COMMENT MAY 1999

TRADITIONALISTS IN THE USA were heartened by the recent visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Charleston. There he said what Lambeth had said, what the Eames Commission had said, but what the Episcopal Church in the USA has signally refused to accept; that there are limits to diversity. He was speaking at SEAD (Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine) and he reminded his hearers of the need for Anglicans to conform to the “constant interplay of Scripture, reason and tradition”?. Comprehensiveness “does not mean all views and propositions are acceptable, that anything is tolerated, that there are no cardinal doctrines, beliefs and limits to orthodoxy.”

He said it was perfectly proper to challenge the church’s position on, for example, human sexuality. It was quite another to take unilateral action. No one has the right to take decisions which affect the whole. The moment “locals” wrest decisions which properly belong to the “whole" from the “whole” it is engaging in division. No diocese should take unilateral action which impairs the life of the whole province. No province should take unilateral actions which affect and impair the whole Anglican communion.

If only the American church had heard this message before it ratified the un-canonical ordinations of women to the priesthood! If only the English church had heard it before it voted to change the priesthood in 1992 by admitting women to its order. It may be too late now for brakes to be applied to any part of the church which has made a start on the slippery slope; but it is good to hear our Archbishop warning that we have a responsibility for one another.

In the same visit he asked the Americans to make room for those who disagreed with them theologically and spoke most positively of our English solution of extended episcopal oversight (which includes Provincial Episcopal Visitors). His actions in ordaining the second Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and ensuring that what the Act of Synod began in 1993 is kept in good working order, gives us great encouragement. We shall especially look forward to welcoming him, listening to him and asking him questions, when he visits us at the Sacred Synod in Westminster this October.

 

The Churchwardens' Measure will shortly be limping back to General Synod after its heavy mauling by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. New forms of words, new “checks” on abuse, new “safeguards” for the rights of wardens and parishes will no doubt be promised to attempt to oil the passage of this proposed instrument of Episcopal tyranny. But, as the parliamentary inquisitors discovered, what has yet to be given is a satisfactory reason for setting out on this legislative path in the first place. For a coercive measure which removes the ancient democratic rights of parishioners and can destroy the reputation of the most senior lay officers of a parish without evidence and without the right of appeal, this is a pretty spectacular omission.

In order to fill this gap every Diocesan Registrar has been requested to provide evidence of churchwardenly misdemeanours to the Assistant Legal Advisor to the General Synod. This exercise in unchallengeable muckraking (no details need be provided) is now drawing to a close.

And the result? Thousands of cases? Hundreds of cases? Scores of cases? Whatever the results they must be put in the public domain and, when they are, Synod will have the opportunity to judge the merits of this case. If, as we suspect, a trawl of twenty to thirty years nationwide will produce astonishingly few cases and most of them capable of despatch under the existing criminal law, then any shred of credibility for this measure will vanish.

The truth is that when Churchwardens misbehave then the parishioners have an annual opportunity to remove them - a luxury they do not enjoy with lazy or unfaithful bishops and clergy. Where the matter is criminal the law already exists to deal with culprits.

This Measure, if allowed to proceed, would cost the Church dearly. Make no mistake, a warden whose honour was unjustly impugned would rightly sue the church and pursue this crackpot measure to the Court of Human Rights.

In terms of finance, morale and justice this is a high price to pay for episcopal megalomania.

People of all faiths and none will have been saddened recently to hear the news of Cardinal Hume’s grave illness. During his long and generous pastorship of the Roman Catholic community in this land he has emerged as a loveable man of deep and simple piety whose voice is listened to with respect way beyond matters spiritual or the borders of his own community. At the same time his church has finally re-emerged from the long post-reformation shadow to be recognised as, once again, the major Christian church in this land. Amongst the many grateful beneficiaries of his ministry are countless Anglicans, priests and lay, to whom he has been a tireless comfort in the last few years, whether they have joined his church or remained in the Church of England. As a much loved brother in Christ it is to be hoped that he will be on the prayer list of all our parishes in the days ahead.

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