Letter from Australia

This is a most unsettling time for many Australian Anglicans. Not one, but two metropolitical sees are vacant, and the General Synod in which draft legislation providing for women bishops will be discussed, is less than two months away.

 

Saint Harry

Archbishop Harry Goodhew’s retirement was expected. A gentle evangelical who firmly presented the Gospel without compromise to one of the world’s most secular cities,

Goodhew was given a hero’s farewell not just by Anglicans, but by the people of Sydney. Moving tributes were printed in all the newspapers. Regarded by some at the time of his election as "not tough enough", Harry Goodhew applied to his diocese as a whole the pastoral and evangelistic gifts for which he had become well known in his days as a parish priest.

 

Chris McGillion, religious affairs writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, observed that "Many appear to want to bestow a form of sainthood on Harry Goodhew . . . Others would concede that at the least this city will be a whole lot poorer without him".

Goodhew has been regarded as a moderate in his ecclesiology and associated concerns. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the lay presidency debate. This infuriated the Sydney hard-liners, but Goodhew maintained his stand, earning the admiration of a wide range of people.

 

Orthodox; international

Speaking about Archbishop Goodhew at a recent Moore College graduation, the principal, Dr Peter Jensen said, "He has continued to affirm others whenever he has had opportunity.

He has been unbelievably patient, courteous and tactful. Most impressively, in an age when you cannot be certain of the orthodoxy of bishops he has held unswervingly to the faith and has been willing to stand for that faith in forums which have been hostile and uncomfortable."

Dr. Paul Barnett, a Sydney Assistant Bishop, pointed out that Harry Goodhew was one of Australia's most influential players on the worldwide Anglican stage during the past decade. "It's safe to say that no archbishop in the world is better known or widely respected than our archbishop."

 

In for a bruising

On Sunday 22nd April, the 6.00pm news informed us that Archbishop Peter Hollingworth would resign the See of Brisbane at the end of June in order to become Governor-General of Australia. In contrast with its warm and affectionate treatment of the theologically conservative Goodhew, the media has been ruthless in dealing with the liberal and relevant Hollingworth. By the following weekend the print media were publishing long and reflective analyses of Hollingworth, with the obvious intent of bruising his reputation as he moves to Canberra.

Some of it was a bit over the top. But Hollingworth had obviously given a number of secular commentators the impression that he could shift his position on just about any issue in order to serve his ambition. Certainly he seems to have moved from what was recognisably Christian Socialism to the political centre, and even on some matters to the right.

 

Naked ambition

In a particularly scathing article in The Financial Review Christopher Pearson referred to the primatial election which Hollingworth lost as "an unedifying display of naked ambition by both Peter Carnley of Perth and Peter Hollingworth of Brisbane".

The media remembered only too well Hollingworth’s performance at the Constitutional Convention in 1998 charged with the task of producing a republican model to put before the Australian people in a forthcoming referendum. Initially Hollingworth said that Australians "would be fools" not to vote for a republic. Throughout the Convention he played a crucial role in developing the preferred model; but at the end he conspicuously abstained from voting for it.

Immediately after the Constitutional Convention, General Synod met in Adelaide. Hollingworth, who had personally moved the so-called Clarification Canon in 1992 enabling the ordination of women as priests, spoke passionately against their consecration as bishops. He believed in women bishops, he said, but the time was not right. It would be too divisive. He was not allowed to get away with this. In the budget debate towards the end of Synod, a motion was moved by one of the younger Sydney representatives seeking to limit increases in the General Synod Office’s spending. Another Sydney representative rose to his feet and said, "I’m going to do a Hollingworth. I will speak FOR my friend’s motion and then on this occasion vote AGAINST it". Synod enjoyed the joke.

 

Leaving the Titanic

More seriously, it is felt that Hollingworth is getting off the Titanic of the Diocese of Brisbane just in time. Financial viability is a real challenge. The clergy as a whole are dispirited. And the crisis in morale applies not just to FiF priests and their evangelical counterparts, but also to the liberals whose theological position approximates that of the Archbishop. Throughout the Diocese Hollingworth’s leadership style has come across as clench-fisted and authoritarian. Early retirement has been taken by some first rate clergy. Others seem to have been marginalised and even squeezed out because of their orthodoxy. Hollingworth has steadfastly refused to dialogue with Forward in Faith on the question of some workable form of alternative episcopal oversight; he gives the impression that he believes the debate on women priests and the "open process of reception" is all but over.

There are different methods of choosing diocesan bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia, Some dioceses elect in open synod; others have a small election committee. Still others have a nominations committee to sort out the candidates, with the diocesan synod electing. The Diocese of Sydney elects in Synod, and has chosen to quell speculation and gossip by being openly transparent at every step along the way. Sydney even has an election web site listing the candidates with their CVs and other relevant material (together with the minutes of all the election Synods since 1911!). Brisbane, on the other hand, has a committee of 22 people elected by synod. They are bound to consider the name given to them by the bishops of the Province of Queensland, before discussing anyone else, and the process is shrouded in secrecy.

There will be a new Archbishop of Sydney before General Synod meets at the end of July. The election of a new Archbishop of Brisbane could take months. In the meantime we watch and pray.

David Chislett is Rector of All Saints, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, in the diocese of Brisbane.

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