Report urges expressions of regret

Published November 1, 2004

Apologies from the diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) for the “deep offence” their decisions regarding sexuality have caused to “many faithful Anglicans,” and a moratorium on same-sex blessings as well as the consecration of gay bishops were among the recommendations made by a commission to heal current rifts among Anglicans worldwide.

But the much-anticipated report of the Lambeth Commission, entitled Windsor Report 2004 and released Oct. 18, also asked bishops who have unilaterally provided alternative episcopal oversight to dissenting minorities in ECUSA and New Westminster to apologize for “the consequences of their actions” and recommends a similar moratorium “on any further interventions.” It recommends instead a delegated episcopal oversight model introduced by ECUSA, which involves a diocesan bishop on the matter of choosing an episcopal visitor (or visiting bishop) for aggrieved parishes.

“All have acted in ways incompatible with the Communion principle of interdependence, and our fellowship has suffered immensely as a result of these developments,” said the report, which Archbishop Robin Eames, primate of the Church of Ireland and chair of the commission, presented to a packed press conference at St. Paul’s Cathedral Crypt in London.

The commission also urged bishops who took part in the consecration last November of gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as well as those bishops in New Westminster and ECUSA who have authorized same-sex blessings to consider withdrawing “from representative functions in the Anglican Communion.” The report said the moratoria will be in effect “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.”

The report advised that Bishop Robinson’s “acceptability” as a bishop be “under close review” by a proposed Council of Advice. It urged Archbishop Williams to “exercise very reasonable caution in inviting or admitting (Bishop Robinson) to the councils of the Communion” given “the widespread unacceptability of his ministry in other provinces.”

The commission was created by Archbishop Rowan Williams to find ways of maintaining “the highest degree of communion possible” in the Anglican Communion, which is composed of 38 self-governing provinces in 164 countries. Archbishop Williams, who also appeared at the press conference, praised the work of the group, which represented all ends of the theological and geographical spectrum. “The commission has not only produced a report but a unanimous one and that in itself counts as a considerable achievement and a sign of hope,” he said.

“This report is not a judgment,” wrote Archbishop Eames in his foreword to the report. “It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation.” He warned of disastrous consequences for ignoring the recommendations. “There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.”

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the only Canadian member of the 17-member commission, said the report does not call for apologies but, rather, expressions of regret. “‘I regret very much that what I’ve done has hurt you.’ ‘I apologize for what I’ve done.’ Those are two very different statements,” she said in an interview. She was reacting to media reports that the commission was suggesting apologies from ECUSA and New Westminster.

She noted that the report does not ask that ECUSA or New Westminster to “express regret” for consecrating Bishop Robinson or for authorizing same-sex blessings — only for the consequences of those actions. “(The commission’s) mandate was around what makes and breaks communion and it was felt that the way in which those actions were taken was what caused events in the communion,” she said. “And equally, therefore, those who came in to take parishes under their wing were also breaching communion by not paying attention to the traditions of the church around not intervening and not consulting.”

One of the commission members — Archbishop Bernard Malango, primate of Central Africa — has intervened on behalf of conservative dioceses in North America. Asked if she expected him to express regret for his actions, Ms. Barnett-Cowan said, “That is the hope of the commission.”

Ms. Barnett-Cowan, who is director of faith, worship and ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the commission, in its consultations, heard that the worldwide uproar was not so much because a gay bishop had been consecrated or that same-sex blessings were approved but because of perceptions that “North Americans were going ahead off their own bat just because they want to… that people didn’t pay sufficient attention to the deeply held convictions and emotions of other people.”

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the 93-page report reflected a “positive will” to hold the Anglican Communion together. He called the recommendations “balanced” and “reasonable,” but declined to comment on whether he would advise New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham to accept the commission’s advice.

Archbishop Hutchison said he would likely contact the diocese of Toronto, which meets for a special synod Nov. 27 to discuss same-sex blessings, though he declined to comment on what he would recommend to Colin Johnson, bishop of Toronto.

The report contained unusually strong language in its criticisms of ECUSA and New Westminster’s actions.

“We believe that to proceed unilaterally with the authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions… constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it,” the report said. It added that, “there is not unqualified freedom on the part of any bishop or diocese to authorize liturgical texts if they are likely to be inconsistent with the norms of liturgical and doctrinal usage extant in the province’s Book of Common Prayer or other provincially authorized texts.”

The report said that the Canadian General Synod’s motion last June affirming “the integrity and sanctity of adult committed same-sex relationships,” along with the consecration of Bishop Robinson and the authorization in 2002 of same-sex blessings in New Westminster did not attach “sufficient importance to the interests of the wider Communion.” An apology for having “breached the bonds of affection” would represent the desire of ECUSA to remain within the communion, the report said.

The commission also called for a common Anglican covenant and the creation of a Council of Advice that would help the Archbishop of Canterbury make decisions crucial to the fate of the Anglican Communion as major prescriptions to arrest a schism in the Anglican Communion.

Asked to comment on reactions that the report has been particularly hard on liberal views represented by ECUSA and New Westminster, Ms. Barnett-Cowan said, “I think they have to read it against the background of other stories that were being circulated about what the commission was supposed to say. It didn’t say ECUSA was going to be kicked out. It doesn’t say New Westminster or the Anglican Church of Canada is kicked out. It didn’t say there can’t be gay clergy.”

On the issue of having a common Anglican covenant — a point he called the report’s “largest challenge” — Archbishop Hutchison noted that the Anglican Communion “has been growing like topsy,” particularly in the global south, which now finds itself in the majority. He stressed the need to safeguard the principle of the “independence of provinces,” particularly in the context of a communion with such divergent cultures, languages and practices.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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