Yesterday I explained why I think Executive Council is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of our canons in refusing to release the report it received from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons regarding the Anglican Covenant. Today, I’d like to argue the matter on practical grounds.
Even if one believes that reports produced by bodies compelled by canon to meet in public can be released on a timetable established by the body to whom that report is given—which, obviously, I don’t—that doesn’t mean suppressing the contents of the report is a good idea.
If we want our decisions regarding the Anglican Covenant to be regarded as broadly credible, we need to reach them in as transparent a fashion as possible. At present it seems that the Church will not have the opportunity to see the report prepared by Constitution and Canons until next spring. If the report states that we cannot adopt the covenant without making constitutional and canonical changes, that leaves advocates for the covenant a fairly compact window in which to draft legislation and organize support. Critics of our church will claim that the process was not fair to proponents of the covenant, and I couldn’t disagree with them.
The process of getting significant legislation through General Convention begins a long time before the Blue Book is published. Constitutional and canonical changes are significant pieces of legislation. If we are being honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that withholding the Constitution and Canons report until the spring means that we will not be able to pass constitutional and canonical changes in 2012, which means that such changes would get their first reading in 2015, and that the constitutional changes would have to be approved again in 2018—at which point we could sign the covenant.
Withholding the contents of the report in question would have an adverse effect on the legislative prospects of covenant supporters who, at the moment, have no idea what kind of heavy constitutional lifting may lie ahead of them. It also hands critics of our church a club with which to beat us.
My other concern engendered by the decision to withhold the report is that I am aware of a few other reports that came before previous Executive Council but never saw the light of day. I don’t know what was in them, just that they were commissioned, circulated and then disappeared. Some of these may have had to do with personnel matters, in which case I don’t think the wider church needs to see them, but others did not. Additionally, in the course of my work, I’ve been approached by advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Their opinion of the way our church has handled the cases in which they have been involved in is not uniformly high.
There is no independent journalistic entity that covers the Episcopal Church in the fashion that the Church Times covers the Church of England, and thus no one to hold us accountable when we are being unnecessarily secretive, or when people in positions of authority insist on prerogatives that aren’t healthy for the wider church. We have to do that ourselves. And if we can’t release this report–which no secular governing body would be able to suppress thanks to Freedom of Information laws–I am not sure we are up to it.