Updated. This week's leader at The Church Times said that by not showing up, the conservative primates assured that the Primates Meeting will never become the kind of definitive, authoritative council that they dream of.
Update: The Church of Ireland Gazette agrees.
The Church Times leader says:
IT IS a shame that the Primates were so media-shy in Dublin. It would have been good to catch on film an image of the names of the absent Primates placed variously around a candle or on empty chairs rather than having to rely on a verbal description. In whatever medium, however, it must be the abiding image of this Primates’ Meeting. We trust that it was done in the same spirit as when a place is set for Elijah at Passover, and not in the way in which Lord Hattersley was once represented on Have I Got News For You.
The Canadian Primate, Archbishop Hiltz, reported afterwards that the Primates at the meeting had “endeavoured to consider, as much as we could, their perspective on the issue before us”. They were successful on at least one point: the Global South absentees had wished to signal by their absence the insignificance of the Primates’ Meeting, as long as it proved unable or unwilling to enforce earlier disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church in the United States concerning gay bishops and same-sex unions. The Primates who were present in Dublin showed remarkable compliance, redefining the Primates’ Meeting as an essentially toothless body.
Those unfamiliar with recent Anglican history might overlook the importance of that dull list produced in Dublin, with an even duller title: “Towards an Understanding of the Purpose and Scope of the Primates’ Meeting”. Until their principled — and possibly unwise — decision to give the Primates’ Meeting up as a bad job, the conservatives saw the gathering as a potential power-base to rival the other instruments of the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury was an individual attached awkwardly to an ex-colonial power; the Lambeth Conference met only once a decade; and the Anglican Consultative Council, well . . . This left the Primates’ Meeting, the most representative body in the Communion — if you saw no need to represent lay people, the parish clergy, women, etc. Not only did it meet every two years: there was the prospect of a permanent standing committee, which could govern between meetings.
Suddenly there was the prospect of an effective, powerful governing body, in charge of theological and ethical pronouncements, discipline, and membership. Furthermore, the conservatives might be strong enough to control it. It is in this light that the redefinition of the Primates’ Meeting, framed in their absence, must be seen. Note how the document refers to “taking counsel”, “being collegial”, “being consultative”, and “acknowledging diversity and giving space for difference”. On the pressing issues of faith, order, and ethics, the Primates are merely to “seek continuity and coherence”, whatever that means. And the standing committee has been tucked neatly away, to “act as a consultative council for the Archbishop of Canterbury” and to care for the “life and spirit” of the Primates’ Meeting, whatever that means. If the conservatives ever choose to return, they will find that the guns have been spiked.
Updated. An editorial in The Church of Ireland Gazette says:
The 18th Primates' Meeting, held at the Emmaus Centre, near Dublin, concluded last weekend. The Anglican Communion Office indicated that the Primates had met in “an atmosphere of prayer and purpose”.
Of course, the absence of seven Primates due to the presence at the gathering of the US Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, because of the US Episcopal Church's stance on human sexuality, was regrettable.
Had the absenting Primates been present, they would have been able to express their views and assist their colleagues in considering the current inter-Anglican situation. Whatever Christian people's different views on gay relationships may be, they should not be a barrier to them meeting and talking and communing in Christian fellowship.
The Anglican Communion needs to get beyond its difficulties over sexuality issues and to focus, as the Primates did at the Emmaus Centre, on much wider issues, not least the mission of the Church. While also addressing the unity of the Communion, which touches not least the proposed Anglican Covenant, the discussions at this Primates' Meeting were indeed wide-ranging.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's authority has been demonstrated by the success of this occasion, despite the absentees, and the US Presiding bishop's sermon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (report, page 1) was surely a vindication of Archbishop Williams' refusal to give in to demands from certain quarters not to invite her at all.