Hiltz: Despite controversy, Primates’ Meeting a success

There was "a lot of deep personal resolve to make [the Primates' Meeting] work," says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, in an interview with the Anglican Journal. Photo: André Forget
There was "a lot of deep personal resolve to make [the Primates' Meeting] work," says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, in an interview with the Anglican Journal. Photo: André Forget
Published January 20, 2016

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that despite the confusion, frustration and pain arising from a communiqué “requiring” The Episcopal Church (TEC) to face consequences for its decision to allow same-sex marriage, last week’s Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury, England, was a success.

“I think the very fact that we all came was important,” Hiltz said in an interview with the Anglican Journal January 19. “It took its course in such a way that the Communion was not broken…All the posturing and rhetoric and rumours that were so much a part of the lead-up to the meeting didn’t come to pass-from that point of view, it was good.” There was, he said, “a lot of deep personal resolve to make it work.”

The weeks leading up to the meeting were marked by tension over the American church’s decision to allow same-sex marriage and the continued acceptance of same-sex blessings by some Canadian dioceses, with some leaders of theologically conservative provinces reportedly threatening to walk out if the North American provinces were not disciplined.

Hiltz said things came to a head mid-way through the meeting when Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby asked the primates to decide if they would stay together or go their separate ways.

“There was a critical moment…when the Archbishop of Canterbury was very direct, and said, ‘We have to make a decision about whether we’re going to walk together.’ And I think it was a moment of grace, in that a vote was taken and it was unanimous that we stay together,” said Hiltz.

It could have gone the other way, he said. “We did have people who, if they had their way, would have asked [TEC and Canada] to leave. And there was an attempt to do that, and it failed. There was a vote…and that was not supported.”

Some of the credit for the happy outcome of the vote, which asked the North American provinces to leave (15 in favour, 20 against), must go to primates from the Global South, who “worked really hard to keep their colleagues in the room,” said Hiltz.

An official communiqué released January 15, however, made it clear that TEC’s decision would not be without consequences: an addendum was attached to the communiqué “requiring” that for three years TEC “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

Hiltz said that while the communiqué was not adopted through a formal vote, “about two-thirds [of the primates] favoured the consequences.”

However, he acknowledged that “it remains to be seen how these consequences [on TEC] are actually lived out.” He noted, “the only authority we have in matters of this kind is the mutual accountability, which is one of the principles of how Anglicans live together around the world.”

The Primates’ Meeting is one of four instruments of Communion, and the communiqué “raises the question of [whether] one instrument of the Communion [can] tell the rest what’s what,” says Hiltz.

According to Hiltz, the Archbishop of Canterbury had said he would “tend” to the matter and take responsibility for putting together a task group to look into it.

The primate also disputed reports that the U.S. church is being asked to “repent” during the three-year period as a precondition for lifting the temporary ban on its full participation in the Communion. “I think the majority of the primates would view the three-year period from the point of view of…we need to really tend to the rebuilding of trust among the primates and the churches of the Communion…we need to restore some relationships,” he said.

Hiltz refrained from commenting on how much weight the Anglican Church of Canada should give to the Primates’ Meeting’s decision, saying that to do so would be a betrayal of his role as chair of General Synod, the church’s governing body.

He added that it would be premature to consider whether “consequences” would also be imposed on the Canadian church if its upcoming General Synod approves a resolution to change its marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage.

“We’re in a very unique place on that matter because of our polity,” Hiltz said, explaining that since changing the marriage canon is a matter of doctrine, it has to be adopted by a two-thirds majority in each order of the church and at two successive sessions of General Synod.

“You may have approval based on first reading [in 2016], but it cannot be effective until second reading [in 2019],” he said. “…So I don’t think anyone can deliver some consequences to us, or impose a consequence, because that is to pre-empt the outcome of what happens in 2019.” The second vote allows the church the opportunity for “a sober second thought,” he added.

Hiltz also noted that discussions around same-sex marriage aren’t happening only in the U.S. or Canada.

“In three years, I am convinced that the situation in the Communion will look very different than it did even in this meeting,” Hiltz said. “You’ve got this very focused conversation [about same-sex marriage] now in Canada [and] Scotland. It will become an issue in Ireland because federal legislation says it can now happen. It is an issue in the Church of England whether they recognize it or not, and Brazil.”

