Citing fears of creating a controversy, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to grant Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the right to preach or preside at the eucharist in England. Robinson received the news in an email yesterday morning.
Sources familiar with the email say Williams cites the Windsor Report and recent statements from the Primates Meeting in refusing to grant Robinson permission to exercise his priestly functions during his current trip to England, or during the trip he plans during the Lambeth Conference in July and August.
The Windsor Report does not discuss the ordination of a candidate in a gay relationship to the priesthood, and it is priestly, rather than episcopal functions that Robinson had sought permission to perform. The primates’ statements, similarly, have objected to Robinson’s episcopacy, not his priesthood.
Several provinces in the Communion ordain gay and lesbian candidates without requiring a vow of celibacy. It is unclear whether the Church of England forbids these priests from exercising their functions within its jurisdiction as a matter of policy, or whether Williams’ ban extends only to Robinson. Many gay English priests live with their partners, but are expected to remain celibate.
The email, which came to Robinson through a Lambeth official, says Williams believes that giving Robinson permission to preach and preside at the Eucharist would be construed as an acceptance of the ministry of a controversial figure within the Communion.
Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who gave his support to a failed legislative attempt to limit the rights of Nigerian gays and their supporters to speak, assemble and worship God collectively. Akinola has yet to respond to an Atlantic magazine article which suggests he may have had prior knowledge of plans for retributive violence against Muslims in his country that resulted in the massacre of more than 650 people in Yelwa, Nigeria.
Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Bernard Malango, the retired primate of Central Africa and one of the authors of the Windsor Report. Malango dismissed without reason the ecclesiastical court convened to try pro-Mugabe Bishop Nolbert Kunonga for incitement to murder and other charges.
Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, who has now claimed as his own, churches in three others provinces in the Anglican Communion (Brazil, Canada and the United States). Nor has he denined permission to preach and preside to Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emanuel Kolini of Rwanda, or Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, all of whom have ignored the Windsor Report’s plea not to claim churches within other provinces of the Communion.
Sources who have read the email say Williams expresses sorrow for the way the ban on Robinson must appear to the bishop and his supporters, but says he is acting for the good of the Church and the Communion.
At Church Times Blog, Dave Walker advances the story in the legal direction:
Questions are being asked as to whether Lambeth Palace has the authority to stop Gene Robinson from preaching if he is invited to do so by the incumbent of a parish. Legal minds have been perusing the Canons of the Church of England and it appears that he would have a strong case for being able to preach if invited.
However, Gene Robinson has ruled out preaching without the permission of the Archbishop. From the Hardtalk [TV] interview (only available for a week) on the BBC [Robinson said]: “In the past he has… declined to give me permission to preach and to celebrate the Holy Communion and I would never do so without his permission.”
Read Walker’s post here.