Conservative wing turns eye to Australia for a saviour

By on February 1, 2003

Archbishop Peter Jensen

Conservative and orthodox opponents of the new Archbishop of Canterbury have turned to Australia for a saviour, amid predictions that such a move could lead to a serious schism within the Australian church.

A recent report in the Melbourne daily The Age said that those opposed to Archbishop Rowan Williams and his “heretical” views on homosexuality are hoping to bring up to 150 English parishes under the spiritual leadership of the archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen. The Australian archbishop has been heralded by some as the international leader of the Anglican “new right.”

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Both Reform and Church Society, two leading English conservative evangelical groups, said they would be discussing the idea with Archbishop Jensen when he visited Britain in January. Australia does not allow the legal loophole of outside spiritual leaders, although the Church of England allowed for so-called “flying bishops” to minister to those opposed to women’s ordination.

Archbishop Jensen, who was also to have met with Archbishop Williams on his visit, said he was sympathetic to the conservatives. However, he added that it was “another matter entirely” for Sydney to get involved with affairs of the Church of England.

“This is not something I’d be looking for,” he said, “but I am deeply concerned about the dissenting orthodox Christians. They need to be looked after.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to avert any future schism, Archbishop Williams met with leading primates and bishops in December from Nigeria, South East Asia, Rwanda, Kenya and North India.

According to a report in the Church of England Newspaper, the archbishop repeated his commitment to the traditionalist Lambeth resolution on human sexuality. “The bishops were said to have been impressed by his assurances,” the report said.

However, these primates had already joined two English bishops, and the bishop of Dallas in signing a new statement opposing changes in church teaching on marriage, including Canada’s diocese of New Westminster, which voted last June to move ahead with the blessing of same-sex unions.

The opposition to homosexuality has grown to the point where it is now the main bone of contention between conservatives and liberals in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Church Society and Reform both lobbied for Archbishop Williams to resign, even before he formally took office, because of his so-called liberal views.

Archbishop Jensen’s public remarks about Archbishop Williams earned him a letter from Lambeth inviting the Sydney archbishop to make a “friendly courtesy call” in January.

Anglicans in Australia are looking askance at the possibility of their Sydney archbishop joining the ranks of “flying bishops” to look after dissident parishes in England.

Melbourne’s acting archbishop, John Wilson, put out a statement warning that alternative episcopal oversight would diminish unity and hinder genuine discussion of important issues, according to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I would prefer to see parishes work through these issues with Archbishop Rowan Williams, who has a lot to offer the church,” he said.

The Morning Herald also reported that Anglicans Together, an alternative group within the diocese of Sydney, said a move by Archbishop Jensen to become alternative bishop to the British evangelicals “would render the Anglican Communion asunder.” Rev. John Cornish, the group’s spokesperson, said, “This will have a profound impact on what it means to be an Anglican in Sydney.”

Mr. Cornish said the new Archbishop of Canterbury supported orthodox Christians and held to traditional Anglican doctrine.

(From reports in The Age, the Church of England Newspaper, and the Melbourne Sydney Herald)

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