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Archbishop Williams’ pleas for restraint “unlikely to be heeded”: CEN 9.28.07 p 9. September 27, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, House of Bishops.


Dr. Williams greeting a parishioner at All Souls, New Orleans


The Archbishop of Canterbury’s pleas for restraint to the American bishops are likely to fall on deaf ears, with division of the American Church by year’s end a potential outcome of the Sept 20-25 meeting in New Orleans.

Invited to visit the US House of Bishops meeting along with members of the Joint ACC-Primates Standing Committee, Dr. Williams spent two difficult and at times emotional days urging America to rethink its stance towards the Communion and accept a moratorium on gay bishops and blessings. Bolstered by some light airplane reading on his flight to New Orleans, Dante’s Purgatorio, Dr. Williams found himself in a no-win situation, with few minds changed or positions apparently altered by the trip.

Dr. Williams’ thankless task awoke the ire of both liberals and conservatives. Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan told The Church of England Newspaper that he was disappointed with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr. Williams had privately encouraged conservatives to form the Anglican Communion Network, the Common Cause Coalition, and the Camp Allen group of “Windsor-compliant” bishops, but had declined to give his public backing once the groups were organized, he said.

Massachusetts Bishop M. Thomas Shaw said he also was disappointed with Dr. Williams for failing to recognize the “prophetic” witness of the Episcopal Church in electing a partnered gay priest as bishop.

Dr. Williams’ seven hours of meetings with the American bishops began on Sept 20. At the start of the first morning session US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori announced that she was extending to conservatives a primitial visitor plan, naming eight moderate and conservative visitors who would act in her stead.

No discussion and questions about the plan offered in response to the Primates’ call for a ‘pastoral scheme’ for traditionalists were raised, and the meeting moved on to other business. At the break conservative bishops rejected the visitor plan as a non-starter, telling CEN it offered less than the plan they rejected in November.

Nor were the Presiding Bishops’ eight visitors any more informed as to what the plan might entail. None of the visitors questioned knew details of the plan, each stating they had offered their assistance, but knew nothing further.

Seated at round tables spread across a hotel ballroom, the bishops spent the first part of the meeting in their “table groups”. Approximately two dozen bishops then rose to address Dr. Williams, who sat silent taking notes.

Dr. Williams heard complaints from the bishops of African leaders who had violated American diocesan boundaries. One bishop told CEN that “nothing new” was offered in the meeting, with well-worn positions restated.

The Bishop of Quincy, Keith Ackerman told Dr. Williams that the changes of doctrine and discipline made over the past twenty years in the Episcopal Church no longer made it recognizably part of the catholic church, while the Bishop of California Marc Andrus explained that his San Francisco-based diocese was the “main refuge” for gays and lesbians seeking to live a “Christian life.”

Following a lunch break, Dr. Williams offered a theological reflection, asking the bishops to reflect upon their office and its role within a catholic church. During a question and answer session following his unscripted remarks, the Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson attacked Dr. Williams saying that although he had supported him in the past, he could no longer do so.

According to one bishop present, Gene Robinson said Dr. Williams’ juxtaposition of fidelity to the catholic faith and fidelity to the aspirations of gay clergy to higher office was one of the “most dehumanizing things” he had heard.

Several liberal bishops politely rubbished Dr. Williams and his office as Archbishop of Canterbury, denigrating his motives and his knowledge of the American Church. They explained that the catholic faith meant not fidelity to theological norms, but to inclusion of all people. The bishops explained that the revision of the Baptismal service in the American 1979 Prayer Book had created a doctrine of a “baptismal covenant” that made inclusion and social activism the primary sacramental virtues of the Church.

After his meeting with the Bishops, the American Church organized a visit to a hurricane ravaged neighborhood in New Orleans to cheer up Dr. Williams. The Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the beginnings of a new mission in the flood ravaged 9th ward of New Orleans, telling reporters it had so far been the best part of his trip.

In a service of Evening Prayer with festive jazz music held at the New Orleans convention center, Dr. Williams avoided mention of the presenting issues, confining his remarks to the reconstruction and relief of the city. Upon the return to business the following morning, representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council addressed the bishops.

Mrs. Philipa Amable of Ghana, Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi, Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia offered similar messages of rebuke to the American church, though offered in contrasting styles.

Mrs. Amable and Bishop Tengatenga, speaking without notes, stressed their desire for the American church to remain part of the Communion, but noted the discord prompted by the unilateral actions of promoting gay bishops and blessings. Bishop Tengatenga compared the Episcopal Church’s actions to American foreign policy adventures, saying the Episcopal Church had behaved like its government in Iraq and in Vietnam, convinced of its own righteousness and ignoring the pleas of the international community.

Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis offered a robust critique, saying America should have the courage of its convictions and state clearly whether it wanted to be on its own, or conform to the teachings of the wider church. Dr. Aspinall concluded the presentations with a review of the Primates Dar es Salaam communiqué.

He stated the American bishops appeared to have read the communiqué in its most restrictive light, and had misheard what the primates were seeking. Dr. Williams then offered a 15 minute reflection and heard closing comments and questions.

The ACC’s calls for repentance were not well received, and the early release of Dr. Annis’ speech via the internet served to discredit it among some. At the start of the meeting copies of Dr. Annis’ presentation were placed on a back table along with other documents from the meeting. From there it made its way out to the press where a ‘blogger’ posted the presentation on to the internet while the meeting was still in session.

The leak of the speech prompted harsh comments, with some bishops complaining Dr. Annis had been engaged in a “stunt” and was not addressing the bishops but speaking over their heads to conservative supporters. Asked if the leak had damaged his standing, one member of the joint standing committee told reporters that remained to be seen, but cautioned that if his actions had been deliberate it would not bode well.

Speaking to the press at the close of the meeting, Dr. Williams reiterated that the Sept 30 deadline from the primates was not an “ultimatum”, but a date set so as to coincide with the timing of the House of Bishops meeting.

After the American bishops had given their response, the joint Primates ACC standing committee would give its impressions to Dr. Williams, who would then discuss the statement with the primates over the coming weeks, with collective action to follow.

Dr. Williams’ nuanced statement was interpreted in different ways by the US bishops. Mississippi Bishop Duncan Gray said that a number of bishops were relieved to hear that they were not under a deadline to reply to the primates. Bishop Gray said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a compromise could be reached that would satisfy all parties.

However an aide to Dr. Williams said there had been no change to the position taken by Dr. Williams at the close of the Dar es Salaam primates meeting, that if the US bishops declined to act, there would be consequences.

Over the final two days of the meeting, the US bishops will hammer out a statement, expected to be released at the close of business on Sept 25.

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