Photographers wait for their cue to enter the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral for the opening service of the Lambeth Conference.
Frustration is rising among members of the media here who have been barred from attending a majority of events at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, including the daily eucharist, and who have not been furnished a list of bishops who are present or absent for unspecified “security reasons.”
“All I can say is that all provinces are represented except Uganda,” said Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who is acting as a conference spokesperson. “There were nearly 750 bishops at the 1998 Lambeth. This year, 670 are registered at this point.”
In a press conference, Mr. Feheley said it was not possible to release the names of the bishops present for “security reasons.” He would not elaborate.
Mr. Feheley was asked to confirm reports that some bishops of the Church of Nigeria, whose primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, boycotted the conference, had decided to leave the 20-day conference, now on its 7th day. “I don’t know if anyone has left,” said Mr. Feheley.
“Wouldn’t it be more honest to call this a closed conference?” said a reporter for the Irish Times.
“That’s a question that you will need to ask Archbishop (Phillip) Aspinall,” said Mr. Feheley. Archbishop Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, has been designated official spokesperson at the conference.
Mr. Feheley said the eucharist was closed to the media because it was “important for the bishops and spouses to be able to worship freely.” In recent years, past high-level gatherings, including the primates’ meeting, have given an indication about the rifts in the communion – with some bishops refusing to take communion alongside women bishops or alongside American and Canadian bishops whose views are deemed liberal on the issue of homosexuality. Bishops and primates who refused to take communion have used eucharists as occasions to symbolize what they refer to as the “broken communion.”
George Conger, from the Church of England newspaper, said it was the first time that he was covering a Lambeth Conference where he didn’t know who was present.
There was also great confusion around events that were open or closed to the media. Some reporters were initially told that the fringe events, which generally take place at the end of each plenary session, were open to the media, only to be turned away at the door by conference stewards, acting as security.
“Who takes precedence, the security or the organizer?” a reporter asked.
Another reporter said the tight media control reflected “an appalling lack of trust” on the media and its ability to report an event of great importance to Anglicans, who number nearly 80 million worldwide.
Except for the daily press conferences, reporters are generally shepherded to events that are opened to them.