bishops policy statement, and consider that these provide a very significant degree of security. We see no reason why such delegated pastoral and sacramental oversight should not be provided by retired bishops from within the province in question, and recommend that a province making provision in this manner should maintain a list of bishops who would be suitable and acceptable to undertake such a ministry. In principle, we see no difficulty in bishops from other provinces of the Communion becoming involved with the life of particular parishes under the terms of these arrangements in appropriate cases.

(WR 155) …We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church…

I mentioned last week that this was the area of WR recommendations that gave North American conservatives most concern, and clearly the Primates agree:

15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates’ Statement of October 2003 (xii)

(xii) “ … we call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.”

By this action the primates seek to strengthen the WR recommendation. The provision is not limited to North America in its application, but its effectiveness does still rely on the province concerned being co-operative. Much will depend on the stature of those invited to serve on the proposed panel, which has no precedent in Anglican history, and will have no juridical authority - a retirement job for Robin Eames?

6.To those bishops who have intervened in provinces dioceses and parishes other than their own

(WR 155) …We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:

We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.

This request to express regret appears to have been deleted entirely by the primates, as has the final sentence above. Concerning a moratorium on future interventions:

15. [remainder] …Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.

This wording seems to mean that all existing cross-boundary interventions (of which there are many in North America) may remain in place, but that the primates will not personally initiate any new ones. It does not say that they will refuse to respond to future requests. This is unlikely to be satisfactory to those American bishops whose dioceses have been affected by such interventions.

7. To ECUSA requesting a theological rationale

(WR 135)…We particularly request a contribution from the Episcopal Church (USA) which explains, from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ. As we see it, such a reasoned response, following up the work of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA), and taken with recent work undertaken by the Church of England and other provinces of the Communion, will have an important contribution to make to the ongoing discussion…

Here again the primates have strengthened the recommendation:

16. Notwithstanding the request of paragraph 14 of this communiqué, we encourage the Anglican Consultative Council to organise a hearing at its meeting in Nottingham, England, in June 2005 at which representatives of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, invited for that specific purpose, may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces, in accordance with paragraph 141 of the Windsor Report.

So this invitation is extended from the WR version to include also the Canadians and same-sex blessings, and a definite, short timescale and format is proposed. The recommendation will have to be considered by those responsible for the Anglican Consultative Council's agenda.

And last but not least, a recommendation addressed to the whole communion

The first part of WR 135 reads:

Finally, we recommend that the Instruments of Unity, through the Joint Standing Committee, find practical ways in which the 'listening' process commended by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 may be taken forward, so that greater common understanding might be obtained on the underlying issue of same gender relationships.

And the Primates, having already commented on related issues in paragraph 6, again endorsed this:

17. In reaffirming the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 as the present position of the Anglican Communion, we pledge ourselves afresh to that resolution in its entirety, and request the Anglican Consultative Council in June 2005 to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process which has been the subject of resolutions not only at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, but in earlier Conferences as well.

The importance of this recommendation should not be under-estimated, but given past history, neither should the difficulty of involving Global South provinces wholeheartedly in such action.

The primates conclude this section:

19. These strategies are intended to restore the full trust of our bonds of affection across the Communion.

It remains to be seen whether the Americans and Canadians, or indeed the Anglican Consultative Council members generally, will agree to any of the requests that are being made of them. And if they do, whether ECUSA in particular will be willing to continue its huge financial support of the Anglican Consultative Council while excluded from its deliberations.

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