Comment

October 2003

 

Last month we were privileged to publish an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. That piece echoed around the world getting extensive coverage wherever the Anglican Church has a ministry.

In the secular press too, the implications of Dr William’s assessments made headline reading. The Times, Telegraph and Guardian gave substantial space, in this country, and were followed by coverage in The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Australian press. This month New Directions invited Dr Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, to respond to Archbishop Rowan and we are delighted that he has agreed to do so. His article, on pages 5 and 6, taken in conjunction with last month’s article, lays out, we believe, the ground for the debate on which the future of Anglicanism will be decided.

Charles 'Chuck' Bennison, need deeply unlovely Bishop of Pennsylvania, may yet live to regret his attacks on Fr David Moyer, head of Forward in Faith, North America. Moyer, readers will recall, refused to have Bennison's sacramental ministry. Bennison (pro priestess, pro same sex unions, refuses to acknowledge the authority of Holy Scripture) duly inhibited Moyer and tried by bullying and legal threats to remove him from his parish and his vicarage.

Bennison had promised traditionalists that, if he were elected, he would treat them honourably – a promise conveniently forgotten as soon as the votes had been counted.

Now it transpires that Bennison's legal manoeuvres have begun to backfire. Moyer's lawyers challenged Bennison to produce for the court his correspondence from the Presiding Bishop, Frank Tracy Griswold. Bennison steadfastly refused to reveal these letters claiming, incredibly, that neither he nor anyone under his control had them. Further legal pressure put an end to the prevarication. The letters are now in hands of Moyer's lawyers and what fascinating reading they make.

The first letter, dated 6th July 2001, warns Bennison against his proposed public persecution of Fr Moyer. The Primates, Griswold tells him, would be 'unsympathetic' and would view Bennison as 'heavy handed, autocratic and monumentally unpastoral'. He urges him 'in the strongest possible terms not to proceed in such a direction.

Bennison ignored his boss. Almost a year later, 24th June 2002, Griswold wrote again. This time the Archbishop of Canterbury was on his back, alarmed and angry at the threat to the Anglican Communion. Bennison, the Presiding Bishop warned, was making Moyer into the test case for the persecution of the orthodox, enacting a standing denial of the Texas Covenant for alternative episcopal care and increasingly used as a justification for the consecration of Intercontinental Flying Bishops.

Bennison is ordered to come up with an honourable solution and drop the persecution.

'I am not in a position to take "no" for an answer', Griswold tells him.

Bennison is given ten days to provide a proposal which Griswold can sell to Moyer and his parish. The Presiding Bishop concludes, 'Failing this next step towards resolution on your part, I will have no recourse but to make a public statement in which, sadly, I shall not be able to defend your action and position in this matter.'

Fifteen months have now passed. Bennison has not backed off. Griswold has not made the statement. If nothing else these two standard bearers of liberalism share the solitary virtue of consistency. Meanwhile the American church sinks, almost daily, further into heresy and corruption. When the Primates meet in October to discuss the Gene Robinson affair they must understand that this is just one more symptom of a rottenness that can no longer be covered by sticking plaster but demands major surgery if the patient is to have any hope of survival.

The Balkanization of Anglicanism, long predicted, long awaited and long feared, seems to have begun. No less than eleven dioceses in the Episcopal Church of the United States are said to have tabled motions for their forthcoming Conventions to with draw from the National Church. Some will certainly do so. What the?

As Archbishop Peter Jensen points out in this edition (pages 4–5) the Archbishop of Canterbury will have to make choices. Will he do nothing? (Always an attractive option for Anglicans). Or will he recognize two separate but related Anglican bodies in North America? (to which Frank ‘Inclusive’ Griswold could hardly object, and which probably accords with Rowan’s own sentiments and inclinations). Or will he reject the one and embrace the other (a step so judgemental that it would have something of the Apostolic about it)?

The separating dioceses, too, are faced with a choice. Do they go it alone – on the undeniable principle that dioceses, not ‘Provinces’, are the building blocks of the Universal Church? Or do they form themselves into a Provincial entity? If they form a Province with a mixed economy in the matter of orders (for so it would certainly be), how do they resolve the inevitable internal tensions? And how do they react to the other splinters of the Anglican diaspora – to AMiA, to the so-called Anglican Communion in New Westminster and to the alphabet soup of Continuing Churches?

Truly we are cursed to live in interesting times.

We in England will watch American developments with interest and sometimes, no doubt, with amazement. Two things are certain in an uncertain future: that the American experiment whatever decision Rowan Williams takes will not be plain sailing, and that it will affect here the whole process by which women are ordained to the episcopate.

Robert Runcie said famously of the rupture of orders caused by ordination of women to the priesthood in the US, that it was tolerable so long as the Atlantic intervened. The General Synod of the Church of England may yet come to the same mind about other innovations.

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