UPDATED 9AM, Thursday
The General Synod of the Church of England meets from February 9-13. Thinking Anglicans points to this press release and these words caught our attention:
Anglican CovenantBeing mostly ignorant of the meaning of "take note motion" I inquired and Peter Owen graciously provided this explanation:
The Churches of the Anglican Communion were asked in March 2008 if they were able, in principle, to commit to the Covenant process and to say if there were any elements which in their view would need extensive change in order to make viable the process of adoption by their Synods. The General Synod will consider a take note motion, moved by the Bishop of Rochester on behalf of the House of Bishops, on a report from the House, to which is attached a draft Church of England response to these questions. The draft response welcomes the direction of travel of the Covenant while flagging up a number of points which still require attention.
The wording of these is always "That the Synod do take note of this Report". [Which report is made clear by the heading above the motion in the printed agenda and the official record of business done.] Such a motion cannot be amended. The Synod's standing orders state that "If the motion is carried, it shall not be deemed to commit the Synod to the acceptance of any matter contained in the report."A day has passed and Thinking Anglicans has a post linking to those papers for the synod meeting that have now been released online. This includes the "take note motion" GS 1716 Anglican Covenant. We've perused the attached document and if we're not mistaken it doesn't address a fundamental issue: the Church of England cannot sign the Anglican Covenant. It was Peter Owen who drew our attention to this back in November when we wrote:
The purpose of a take note motion is to allow a general debate on the contents of a report, and to separate this from any decisions on what action, if any, to take. If any action is required on the recommendations of a report then appropriate motions (which can be amended) are moved, debated and voted on afterwards.
Rowan Williams believes that the solution to our problems lies in the development of an Anglican covenant which the Church of England CANNOT LEGALLY SIGN. (excuse the capital letters, but really...)Since "the Church of England could not submit itself to any such external power of direction" we're puzzled why the General Synod will be discussing a report in which the Church of England expresses its support for an Anglican Covenant.
Note this response from the Secretary General of the Church of England to a written question from a Synod member:Mr Justin Brett (Oxford) to ask the Secretary General:
Q2. What research has been undertaken to establish the effect of the Church of England’s participation in an Anglican Communion Covenant upon the relationship between the Church of England and the Crown, given the Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the consequent tension between her prerogative and the potential demands of a disciplinary process within the proposed Covenant?
Mr William Fittall to reply as Secretary General:
A. The Church of England response of 19 December 2007 to the initial draft Covenant noted on page 13 that ‘it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.’ The same would be true in relation to delegation to any other body of the Anglican Communion. Since as a matter of law the Church of England could not submit itself to any such external power of direction, any separate possible difficulties in relation to the Royal Prerogative could not in practice arise.
Thursday, Feb 22 update
Simon Sarmiento has posted on this puzzle at Thinking Anglicans. In a comment below he writes, "The original comment was made over a year ago. The question surely is, does the current draft still contain anything which amounts to such a delegation, or ability to "give direction" to the CofE. It seems clear that the HoB of the CofE doesn't think so."
Sarmiento's post contains a link to GS Misc 910 The Governance of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion by Colin Podmore referred to in GS 1716.
Charlotte Pressler comments on Podmore below. She writes of a Gordian knot: "It would seem to follow that the Queen's Prerogative will not be infringed upon if, as Supreme Governor, she gives assent to a Covenant that has no legally binding authority over the Church of England. I suspect this is how the Church of England proposes to cut the Gordian Knot of Covenant and Prerogative." My emphasis.
Updated, again. Read Tobias Haller's analysis. He concludes that "the second draft of the Covenant (St Andrew's) has been attenuated to such an extent that in the eyes of the committee this difficulty no longer presents itself." (My emphasis.) He also finds other points of interest.