Thirty-four of the Anglican Communion’s 38 primates gathered at the Kanuga Conference Centre in North Carolina last month. As at their meeting last year, homosexuality was a focal point of talks.
As it was in Portugal last year, homosexuality remained a major issue for the primates, or national leaders, of the Anglican Communion, meeting at the Kanuga Conference Centre in North Carolina last month.
However, an attempt by conservative primates to get the group to discipline U.S. dioceses that bless same-sex relationships and ordain non-celibate homosexuals did not succeed. The proposals, presented by Archbishop Maurice Sinclair of the Southern Cone (of South America) and Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, came in the form of a group of essays called To Mend the Net.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who presided over the meeting, had said in advance that he would refer the proposals to the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission and that is where they were sent.
The proposals were not part of the agenda, but were presented at an informal gathering at Kanuga, where the private primates’ meeting was held under strict security. Thirty-four of the 38 Anglican primates attended. There are about 70 million members of the Anglican Communion.
Archbishops Sinclair and Gomez said the “adoption of a new sexual ethic” could produce “unprecedented divisions in the Anglican Communion.” They called on the primates to go beyond their traditional roles, to warn errant dioceses or provinces and, finally, to seek to suspend them from the communion.
But Archbishop Michael Peers of Canada, in an interview after the meeting, noted that the primates are “not a body that passes resolutions” or a body that makes laws. Traditionally, Anglican primates (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) express opinions, but do not exercise authority over each other’s jurisdictions.
“The meeting simply said we will stay with the tradition,” said Archbishop Peers.
At the end of the meeting, the primates issued a “pastoral letter and call to prayer” that recognized there are “alienated groups within the church’s own life.”
The letter noted that “some are estranged from others” due to changes “with regard to the acceptance of homosexual activity and the ordination of practising homosexuals.” The Episcopal Church of the United States does not officially ordain homosexuals or bless gay relationships, but some U.S. dioceses do.
The pastoral letter continued: “We have committed ourselves to seek for ways to secure sustained pastoral care for all in our communion. We also resolved, as we did at our meeting in Porto (Portugal), to show responsibility toward each other and to seek to avoid actions that might damage the credibility of our mission in the world.”
Archbishop Sinclair did not sign the pastoral letter – the only primate to abstain. In a subsequent interview with a U.S. writer, Archbishop Sinclair said the letter “didn’t adequately address the situation in the (U.S.) Episcopal Church and its effects throughout the communion.”
After the Portugal meeting, the primates’ communiqué said dioceses that contradict the Lambeth 1998 resolution that homosexuality is “incompatible with Scripture” must “weigh the effects of their actions” and “listen to the expressions of pain, anger and perplexity from other parts of the communion.”
The Portugal statement was widely seen as a criticism of the U.S. liberal dioceses.
In Kanuga, the primates developed an action plan on several other issues. They discussed the HIV/AIDS crisis, which is especially severe in Africa, and whether clergy should advocate the use of condoms, urging the Anglican Communion to co-ordinate a strategy with ecumenical partners.
They agreed to take up the questions raised in To Mend the Net at the next primates’ meeting at Canterbury, England, in April 2002. The leaders also heard a presentation from Prof. Norman Doe, of Cardiff University’s law school in Wales, suggesting that the church look at establishing some form of agreement on common law that would be applicable internationally.
The primates’ next gathering will also consider a report that analyzes the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.