Thursday, February 22, 2007

on the primates' key recommendations

For the full Communique and Recommendations, read here.

First, note that their proposal is for "an an interim response . . . in the period until the Covenant is secured." (paragraph 30) It is the Covenant that they hope will ultimately solve this problem and give the Communion a way to handle such problems again if they ever arise. It remains to be seen whether the Covenant design process can come up with a document that reliably is able to do that.

"The Primates will establish a Pastoral Council to act on behalf of the Primates in consultation with The Episcopal Church. This Council shall consist of up to five members: two nominated by the Primates, two by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate of a Province of the Anglican Communion nominated by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council. "

This Pastoral Council acts on behalf of the primates, not on behalf of the ABC. Who's calling the shots in the Communion these days? Clearly, the primates are. I think ABC Williams abdicated the traditional role of ABC (WWLD - What would Laud do?) when he waffled on Gene Robinson. Williams has not exercised the authority he could have, so the Primates have filled the gap. Or restored the breach. In this climate of rapid change in the ecclesiastical structures of the Communion, I lament (as Whitehall has heard me do before) that so little appeal has been made to the Fathers. We began morphing with the Virginia report, but GC03 and the Windsor Report have accelerated and even directed the metamorphoses. Whatever happens, the Anglican Communion in 2010 will not look, structurally, anything like it did at the turn of the 19th century. These are historic years.

The Primates recommend "the Pastoral Council and the Presiding Bishop invite the bishops expressing a commitment to “the Camp Allen principles”, or as otherwise determined by the Pastoral Council, to participate in the pastoral scheme; in consultation with the Council and with the consent of the Presiding Bishop, those bishops who are part of the scheme will nominate a Primatial Vicar, who shall be responsible to the Council; the Presiding Bishop in consultation with the Pastoral Council will delegate specific powers and duties to the Primatial Vicar.

So this Pastoral Scheme would apply only to the Camp Allen bishops, and only at a diocesan level (so far). Provision could be made for AMiA and other groups who wish to be included. Note who nominates the PV - NOT the PB, nor the ABC, but the Camp Allen Bishops themselves. This is clearly NOT what PB Schori had in mind when she first suggested it. She and the other TEC bishops who worked on the proposal wanted the appointment to be made by the PB in consultation with the ABC, and the Primatial Vicar to be responsible to the PB only. No primates involved. Again I ask, who's pulling the strings in the Communion these days?

"Once this scheme of pastoral care is recognised to be fully operational, the Primates undertake to end all interventions. Congregations or parishes in current arrangements will negotiate their place within the structures of pastoral oversight set out above."

So would TEC be better off with many small interventions or one big one? The interven-ers are only interested in what works - one scheme is as good as another, if the people are getting legitimate pastoral care. As far as the primates are concerned, if TEC doesn't like a million small interventions, they can choose one big one; but intevention there will be, because faithful people are crying out for deliverance. You could say it's a matter of social justice.

"In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church 1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

What's most important about these two requests is, I think, that the HoB is not being asked to do anything it can't do. The primates are not misunderstanding American polity. Instead, they're doing a remarkable job of translating American polity into answers that other provinces with other polities can accept. What they're asking is for the HoB to 1. bind their own conduct by resolution of their own house; and 2. give their considered interpretation, as a house, of Resolution B033. If the former happens, will bishops who break their word be liable for presentment? They should be, but I doubt our PB will prosecute. As regards the latter, the primates want to know what TEC's intention is, and they're asking the HoB to interpret an ambiguous resolution. Do the American bishops believe that B033 is Windsor Compliant? They're not asking the bishops to control the consent votes of their own standing committees or undermine the prerogatives of the HoDep. They're asking for an interpretaton, hoping for a show of good-faith. The reason the primates asked the HoB for this is that that's the traditional catholic synod that all the other Anglican polities recognize. A synod is supposed to be made up of bishops, not of lay or clergy. The fact that TEC allows lay and clergy to participate is cute, but we've got to translate their words into a traditional, catholic ecclesiological language that can be understood everywhere.

