The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion has submitted its Report on The Episcopal Church House of Bishops of Meeting in New Orleans. The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent the Report to all the Primates and to all members of the Anglican Consultative Council and asked them to consult in their Provinces on the Report, and respond to him by the end of October. The Report follows (a printer friendly pdf. is here):
The Report of the Joint Standing Committee to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Response of The Episcopal Church to the Questions of the Primates articulated at their meeting in Dar es Salaam and related Pastoral Concerns
The Joint Standing Committee met in formal session on Monday 24 September in order to reflect on the conversation in which we had participated with Your Grace at the meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, held in New Orleans between Wednesday 19 September and Tuesday 25 September. We are grateful to the House of Bishops for their consideration in ensuring that their schedule was changed to seek to create as much space as possible to consider their response on the Monday, although sadly the House of Bishops were not able to complete the process of developing their response before our meeting concluded.
The Joint Standing Committee were however briefed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other bishops on the Monday evening, and had the opportunity to agree together the main outlines of how they might wish to respond in the light of the various options facing the House of Bishops. All members of the Joint Standing Committee present in New Orleans 1/ have been consulted electronically in the preparation of this report once the actual text of the statement of the House of Bishops was available.
It has to be acknowledged that the House has laboured long and strenuously to come to a conclusion, and to offer its response to the requests of the Windsor Report, as reiterated in the Communiqué of the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in February of this year. This reflects the fact that the House of Bishops were themselves of differing perspectives on the questions before them; it also reflects their readiness to respond to the concerns raised by the Communion by coming to conclusions which command a wide consensus across the members of the House. The effort expended in reaching these conclusions should be acknowledged.
In addition to addressing the specific questions of the Windsor Report, the Episcopal House of Bishops also addressed other matters of related concern raised in the Communiqué of the Primates from their meeting at Dar es Salaam which will be addressed separately.
In preparing this report, we have been careful to distinguish between the response to the two questions concerning the Windsor Report which the Primates addressed to the Episcopal Church and on which they requested an answer by 30th September 2007, and other urgent but distinct matters raised in that Communiqué, for the resolution of which no specific date was set.
Although the tensions within the Anglican Communion will not be resolved until all these matters are addressed, the wider questions, which concern the polity of The Episcopal Church and the provision of pastoral care for those who are alienated by certain recent developments in its life, do not form part of the issues which were requested to be addressed by the date set in the schedule of the Primates’ Communiqué for specific answers on the questions set out below. Those wider matters of pastoral concern remain urgent, and are addressed in the second part of our report.
The Response of The Episcopal Church to the Windsor Report
The Lambeth Commission on Communion was commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in October 2003 at the request of the Primates:
1. To examine and report to him by 30th September 2004, in preparation for the ensuing meetings of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, on the legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops, … and the ways in which provinces of the Anglican Communion may relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion .
The Windsor Report was published in October 2004, and contained specific questions addressed to The Episcopal Church in respect of the matter of the election of bishops and the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. These requests are set out in the relevant sections below.
At their meeting in Dromantine in February 2005, the Primates asked:
“During [the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference] we request that [the Episcopal Church] respond through [its] relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.”
These questions were addressed by The Episcopal Church at the 75th General Convention held in June 2006. The responses given there were assessed in detail in the Report of a Sub-Group established by the Joint Standing Committee and presented to the Primates at their meeting in Dar es Salaam in February 2007. On reviewing that report, the primates concluded:
On Clarifying the Response to Windsor
The Primates recognise the seriousness with which The Episcopal Church addressed the requests of the Windsor Report put to it by the Primates at their Dromantine Meeting. They value and accept the apology and the request for forgiveness made . While they appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.
In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);
unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.
If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship of The Episcopal Church remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.
At their meeting in New Orleans, the bishops of The Episcopal Church have had the opportunity to reflect on these two questions, and to offer their response.
On public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions
In May 2003, the Primates had expressed their own understanding of the position in the Communion with regard to the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions:
“The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites.
This is distinct from the duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations. As recognised in the booklet “True Union”, it is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.”
The Windsor Report concluded that:
“… at present it would be true to say that very many people within the Communion fail to see how the authorisation of such a rite is compatible with the teaching of scripture, tradition and reason. In such circumstances, it should not be surprising that such developments are seen by some as surrendering to the spirit of the age rather than an authentic development of the gospel.
We believe that to proceed unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions at this time goes against the formally expressed opinions of the Instruments of Unity and therefore constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it, and of bonds of affection in the life of the Communion, especially the principle of interdependence. For the sake of our common life, we call upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions.
… we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites.”
The Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee, in their Report, noted that a wide variety of practice currently appertained across the Episcopal Church , and concluded that:
“It is therefore not at all clear whether, in fact, the Episcopal Church is living with the recommendations of the Windsor Report on this matter. The Primates in their statement of March 2003 did admit that there could be “a breadth of private response to individual pastoral care”, but it is clear that the authorisation by any one bishop, diocese or Province, of any public Rite of Blessing, or permission to develop or use such a rite, would go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound. We do not see how bishops who continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion can be fully incorporated into its ongoing life. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.”
At their meeting in Dar es Salaam, the Primates, quoting the statement in the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003, said,
“we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
The standard of teaching stated in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 asserted that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions” . (Dar es Salaam Communiqué, §21,22)
and made this further request for the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to:
“make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention” (Schedule to the Dar es Salaam Communiqué, February 2007)
The House of Bishops has now said that they “pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions” . In their discussion of that pledge:
Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty "to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations." They further stated, "...[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care."
These statements (Summary and Discussion), taken together, address the request of the Primates at Dar es Salaam. The bishops have pledged themselves not to authorise public rites in their dioceses. In giving this commitment with the proviso “or until General Convention takes further action”, the House of Bishops is acknowledging that it does not have the power to bind future actions of General Convention, in the same way that most of the general synods of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion cannot be bound by any part or section of their polity.
It is to be noted that the House of Bishops states that “the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions” and quote the words of the primates in 2003 concerning “a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.” The principle which has historically been applied by Anglicans to common prayer is “Lex orandi, lex credendi”, that is, that our liturgy expresses what we believe. Given that there is no agreed theological framework on ministry to homosexual persons entering into committed relationships, it is currently widely understood that it would be inappropriate to develop liturgical expressions of blessing for such relationships . Indeed, the teaching most widely upheld across the Communion was embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” , concluded that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions.”
The Episcopal Church has acknowledged in the past, however, that “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions” . In answer to the way in which this resolution was understood in the Windsor Report , it has been said that this statement was to be understood descriptively of a reality current in 2003 and not as permissive, and the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion prior to the 75th General Convention (2006) specifically denied that it was intended to authorise such rites .
It needs to be made clear however that we believe that the celebration of a public liturgy which includes a blessing on a same-sex union is not within the breadth of private pastoral response envisaged by the Primates in their Pastoral Letter of 2003, and that the undertaking made by the bishops in New Orleans is understood to mean that the use of any such rites or liturgies will not in future have the bishop’s authority “until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action ”, a qualification which is in line with the limits that the Constitution of The Episcopal Church places upon the bishops.
On this basis, we understand the statement of the House of Bishops in New Orleans to have met the request of the Windsor Report in that the Bishops have declared “a moratorium on all such public Rites” , and the request of the Primates at Dar es Salaam that the bishops should “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses” since we have their pledge explicitly in those terms.
On elections to the episcopate
At the epicentre of tensions in the Communion over the last five years has been the fact that the Episcopal Church elected and consecrated as a Bishop a person publicly acknowledged to be living in a committed same-sex relationship. In October 2003, the Primates stated that:
“In most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop. If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, …”
and requested the formation of the Lambeth Commission which produced the Windsor Report in October 2004. The Windsor Report stated:
“In our view, all those involved in the processes of episcopal appointment, at whichever level, should in future in the light of all that has happened pay proper regard to the acceptability of the candidate to other provinces in our Communion; the issue should be addressed by those locally concerned at the earliest stages, by those provincially involved in the confirmation of any election, and not least by those who, acting on those decisions, consecrate the individual into the order of bishop.” (The Windsor Report, §131)
and requested that:
“the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.” (The Windsor Report, §134)
At General Convention in June 2006, General Convention passed Resolution B033, which stated:
“Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
The Communion Sub-Group established by the Joint Standing Committee concluded:
8. The group noted that, in this resolution, the language of moratorium from the Windsor Report had not been used. It understood that legal counsel to the Convention advised that the language of a moratorium was difficult to embody in legislation under the provisions of the Episcopal Church’s constitution.
9. Instead the resolution uses the language of “restraint”, and the group noted that there has been considerable discussion since General Convention about the exact force of that word. By requiring that the restraint must be expressed in a particular way - “by not consenting …”, however, the resolution is calling for a precise response, which complies with the force of the recommendation of the Windsor Report. The resolution, which was passed by large majorities in both houses, therefore calls upon those charged with the giving of consent to the result of any election to the episcopate to refuse consent to candidates whose “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”.
10. In voting for this resolution, the majority of bishops with jurisdiction have indicated that they will refuse consent in future to the consecration of a bishop whose manner of life challenges the wider church and leads to further strains on Communion. This represents a significant shift from the position which applied in 2003. It was noted that a small number of bishops indicated that they would not abide by the resolution of General Convention, but in supporting the resolution the majority of bishops have committed them