Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Canterbury Forms "Panel of Reference"

The Windsor Report suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury form a "council of advice," which some suspected was a move towards the development of a magisterium. It appears Dr. Williams is creating such an entity, which he is calling "The Panel of Reference."

What is interesting is that the directive from the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to focus on one primary issue, episcopal oversight;

The functions of the Panel shall be:

1. At my request to enquire into, consider and report on situations drawn to my attention where there is serious dispute concerning the adequacy of schemes of delegated or extended episcopal oversight or other extraordinary arrangements which may be needed to provide for parishes which find it impossible in all conscience to accept the direct ministry of their own diocesan bishop or for dioceses in dispute with their provincial authorities.

2. With my consent to make recommendations to the Primates, dioceses and provincial and diocesan authorities concerned, and to report to me on their response.

3. At the request of any Primate to provide a facility for mediation and to assist in the implementation of any such scheme in his own province.
Even though I'm uncomfortable with the formation of yet another squad of "thought police," it is encouraging to see that the first issue they will take on has to do with the authority of bishops. This is where the crisis is, for Anglicans at least, as I see it. From my American perspective, the slide towards congregationalism, within both progressive and conservative congregations, is quite disturbing.

We hear plenty of stories of conservative congregations in conflict with their bishop. There are other stories, although they are kept quiet, of primarily progressive congregations banding together and forcing their bishop to "retire." It is not always about "issues." Sometimes it is simply that folks don't like their spiritual leader, for one reason or another. Rather than seeking reconciliation, a way is sought to either remove the ecclesiastical authority, or remove the congregation from the bishop's authority.

Although what I am about to say will sound offensive to some, I hope you can recognize some truth in it. I have mentioned before that I believe that most issues are clergy driven. So it is with many congregations within the Episcopal Church regarding their relationship with their bishop. There will always be a sizable percentage of members whose thinking will be something like this; "Fr. Joe doesn't like the bishop. We love Fr. Joe. So there must be something wrong with the bishop." If you then consider that every diocese has a few "cardinal rectors" (frustrated priests who want to be the bishop), you can see that there will always be a few clergy, and so a few congregations, in constant conflict with their bishop.

In the past, there weren't too many options, so usually the diocesan bishop's authority was acknowledged, and folks just grumbled if they didn't like him or her. The new development over the last few years has been the presentation of alternative bishops, often foreign, if one cannot tolerate their diocesan bishop. This alternative is offered primarily by conservatives, and is an integral part of their plan to damage the structure of the Episcopal Church beyond repair, so they can step into the void.

"Where the bishop is, there is the Church." Being a person under authority doesn't include the option of choosing the source of that authority. I suspect those who struggle with such authority figures need to wrestle with their understanding of the Church. Maybe Anglicanism is not the best place for them to grow.


CLARIFICATION: "The Panel of Reference" is the entity specifically recommended by the Primates;

15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates’ Statement of October 2003 (xii). Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.
As you may recall, the Primates did not recommend the creation of a "Council of Advice," but instead suggested "The Panel" to specifically address the issue of episcopal oversight. In his directive, Dr. Williams refers to The Panel as an "advisory and consultative body," which suggests to me there may be additional future tasks for it to perform, which would make it, for all intents and purposes, the "Council of Advice" recommended by the Windsor Report. The directive limits The Panel to five years, or until Dr. Williams is staisfied that they have completed their task. Future tasks would simply require a new directive.

This is a new creation. If it works, it may be the beginning of a shift in the structure of the Anglican Communion, with more authority moving into the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors. This could be a blessing or a bane.

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