Following a “deterioration” in support from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Jim Ottley, outspoken Anglican Observer at the United Nations, has agreed to step aside to make way for “restructuring.” His last day was March 31.
“My contract is up and the Archbishop (of Canterbury George Carey) and I came to the conclusion that it was wise not to renew it,” said Bishop Ottley in an interview from his New York office. A five-member interim transition team, headed by retired bishop Paul Moore Jr. of New York, will oversee the office of the observer until a permanent replacement for Bishop Ottley is named.
The observer is jointly appointed to a three-year renewable contract by the Archbishop and the Anglican Consultative Council, comprised of representatives of all the provinces of the Anglican Communion. The observer works with a 20-member international advisory committee which meets four times a year.
In a telephone interview from his office in New York, Bishop Ottley said he had heard prior to the Lambeth Conference last summer that Archbishop Carey was not entirely happy with some of his work. Bishop Ottley said he had a discussion with the archbishop at Lambeth where Archbishop Carey affirmed support for him. However, in a subsequent letter to Bishop Ottley, Archbishop Carey raised the possibility of Bishop Ottley’s retirement, hinting that sooner might be better. The final straw was the letter to the advisory committee from Archbishop Carey in November that raised the matter of “restructuring” the office. It was news to Bishop Ottley and it clearly presupposed his resignation, he said. The Journal was not able to obtain a copy. Bishop Ottley said the letter did not spell out what was meant by restructuring.
“I am accepting the decision,” he said. “I don’t think I have a choice.”
Bishop Ottley, the second person to hold the position since it was established almost eight years ago, has worked at the United Nations since October 1994. During his tenure he has spoken out on such issues as the international debt crisis, use of landmines, ecology, globalization, interfaith dialogue, poverty, human rights abuses and the rights of women and children.
“Coming from Panama and the Third World, those are the issues that are constantly with us, and someone from that part of the world is going to talk about them,” said Bishop Ottley. “I’ve put a lot of emphasis on world debt and that got the attention of the archbishop and the Lambeth Conference.”
According to Bishop Ottley, the archbishop never directly expressed concern about the issues Bishop Ottley raised or what he said about them. But, he said, “those close to him had given me that impression.”
“I thought we were saying what the rest of the Communion wanted us to say,” said Bishop Ottley.
Rev. Frederick Williams, rector of the Church of the Intercession in New York and the longest serving member of the advisory committee, said Archbishop Carey’s letter asked for a review of the lines of accountability, fund-raising, goals and priorities of the office of the observer. The archbishop declined to renew Bishop Ottley’s contract for another three years during the review.
The office was initially established with a three-year grant from Trinity Church Wall Street in New York. When that expired, the advisory committee got the task of raising the $300,000 annually cost of the office.
“Funding has always been iffy,” said Canon Williams. “After Bishop Ottley arrived, he discovered there was a lot more fund-raising in the job than he thought and had been led to believe was his job. Fund-raising is not Ottley’s strength or his interest.”
Bishop Ottley was also subjected to “infighting” between the Archbishop and the ACC over who controlled the observer. Because the position was a joint appointment, it was never clear to whom the observer reported, said Canon Williams.
“There were some internal politics between the ACC and the Archbishop, namely ?Does the observer operate as an ambassador at the United Nations or is he a staff to other organizations and reports to them?’ The question was, ?Who hires, fires and controls (the observer)?'” said Williams. “After a point, that debate becomes tiresome. The observer just wants to do his job.”
In a report to the advisory committee March 15, Bishop Ottley made several recommendations for improving the office of the observer and clarifying its role.
“One approach views the office as an advocate on the issues of poverty, justice and inequality. It views the office as assuming a prophetic and pro-active role in these areas. The second demands that the office not assume a prophetic role in these areas,” wrote Bishop Ottley. The non-prophetic model, he said, leaves the office merely a “ceremonial function.”
Bishop Ottley clearly favours the prophetic model, but added in his report that the prophetic ministry of the church “should not be guided by the foreign policy of any country where our churches are located; nor should it ever serve the particular interest of any foreign service. Prophetic ministry should not be confused with programs on the social issues of the United Nations.
“I never saw this office as a program office but as one that lifted up issues that affected our lives in the world in which we live,” wrote Bishop Ottley.
He recommended the office remain in New York, that it be staffed by someone from a developing country, that the contract be for a renewable three-year term and that human rights “always be a part of the concerns of this office.”
Bishop Ottley will report to ACC in September and be will available for advice and consultation until then.
Archbishop Carey could not be reached for comment.
Marianne Meed Ward is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.