The ACO and the politics of being a staff member

The Anglican Communion Office released a statement from Canon Kenneth Kearon, the communion’s secretary general, on Saturday shortly after the Church of England rejected the proposed Anglican Covenant claiming that eight provinces had approved the covenant, and suggesting that the verdict in England was not final—even though that church, under its own rules, cannot take up the issue again until 2015.

The treatment of the news that the mother church of Anglicanism had rejected the covenant—a fact that isn’t actually overtly acknowledged in the release—stands in contrast to the sort of releases the ACO has produced when other provinces have approved the covenant. (And Simon Sarmiento suggests that Canon Kearon is inflating the numbers of those who have actually signed on.) Throw in the videos that the ACO released, in which members of the Communion’s faith and order group overtly lobbied on behalf of the covenant, and it becomes clear that the communion office has decided that it has a horse in this race and is attempting to influence the outcome in its favor. This seems inappropriate to me, but I have begun to doubt my judgment on these matters because I also believe that we've got something similar going on in the Episcopal Church regarding restructuring, but I have rung that bell before to little effect.

I have served on a diocesan staff, and one thing my bosses were very clear about was that we could not take a public stand on legislation that came before our convention. That seemed a proper standard to me, but perhaps I am wrong. Or perhaps there are other issues involved here that I am overlooking. Help me out.

Comments (19)

Jim, I thought as you did, but I heard from a couple of folks in England that they would not have expected impartiality, which, if true, means that the publications of the ACO are little more than external house organs for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

June Butler

I agree with June Butler's post. I don't believe we have seen anything at all which suggests impartiality at any step of this process.

I don't believe we have seen anything that amounts to an honest attempt at dialogue, charity, or gracious forebearance from the ACO. All I hear are very loud foot stamps and shrill voices, the bullying hallmark of those who do not want to hear opinions different from their own.

I do feel that many of our own bishops have sincerely taken steps to keep conversations open. Very, very gratful for that and them.

From what I read (here: ) the Secretary General serves the Anglican Consultative Council. And since the ACC has taken no stand on the covenant (has it? doubtful) I fail to see how or why the Secretary General could, should or would. Since his actions seem to better fit those of an agent of the current ABC than the ACC perhaps I am simply wrong in my understanding.

At any rate, I found his statement disingenuous: something's just happened in the COE, for those of you who don't know what that is don't worry yourselves and read no farther, if you are still reading remember some provinces have approved the covenant, please don't notice I've omitted saying anything about those provinces who have rejected and/or whose primates have said they will not bring it before their provinces for consideration, besides no one ever rejects it because in my (Kearon's) reading they can always accept it in the future.

I'm not asking that the SG get into what it means that the Church of England has rejected the covenant -- that's not his job. All that needed to be said is that there's nothing that says it's null if COE of rejects, so this should not derail any plans of provinces to take it up for a vote.

I have begun to doubt my judgment on these matters because I also believe that we've got something similar going on in the Episcopal Church regarding restructuring, but I have rung that bell before to little effect.

I guess this is as good a place as any to say that the leadership in the Episcopal Church (not including the House of Deputies) appears to be attempting to draw power toward the center in its restructuring, which seems the wrong tactic in these difficult times. Perhaps a lesson might be learned from a glance across the big pond to see what happens when leaders lose touch with the people.

June Butler

It bears frequent repeating, so I will do so. What galls me is that TEC and our Canadian neighbors continue to financially underwrite the machinations of the ACO and its spin machine. When are we going to pull the plug on that waste of money, used to criticize our churches?

The ACC did support the Covenant Process, but has not passed on any particular draft. However, as the draft was seen as the end of the process, it is in keeping with that understanding that urging its adoption is in line with their intent.

Resolution 2009.4.11 stated:
-- thanks the Covenant Design Group for their faithfulness and responsiveness in producing the drafts for an Anglican Communion Covenant and, in particular, for the Ridley Cambridge Draft submitted to this meeting;
-- recognises that an Anglican Communion Covenant may provide an effective means to strengthen and promote our common life as a Communion;
-- asks the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Secretary General, to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the Provinces on Section 4 and its possible revision, and to report to the next meeting of the Standing Committee;
-- asks the Standing Committee, at that meeting, to approve a final form of Section 4;
-- asks the Secretary General to send the revised Ridley Cambridge Text, at that time, only to the member Churches of the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and decision on acceptance or adoption by them as The Anglican Communion Covenant;
-- asks those member Churches to report to ACC-15 on the progress made in the processes of response to, and acceptance or adoption of, the Covenant.

I believe the Standing Committee approved the final draft after the consultation requested. I'm not sure I would characterize Canon Kearon as going beyond his job as Secretary with this announcement. The vagueness of the "adoption" procedure itself is not his doing, but is a flaw in the document itself (one of many!).

Tobias, I agree that the adoption procedure is vague. But I can't find anything in that resolution that asks the ACO to actively promote this draft, and I think that is what it is doing.

