Church sanctions could have been worse: primate

Published February 25, 2005

Withdrawing the members of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) from the Anglican Consultative Council is “part of a pain that needs to be endured” and it prevented what could have been a precipitous split this week within the Anglican Communion, said the Canadian church’s primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison.

“I thought it was going to be much worse,” Archbishop Hutchison told Anglican Journal, adding that some primates were seeking the total expulsion of both churches from the Anglican Communion during their four-day closed meeting held in Northern Ireland this week.

Archbishop Hutchison is expected to bring back this request to “voluntarily withdraw” the Canadian church from the Council. Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate, said that the matter would be raised before the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the governing body that guides the church in the three-year period between General Synods.

The Anglican Communion, composed of 38 provinces representing 70 million Anglicans worldwide, has been threatened by schism after primates – mostly coming from Africa, Asia and South America – were enraged by ECUSA’s decision to consecrate a non-celibate gay bishop and by the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster’s approval of blessing same-sex unions.

But while a split may have been averted, “the issue is not over,” conceded Archbishop Hutchison. “It doesn’t lay to rest the issue of homosexuality.”

Archbishop Hutchison said the split was prevented when Archbishop Robin Eames, primate of All Ireland, intervened and asked what the divided primates needed in order not to walk away. “Our wonderful magician Robin Eames made some astute observations…He raised the question, ‘What does North America need in order not to walk away? What do the others need?'”

Archbishop Eames suggested the withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council, which was one of the recommendations made by the Windsor Report published last October by the Lambeth Commission, which was headed by the Irish primate. (The Commission was created by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to seek ways of reconciling churches at war over homosexuality.)

The primates also recommended that representatives from both ECUSA and the Canadian church be invited to appear at a “hearing” at next scheduled meeting of the Council in June in Nottingham, England, so that they may have “an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their provinces.”

“They’ll be talking about us and justice requires our being there,” said Archbishop Hutchison.

The communique also included an acknowledgment that ECUSA and New Westminster had not acted illegally but, rather, had “proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements” in their controversial decisions.

“We were right on the edge of a break-up of the Communion,” said Archbishop Hutchison. Withdrawing from the Council, he said, “gives everyone a little space to think; it gives the very conservative churches something to go home with and to be able to say that their voice was truly heard.”

One Canadian who will be asked to withdraw from the Council, however, reacted strongly to the decision, which primates issued in a communique released late Feb. 24, a day ahead of schedule.

Sue Moxley, suffragan bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and the Canadian church’s episcopal delegate to the Council expressed disappointment that the Canadians were being asked to quit the international body, albeit temporarily.

“My whole thing is: as long as we can stay at the table, we can talk. If we’re not there, how can we go forward?” she asked.

Bishop Moxley questioned why the primates chose to exclude the North Americans from the Council.

“They (the primates) didn’t decide that Andrew (Hutchison) and Frank (Griswold, presiding bishop of ECUSA) couldn’t be at the next primates’ meeting,” she noted. “It seems that they don’t want anybody other than primates making decisions.” She said that the Anglican Consultative Council is the only place in the Anglican Communion where laity, clergy and bishops all have a voice.

(One of Anglicanism’s “four instruments of unity,” the Council came into being in 1969 and is comprised of laity, clergy and bishops from across the Communion. It provides consultation and guidance on policy issues, such as world mission and ecumenism, for the Anglican Communion. The Council has about 120 members.)

Archbishop Hutchison said, however, that although he was not surprised by the request that Canada “voluntarily withdraw” from the Council, he had argued “passionately” against it in the meeting. In the end, he said, something had to give. “There wasn’t enough giving. We were trying to reconcile the irreconcilables.”

Archbishop Williams had warned earlier that the crisis over homosexuality had severely damaged the communion’s fragile unity and said, “There will be no cost-free outcome from this.”

Asked what the North American churches got in exchange for giving up Council membership, Archbishop Hutchison said, “What we have is a full recognition of our constitutional right: that the U.S. and Canada (have) done nothing illegal.”

Archbishop Hutchison said the meeting, although it ended “with reconciliation,” had been a “difficult” one. He confirmed that “a dozen or so” primates had refused to attend eucharist because of his and Bishop Griswold’s presence there.

Asked whether the Canadian church would continue to contribute financially to the council during a time when its membership has been suspended, Archdeacon Feheley said the funding would continue “as a moral principle.”

But General Secretary Jim Boyles said that CoGS will consider that issue at its regular spring meeting in May. “CoGS approved the budget and it’s up to them to decide on it,” he said.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s 2005 budget provides for a $105,000 contribution to the Anglican Consultative Council, plus $7,000 to support travel for Canadian members. In the past, the Canadian church has also provided staff support. Canon Eric Beresford, a former General Synod staff member, served as ethics consultant to the Council for several years. Rev. Paul Gibson, a retired Canadian priest, now serves as liturgy consultant, but his travel is not supported by the Canadian church, according to General Secretary Jim Boyles.

ECUSA, meanwhile, contributes $600,000 US to the Anglican Communion office.

The main agenda for the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council is discussion of the Windsor Report. Bishop Moxley attended the council’s September 2002 meeting in Hong Kong as Canada’s clergy representative and the June meeting would have been her first as a bishop. She was scheduled to attend with Canon Allen Box, the clergy delegate, and Suzanne Lawson, the alternate for lay delegate Stephen Toope, who was not able to attend.

With Canada and ECUSA excluded, it means that no woman bishop will be in attendance; Bishop Moxley and Bishop Cathy Roskam, suffragan bishop of the diocese of New York, were the only women bishops on the Council.

Ms. Lawson, meanwhile, said she was surprised about the primates’ decision. “I didn’t realize things were moving that precipitously,” she said, adding that she was not disappointed. “I think it’s something that we have to just pray about… I wasn’t at the primates’ meeting but primates have to do what primates have to do.”

The communique can be found at


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