Australian church court bans diaconal presidency at the Eucharist: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 20, 2010 p 6. August 20, 2010Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Canon Law, Church of England Newspaper, Ecclesiology.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper
The Anglican Church of Australia’s highest church court has thrown out the legal principle behind its 2007 decision to allow the ordination of women bishops. In an Aug 10 decision concerning the Diocese of Sydney and diaconal presidency at the Eucharist, the Appellate Tribunal held that it is not the language of a canon, but the legislative intent in its creation that provides its meaning.
In its 2007 ruling the court came to an opposite conclusion, finding that while women bishops were not contemplated in the drafting of the canons governing the episcopate, its language could be construed to allow the innovation.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Sydney declined to comment on last week’s ruling, stating “the advisory opinion of the Tribunal will doubtless receive attention at the Diocesan Synod to be held in October.”
The ruling on lay and diaconal presidency at the Eucharist came in response to a petition filed by opponents of the Oct 21, 2008 resolution adopted by the Sydney Synod that stated “lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper is consistent with the teaching of Scripture” and affirmed that the “Lord’s Supper in this diocese may be administered by persons other than presbyters.”
The synod resolution followed a 1997 ruling by the Appellate Tribunal that held that deacons or lay people could administer Holy Communion so long as General Synod authorized the practice. Some parishes in Sydney had authorized deacons to administer the Eucharist in the absence of a priest, but lay presidency has not been permitted in the diocese.
The Sydney Synod believed that three revisions to the Ordination Service for Deacons Canon passed by General Synod in 1985 “radically” reformed the Ordinal to allow diaconal presidency. Under the new rite, deacons were charged to be “faithful in prayer, and take your place with bishop, priest and people in public worship and at the administration of the sacraments.”
In his question to the diaconal candidates for ordination, the bishop under the revised Ordinal asked, “Will you take your part in reading the Holy Scriptures in the church, in teaching the doctrine of Christ, and in administering the sacraments?” And in his authorization of the new deacon the bishop stated “receive this sign of your authority to proclaim God’s word and to assist in the administration of his holy sacraments.”
These three portions of the 1985 ordination service “expressly authorizes the deacon to assist the priest in the administration of the sacraments,” a report accepted by the 2008 Sydney Synod held, adding that the word “assistance equally applies to Holy Communion as it applies to baptism; and there is no dispute that a deacon can administer baptism in its entirety.”
The authors of the Sydney report, led by the Bishop of North Sydney Dr. Glenn Davies, conceded that it may not have been the intention of the 1985 Ordinal to authorize diaconal presidency, but the principle that authorial intent does not bind interpretation of the canons had been set by the Appellate Tribunal the year before.
In a split 4-3 decision released on Sept 28, 2007 the Appellate Tribunal found the language of the Law of the Church of England Clarification Canon 1992 did not require a bishop to be male in order to meet the definition of ‘canonical fitness’ for the Episcopal ministry. While the canon may not have contemplated women bishops, grammar allowed the canon to be construed to permit it, the court held.
Objections to the 2008 Sydney vote were submitted to the Appellate Tribunal in 2009 by 25 members of General Synod led by Dr. Muriel Porter of the Diocese of Melbourne. In its opinion, the court said the objections to the Sydney vote arose from the view that the “1985 Canon and the service for making deacons contained in it, the deacon’s role is clearly to take his or her place in the administration and to assist the priest in the administration.”
The Diocese of Sydney did not participate in the Tribunal’s proceedings, while Bishop Davies appeared in a personal capacity to defend his committee paper on diaconal presidency and the 1985 Ordinal only.
The court by a vote of 6 to 1 rejected Bishop Davies argument, finding a distinction with the phrase “assist in” found in the canon, and the concept “assist by.” As a deacon may only “assist in” it was “logically correct” to argue that a priest was necessarily present when a deacon could “assist in” administering the Eucharist.
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall wrote that he believed that Bishop Davies’ view that words “are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning” must be modified by context.
The archbishop argued that “there is a context that impacts upon the meaning of the words in the 1985 service, namely the BCP ordinal and the longstanding norms and practices governing the manner in which a deacon assists the priest in ministering the sacraments. That context impliedly limits the meaning of the words in the 1985 service and does not permit them to be construed in the manner submitted by Dr Davies.”
The effect of the Tribunal’s decision will be to halt the administration by deacons of the Eucharist in the Anglican Church of Australia, pending a canon authorizing the practice adopted by General Synod.