The South American primate who has welcomed dissenting Canadian Anglican parishes into his province says he sees the beginning of the end of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
“I believe we’re in the early stages of divorce,” Archbishop Gregory Venables, presiding (national) bishop of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, told a news conference during a meeting of the Anglican Network in Canada from April 25 to 26.
“I think there comes a point when a marriage is no longer a marriage and you have to recognize it,” he said. But Archbishop Venables suggested that Anglican churches could still stay together in some form. “Maybe we can have an Anglican federation,” he said.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Venables noted that air travel and the Internet have re-structured international networks.
“We’re no longer living in a world where everything is done locally,” Archbishop Venables said. “The church is a little late in coming to that.” Instead of insisting on geographical church provinces, “hopefully, this will be resolved so we can realign or restructure so everyone can follow their concerns.”
Meanwhile, a former Canadian Anglican bishop who is now licensed by the Southern Cone said that the network contacted other foreign primates as possible leaders but aligned itself with the British-born Archbishop Venables because of his background.
“We did talk to a couple of primates of different colours,” said Bishop Donald Harvey, formerly of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, in an interview. But Archbishop Venables was willing to take on the job, is well respected by other primates, and brings few cultural barriers and no language limitations, he said.
Bishop Harvey, who is moderator of the network, told the conference that Archbishop Venables’ offer of primatial oversight meant the network is “part of the world-wide Anglican Communion,” and, “without being under his wing, we would simply be a breakaway group,” he said.
“Thank you, God,” Bishop Harvey added, to loud applause. “You have freed us from the bondage that has been holding us back … We are free at last.”
The conference was attended by about 340 delegates. Network membership includes 15 churches, 10 of which have left the Anglican Church of Canada over theological issues, including the blessing of same-sex unions.
At a two-hour service on April 26, Archbishop Venables commissioned Bishop Harvey and Malcolm Harding, another former Canadian bishop. The three bishops gave Anglican Network in Canada licenses to 29 clergy and four deacons, according to the network Web site.
Archbishop Venables told the Journal he felt an April 21 letter from Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Canadian primate, asking him not to come to Canada was little more than a gesture.
“I didn’t get the letter until one of the (Canadian) reporters read it over the phone,” he said. “It came through on my fax the next morning and that shocked me.”
Archbishop Hiltz could simply have picked up the telephone, Archbishop Venables said. “I would have talked about it.”
Archdeacon Paul Feheley, the primate’s principal secretary, said efforts were made by fax and e-mail to deliver the letter to Archbishop Venables first. “As for picking up the telephone, it seems to me that if you are a foreign primate visiting another country, the onus is on you to pick up the phone and call the primate of that country,” said Archdeacon Feheley, adding that no one from the network informed Archbishop Hiltz’ office that the South American primate was coming.
Archbishop Venables said he has talked to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, about his actions. “I’m not seeking endorsement but we have open dialogue.” But he stopped short of divulging details. “It was a private conversation.”
Anne Fletcher is a writer in the diocese of New Westminster.