"The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."

This is the threat clause. The details will be spelled out in the Covenant design process. As for timing, it seems like the Primates want all the ducks in a row in time for Lambeth. They seem to be willing to relenquish the power they've taken up for Lambeth, but not for the ABC. My, how things have changed. I think the Primates as a rule hold a much more catholic ecclesiology than we in TEC do, or many at Lambeth Palace do, I think -- namely, that local synods report to ecumenical councils -- the Anglican version of which is provincial synods reporting to Lambeth. The problem is that Lambeth has always been clear that it exercises only advisory authority and does NOT constitute a church council, nor can it decree with authority in matters of doctrine. That's why even Lambeth 1.10 is only a statement of the mind of the Communion, not a binding doctrinal law. To my mind, all these are weaknesses that make us less catholic as a communion than we ought to be. But they are traditional. Sigh.

"The Primates urge the representatives of The Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it to suspend all actions in law arising in this situation. We also urge both parties to give assurances that no steps will be taken to alienate property from The Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of that property to those congregations."

Easy for them to say. What would this look like on the ground in, say, Connecticut? They've asked a lot of the bishops themselves, because someone like Bp. Smith of CT would have to be content to not visit the grounds of his dissenting parishes, not enforce licenses to minister, not enforce his own inhibitions, not to confirm or ordain; in short, let those impertinent 6 parishes go on thumbing their noses at him in the buildings he thinks he owns until the Covenant gets OK'd sometime after Lambeth 08 + an additional round of consultation + the ACC's 14th meeting. You'd have parishes temporarily without Episcopal oversight, waiting until the Primatial Vicar can send someone to see them and confirm their litte ones. From which parishes do you ask assessment? Which parishes have the right to join in diocesan convention? Are those parishes in or out of communion with their local diocesan? Who has responsibility to fill vacancies if a dissenting rector dies or retires? In short, this is a request to temporarily send our tightly-enforced local diocesan structure into a spiral of chaos until the Covenant is finished and ratified. Is it worth it for Christian charity?

Or maybe it's the dissenting parishes that need to knuckle under and submit, temporarily, to their bishops. But would those bishops respect the identity of their formerly-dissenting parishes? They might not attack property, but is parish income 'property'? Doesn't the myth of the Dennis Canon give all parish property to the diocese? Are the primates making a ruling on the Dennis Canon? The primates are asking us to think of parishes as the owners of their property, and the parish/property unit to be transferrable -- but that's not the way our canons describe things. This is where I would like to see a perfect world's 815 do some spade-work on fitting the Primates' recommendations into our canons. I suppose the Pastoral Council is supposed to do that.

All you legal-beagle Whitehallies, what's the process in the American legal system to simply drop a case like this? If a dissenting parish and an attacking bishop were to take this call seriously, who should drop their charges first?

And here's another interesting thought. The two parishes seceding from the diocese of Pittsburgh would, apparently, come under the jurisdiction of the Primatial Vicar - who is very likely to be Bishop Duncan, currently of Pittsburgh! Even if it's not him, would they be willing to accept the same Primatial Vicar as, say, the Virginia cluster?

And here's something even more interesting: During this controversy, it has been noted that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was not, originally, supposed to be a primate. That function was abrogated only recently, and only because TEC needed someone to represent us among the other primates, and the PB was the natural choice. If we carry this reasoning out, then a Primatial Vicar would actually be the only acting Primate for American Anglicans and therefore our sole primatial representative in the Communion.

All told, I think this document presents more of a challenge to TEC than to the intervening foreign archbishops. And that's as it should be.

1 comment:

texanglican said...

A good analysis, Father, though I would be amazed if Bishop Duncan were appointed PV (too disliked by too many "moderate" Windsorites). My money would be on Wimberley of Texas.