Even Africa-often painted with a broad conservative brush on issues around human sexuality -“speaks with a diversity of voices,” said Hiltz. “Three of the primates from Africa stood up and talked about the need for them to address this matter in their provinces, and asked for help: ‘How do you have this conversation?’ ”

With a number of provinces seeking ways to minister to gay and lesbian Christians and their families, Hiltz said, “One of the images that was tossed around [at the meeting] was ‘pastoral accommodation.’ ” It was, he noted, the language Welby used at the Primates’ Meeting when giving his “three I’s: ‘I loathe homophobia. I have a conservative view on same-sex marriage. I believe in pastoral accommodation.’ ” ?Hiltz acknowledged, however, that even “pastoral accommodation” is “a big stretch for some people in the Communion.”

But while he considers the meeting to have been, on the whole, a success, Hiltz said Anglican Communion Office personnel could have brought much-needed clarity to the proceedings. “I just think we would have benefited from some of their wisdom, their knowledge, their insights, perhaps their counsel.”

In particular, he spoke of the benefit that staff with a strong understanding of how the Anglican Communion functions as an institution could have brought to the table.

“Not everyone in [the Primates’ Meeting] is an expert on Anglican ecclesiology,” he noted. “And sometimes assumptions are made in terms of what kind of authority people have or don’t have, and so you end up with all these kind of questions after a meeting.”

Despite reports of a planned walkout by some conservative primates, the only one who left was Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Church of Uganda, who explained in a statement posted on the website of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) that the laws of his own province limit his ability to participate in meetings that involve TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. GAFCON is composed of primates and other church leaders opposed to more liberal theological views on human sexuality.

When asked why he thought other GAFCON primates stayed on, Hiltz said it had a lot to do with Welby’s “perseverance in helping us to have the difficult conversations.” It also had to do with “the overall will of the meeting…not to break up the Anglican Communion, but to stay together.”

He added, in jest, “I think that people were looking at people like Michael Curry and myself and saying, ‘They’re not really monsters, are they? They’re not overly aggressive, they’re telling us what is going on in their church.’ ”

But there was another reason the GAFCON primates were willing to be at the table, Hiltz said, and that was the controversial presence of Archbishop Foley Beach, who participated for the first four days of the meeting.

Beach, head of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)-which is recognized by GAFCON but is not a member of the Anglican Communion-was extended an invitation by Welby to participate as a guest. And as a guest, he was not granted the right to vote, although he was given an opportunity to participate in discussions and had an opportunity to share his church’s story.

“His presence appeased a number of the GAFCON primates, I know, and to use a word that some of the primates used, it confused others,” said Hiltz. “In what real capacity is he [Beach] in the meeting? Well, he’s a guest.”

But while ACNA’s relationship to the Communion was the third item on the agenda, Hiltz said that it was quickly established that the proper body for dealing with church membership is the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

“There were a range of primates-and when I’m talking about a range, I mean a range of primates who hold very diverse theological views on marriage, so we had more liberal-minded ones and very conservative ones-saying there is a process, it is the ACC that recognizes a province: it’s not us.”

Hiltz also reported that although the possibility of a meeting between Welby, Beach and TEC Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and himself was floated, it did not materialize.

“I was sorry about that, actually, because I said to Archbishop Justin that if in Canterbury there was an opportunity to seed a conversation that might imagine some kind of reconciliation, however hard it would be or however long it would take, I would go to that table,” Hiltz said. “[Welby] really appreciated that, and Michael Curry said the same thing. I don’t know what Foley Beach would have said about that.”

Hiltz also spoke of more personal moments of pain springing from Anglican disunity, explaining that he was told at one point by some primatess that they could not take the Eucharist with him.

“I look at that situation, and I think to myself, really? How can people hold such a spirit, knowing that the Eucharist is all about Jesus’ own yearning to gather us and feed us, and to say, ‘Well, because he’s there I can’t go,’ ” he said. “That grieves my heart, but I look at it and think it must grieve the heart of our Lord even more.”

The 2016 Primates’ Meeting was the first since 2011, when 23 of the 38 primates met in Dublin, but Hiltz said that Welby plans on returning to a more regular schedule. The next meeting has been scheduled for late 2017, and there are plans to hold another one in early 2019, in advance of the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated with new information (see paragraph 21).


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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