Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Communion Partners Plan

We've finished the move. There were some strange moments that deviated from the plan, but by Saturday, we were fairly well situated and life could continue. It would be nice if we could find a few things, like the plates and the silverware. I'm sure they are somewhere in the mountain of boxes in the kitchen. In the meantime, that's what restaurants are for, right?

In my absence, the Anglican soap opera has continued. A development that may prove to be important is the Communion Partners Plan. From what I can find, it appears that this plan was first mentioned by Jonathan Petre in a story that has now been largely discredited. It made for interesting reading however, although Petre's intention appears to have been to take a few jabs at Dr. Williams rather than report on the plan. That intention became quite transparent by the end of the article. Here's a bit from it:

...According to insiders, Dr Williams has given his blessing to the plans to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues.

The scheme would allow them to remain technically within the Episcopal Church but under the care of like-minded archbishops from abroad.

The Primate of the West Indies, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, a moderate conservative, has agreed to participate, and other primates could be recruited...
Seeing Abp. Gomez mentioned is not encouraging, in light of his past statements of support for the "rejectionist" Anglicans and his participation in the irregular consecration of bishops in Kenya; bishops who were created for the purpose of advancing the border crossings of foreign Provinces into TEC. At the time of those consecrations, Mark Harris had this to say about the participation of Abp. Gomez:

...It is necessary to point out the presence of Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who was preacher at the ordination. As the chair of the Covenant Design Group he has played a major part in the work of the Communion. By his participation in this ordination he has made his stand, a stand that is incompatible with the very document that produced the recommendations concerning a covenant. He has made his choice. It is time for him to step down as Chair of the CDG...
The next story on the Communion Partners Plan was by George Conger, who offered more details and appears to have been more accurate than the Petre piece. Here's part of that article:

...Bishop Stanton of Dallas, working with leaders of the Anglican Communion Institute and the Primate of the West Indies, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, took the Episcopal Visitor programme forward. Led by Prof Christopher Seitz, the team sought to meld the needs articulated by traditionalists with the structures suggested by the Primates and the Presiding Bishop.

On Jan 31 Dr Williams met with Archbishop Gomez, Bishop Stanton, Prof Seitz and Dr Ephraim Radner and gave his backing to the emerging “Anglican Bishops in Communion” project, agreeing to issue invitations to the primates of the West Indies, Burundi, Tanzania, the Indian Ocean and Jerusalem and the Middle East to offer primatial pastoral oversight to the Episcopal Visitors.

The Presiding Bishop was briefed by Bishops Stanton of Dallas, Smith of North Dakota, Howe of Central Florida, and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana on Feb 21, giving her “nihil obstat” to the Communion plan, one participant reported.

While the details of oversight have not been finalized, the plan keeps the authority of naming Episcopal Visitors with the Presiding Bishop. These visitors would be linked pastorally with the five overseas primates. The plan does not envision the Presiding Bishop relinquishing her authority over the disciplinary process, but would permit visitations on her behalf. The authority to consecrate bishops would be held by the Presiding Bishop, but it is understood that this power could be delegated...
According to Conger, this plan is a hybrid, combining features of the episcopal oversight plan recommended by the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communique, which included a "Pastoral Council," consisting of four Archbishops who are not members of the Episcopal Church; and our Presiding Bishop's Episcopal Visitors Plan. There would be a "Pastoral Council," made up of five foreign Primates, but the Presiding Bishop would have more authority than in the Dar es Salaam recommendation.

The involvement of five Primates from other Provinces in the internal affairs of TEC is a deal breaker for me, especially if one of them is to be Abp. Gomez. Regardless of how innocent their initial involvement might sound, once you grant them authority over "pastoral concerns," it will only be a matter of time until they will be claiming more and more authority for themselves in other matters, possibly leading to the point that they will have the power to veto actions of General Convention and Executive Council.

Before saying more, the letter from Bp. John Howe needs to be considered, as he offers some clarification and more details. Here's the conclusion of that letter:

...Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Schori yesterday was to apprize her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her that we remain committed to working within the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and that the Primates involved in this discussion are NOT involved in "border crossing," nor would we be. We will visit no congregation without the Diocesan Bishop's invitation and permission. We do believe this is a step forward, albeit a small one...
Yes, it is indeed a step forward for it to be acknowledged that the line in the sand for our Presiding Bishop, and many of us faithful Episcopalians, is the "border crossings." However, the section of Bp. Howe's letter that outlines the purpose of these "Partners" includes this troubling language:

...To provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor principles.

The Bishops will work together according to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report and seek a comprehensive Anglican Covenant at the Lambeth Conference and beyond...
We have previously discussed why some of us consider an Anglican Covenant, either in its former or current form, to be a flawed idea. Since Abp. Gomez seems to be taking the lead on this Partners plan, and since he also just so happens to chair the Covenant Design Group, it is not surprising that approving a Covenant as soon as possible is such a high priority for the proposers of this new hybrid Partners plan. I would imagine that they are going to be surprised by the negative reaction such an emphasis on the Covenant will receive from some segments of the Communion.

It also bothers me that it is made clear, especially in Christopher Seitz description of events, that our Presiding Bishop was "informed" of these plans. Did they have to ask her permission? Canonically, maybe not. Did they need to seek her support? It would have been prudent, but again maybe not absolutely necessary. Why would it have been prudent? Because no bishop, clergy person or lay person is required to recognize the authority of any bishop or archbishop outside TEC. To communicate the intention of moving forward with this plan, with or without the approval of our Presiding Bishop, is going to incline some of us to be less than supportive.

The five foreign Primates who will make up this new version of Dar es Salaam's Pastoral Council are, to use Bp. Schofield's term, "meddling" in the internal affairs of TEC, without seeking permission or approval from our Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council or General Convention. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Even though I appreciate the "small step" of not participating in further border crossings, I could not support such a plan, in light of the participation of Abp. Gomez and the way in which the polity of TEC has been bypassed.

Mark Harris has some thoughts on this matter. Here is his conclusion:

...How this all unfolds I do not know. The early read is that this is yet another effort to organize those who do not want a woman Presiding Bishop exercising primatial oversight (whatever that is), particularly someone who supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson and a feminist, and, under the guise of the Episcopal Visitor program, to give them greater voice in the Anglican Communion. It seems a very bad idea.
I tend to agree with Mark. This is indeed a very bad idea.

Your thoughts?


No comments:

Post a Comment