Conservative bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada had mixed reactions to recent reports that Episcopalians opposed to the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire are preparing to replace the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA).
The Washington Post, the Guardian and Religion News Service received leaked documents prepared by an American priest which discussed steps on how to dismantle ECUSA. Rev. Geoff Chapman, rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Sewickley, Pa., has admitted authorship of the six-page strategy paper calling for “replacement jurisdiction.”
The paper “makes clear that despite their public denials of any plan to break away from the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA, leaders of the traditionalist camp intend to severely challenge the authority of Episcopal bishops, and expect that both civil lawsuits and ecclesiastical charges against dissenting priests will result,” the Washington Post reported.
“I can say that I am not surprised,” said Bishop William Anderson of Caledonia of the report, adding that he was not aware of it until the Anglican Journal sent him a copy for comment. “All the signs are there that, as a Communion, we are not of a common mind on this issue.” He said: “The split will be there ? the only question will be how violent and visible it will be.
“While initially local option may seem an attractive solution, it requires traditionalists to compromise on 2,000 years of Christian faith, while revisionists carry on doing what they want,” Bishop Anderson added. “It creates a rather untenable situation where what is regarded as a sin in one parish is seen as a blessing in the parish next door.”
Bishop John Clarke of the diocese of Athabasca said he was “deeply disturbed” by the reports. But, he told the Anglican Journal in an e-mail, “I tend not to believe that division is inevitable; rather, I believe that we need to remind ourselves of the importance of working out disagreements together. Simply to take our ball and going elsewhere is a regrettable decision.”
Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon said he was unaware of the leaked documents.
“So I feel unable to comment on the matter,” he said. Bishop Buckle added, however, that he was aware of the launching by conservative bishops and clergy of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes in Texas in January. “I personally think that we in the Anglican Church of Canada could find ourselves exploring a similar direction,” he told the Anglican Journal in an e-mail.
Bishops Anderson, Clarke and Buckle were among 13 bishops in the Anglican church who signed a statement in 2002 expressing their objections to the decision by the diocese of New Westminster approving same-sex blessings. Bishop Buckle later offered to act as an alternative bishop to dissenting parishes in that diocese. He withdrew his offer last November after the house of bishops agreed to form a task force that would examine how to care for those who disagree with church policies.
Meanwhile, Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the only Canadian member of the 16-member commission formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to study how the conflict within the Anglican Communion can be resolved, withheld comment on the report. But she said, “I hope that one of the things that will happen at the meeting of the commission is that the gathering from around the world will find a way to get a shared sense of what is really going on,” she said. “Reading all sorts of stories on the Internet is fascinating, but it’s hard to get a grip on all the facts and dynamics.” The commission, which was scheduled to meet for the first time on Feb. 9, will submit its report to Archbishop Rowan Williams on Sept. 30.
The American Anglican Council (AAC) an organization of conservative Episcopalians, for its part said the leaking of the memo was “a thinly veiled effort to derail” the launching of the Network. Canon David Anderson, AAC president, said, “As for the desire to ?replace’ ECUSA, it is the mainstream Anglican primates, themselves, who have suggested it. Will there ultimately be such a ?replacement’ jurisdiction? We can’t know, and even if we desired it, it is not up to the AAC or the orthodox Episcopalians to make that decision. It is up to the Anglican primates.”
The Washington Post quoted James Solheim, an ECUSA spokesman, as saying the document was “very provocative” and if implemented, could “plunge us into litigation for decades.”