Well, Jim, for me the analogy would be a bishop and diocesan convention adopting a proposal and then sending it to the parishes for approval. Yes, you could say that implies disapproval, but the intent is for everyone to get on board -- that was clearly the hope for the Covenant (misguided as the hope was)-- note the resolution only speaks of acceptance or adoption, not of rejection. So I think the approach that the ACO, and its Secretary, take is along those lines. Which is to say, not impartial.

I think the analogy of a "house organ" is probably correct. I can't really fault Kearon on this count.

Tobias, I don't think that analogy works. The ACC doesn't have anything like the authority of a diocesan convention. I also have trouble with the house organ analogy, although I understand that others have cited it. The house hasn't spoken on this issue. The ACO's client is the communion, not the instruments. Where the communion hasn't spoken, the ACO needs to be silent.

Jim, I don't think you have the model right. The ACO's client IS the ACC, not "the Communion" since "the Communion" has no real institutional reality. The ACO is the administrative arm of the ACC. You're right about the "authority" issue, but the ACC did do what it did, and was urging adoption. Here is how the ACO is described on its website:

"The Anglican Communion Office, based in London, England, at St Andrew's House, is the permanent secretariat for the Instruments of Communion. It serves Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates' Meetings and the Lambeth Conference, as well commissions, committees and groups that emerge from time to time, as the need arises."

Tobias, I take your point regarding the self definition of the ACO. But I still don't see where the ACC urged passage of the covenant. That just isn't in the language of the resolution. And the Primates certainly didn't. And the Lambeth Conference didn't urge anything since it took no votes.

The ACO is using the money contributed by member province to lobby those provinces to do something they may not want to do. In doing so, they are undermining support for their continued existence.

It's also probably worth noting that while the ACO may think that is works for the instruments, the instruments do not finance the ACO. The provinces do. So I think the self-definition needs some work as well.

Jim, I take your point about the financing, but that is the nature of the beast since there is no other institutional structure other than the "Instruments."

I'm beginning to think that much that has transpired since the late 60's Toronto gathering was a step in the wrong direction. But the step was taken, and I think the ACO is following the lead of the entities to which that movement gave rise, which includes the Covenant at this point. This is perhaps why its broad defeat is important as a "reset" for the nature of the Anglican Communion.

Thank you, Tobias, for locating the ACC resolution on the covenant. But I wonder how much did I overstated my case?

As I read it, the resolution is very open to interpretation. I don't see an endorsement of it, or an indication that the SG is supposed to do anything except make sure provinces get the covenant so they can act on it if they choose. And even though there's no mention of rejection as an option that certainly doesn't mean adoption was assumed to be the recommendation of the ACC. (Not adopting or accepting of course is the same as rejecting. Except as Kearon would have it, just because the COE isn't adopting in 2012 doesn't mean it's rejected -- it just means it could always adopt in 2015.)

John, it did not appear to me that Canon Kearon was taking sides in his status report. He is charged with monitoring the process of adoption, and wanted to address -- in I think a fairly nuanced way -- the suggestion that disapproval in England meant the Covenant was dead. It is not, in fact dead, even in England. Even before 2015 other things could happen.

It seems to me that Kearon is trying to indicate that the decision of other provinces to adopt is their decision to make, and that they should act with that in mind. I don't see his letter as a particular "endorsement" but as a status report.

I think it fair to point out he does qualify the S.A. adoption in the list of "adopters" -- and as a general list it is accurate as far as it goes. Since it only concerns those who adopt it, there is no need to list those who have not done so.

The Faith and Order group do in fact support the Covenant. They are a committee created by the Instruments, and are expressing their opinion.

I wish we could chill a bit on this. Being in the ACO these days is not an easy job.

Tobias, I think the faith and order people are entitled to express their opinion. I don't know that they are entitled to spend the communion's money on making and distributing a video expressing their opinion.

I think it would have been a better communication if it had been noted that the voting was on the Covenant (rather than the rather obscure introduction) and if the status of the document around the world had been noted. The way it reads - it seems like propaganda because it only presents those who have accepted it or subscribed to it. And really subscribe was not an option -so they did not accept either. Here is a site that gives the current status.
I do think people on all sides are acting in good faith - just some amount of blinders due to being immersed in it for so long.

I know it is me banging on my old drum again, but the process from Toronto on was led by American The Revd Canon John L. Peterson who was Kearon's predecessor.

The Anglican Church Project was hardly invisible - and North American bishops and others played a leading role in its development.

But I think it important to note that it is the Covenant that gives legitimacy to the so called Instruments, here in my country we only have any constitutional relationship with the ACC .

All the other developments have no standing here and so it has been difficult to argue that they have even moral authority.

Without the Covenant they have nothing.

Marin, I concur completely. I tend to think the process, starting in Toronto, was driven largely by Western post-colonial guilt. Hence pious incoherences like "mutual responsibility in interdependence." Things that depend only on each other fall in the ditch!

The Covenant was an effort to hold on to an idea that had already begun to unravel, as the false foundation on which it was built quickly crumbled.

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