Act seen as direct challenge

Published March 1, 2000

John H. Rodgers, dean emeritus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., was consecrated bishop in Singapore.

New York (ENI)

Critics see the consecration by several foreign Anglican primates of two American priests as bishops as a direct challenge to church authority and tradition.

“I am appalled by this irregular action,” Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said. A group of conservative church leaders, unhappy with what they see as an increasingly liberal church in the United States, consecrated John H. Rodgers and Charles H. Murphy as bishops.

A string of issues, especially openness by many U.S. bishops to acceptance of homosexuals within the church, has prompted growing criticism by conservative Anglican leaders outside the U.S. Homosexuality was the most divisive subject discussed at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1998.

The group said the move was done amid “a crisis” within the Episcopal Church ” in an initiative aimed at reversing a 30-year decline of 30 per cent in the membership of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.”

Their action immediately drew fire from a wide range of fellow bishops and church leaders, who said the ordination was an affront to Anglican tradition, in which bishops of specific geographic areas have authority over issues of ordination. Given that the two Americans were ordained by bishops outside the United States and as it was not clear on whose authority the men could now act as bishops, it was highly unlikely they would ever be given official recognition by the U.S. church, officials said.

Observers said the move was an apparent attempt by a conservative faction within the worldwide Anglican Communion to try to consolidate different conservative groups.

Ian Douglas, who teaches at the Episcopal Divinity School, agreed, saying the move was highly significant because “of the global implications of different provinces getting mixed up in, or inserting their authority into, other autocephalous (self-governing) churches in the Anglican Communion – namely the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.”

The real issue raised by the latest move, he told ENI, was about power – “in particular power to define Anglican identity and authority.”

In a letter to fellow U.S. bishops on Jan. 31, Bishop Griswold said those participating in the ceremony had largely “fomented” the “purported crisis” they had raised. He said the church they were criticizing “bears very little resemblance to the church we actually know, which is alive and well and faithful.”

A statement from the office of George Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury, said the move was a cause of “grave disappointment” to the head of the Anglican Communion, “as it is his (Dr Carey’s) view that such consecrations are irresponsible and irregular, and only harm the unity of the communion.”

The move was also criticized by some conservative church leaders who said while they understood the motivation for the action, they were deeply concerned about its implications for church unity.

“While I appreciate the concern and frustration that has prompted this action, I wish to express my profound disappointment that these consecrations have taken place at this time and in this manner,” said Harry Goodhew, archbishop of Sydney, Australia, and a prominent conservative.

Bishop James Stanton of Dallas, who heads the conservative American Anglican Council, was an observer at a recent meeting in Kampala, in which a group of conservative bishops met to discuss plans for the consecration of the two new bishops. Bishop Stanton said he had asked them not to take “precipitate action,” according to Episcopal News Service.

In a statement issued on Jan. 31, the AAC said that while it had hoped that the consecrations could have been avoided, the act marked “the beginning of a new reality for the Episcopal Church.” The leadership of the Episcopal Church, it said, had utterly failed to recognize the magnitude of the crisis that is tearing apart our church.”

However, a prominent AAC member said after the statement’s release that he felt the AAC was tacitly approving the ordination of the bishops – something he could not condone. “To give encouragement to such unorthodox actions not only is contrary to the reason, tradition and orthodoxy the AAC stresses as the foundation of its beliefs, but helps to sow the seeds of schism,” Jack H. Taylor Jr. of the Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, Texas, said.


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