Religious News Service identifies weaknesses in the structure of the Anglican Church in North America that leave it open to failures in governance. Those failures include sex abuse. Some of those weaknesses (greater diocesan automony, deference to local bishops) are a direct result of ACNA’s formation as a schismatic movement from The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada.
The ACNA was formed in 2009 after splitting from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada over the two denominations’ acceptance of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. Still a young organization, ACNA is relatively decentralized — each diocese has its own governance rules.*
Complicating matters, ACNA has both geographic dioceses — such as the Diocese of the Upper Midwest — and dioceses formed according to churches’ theological stances, such as on the affirmation of women’s ordination.
As a result, dioceses sometimes overlap. Wheaton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb where the formation of ACNA was first announced in 2008, is home to ACNA churches from three ACNA dioceses — the Upper Midwest Diocese, Pittsburgh and Churches for the Sake of Others.
Each diocese has its own set of governance rules. In the Pittsburgh and Churches for the Sake of Others dioceses, there is more shared leadership. The Upper Midwest Diocese, where the abuse allegations have taken place, places few checks and balances on the bishop’s authority.
“On paper, no matter what personalities are filling these roles, there are significant structural flaws that could lead to conflicts of interest. The person with the most spiritual gravity might dominate,” said Aaron Harrison, an ACNA priest in the Wheaton area who is affiliated with the #ACNAtoo advocacy group. “The bishop, per the Constitutions and Canons, enjoys an enormous amount of unitary power.”
* Discentralization is not merely a result of being a young organization. Subsidiarity is by choice as ACNA’s Archbishop Foley Beach has stated. From an ACNA document in 2019
“There’s a canon law maxim from Roman law, ‘That which touches all should be decided by all,’” Canon Phil Ashey, Chairman of the GTF, said.
So, this week, the Governance Task Force opens up its discussion to you, the Province.
As you’re reading through the proposed canonical changes, keep in mind that the GTF follows two principles, minimalism and subsidiarity. Minimalism guides the GTF to not create canons that are too complicated, in order to remain “missionally lean,” as Canon Phil described. The principle of subsidiarity fulfills the idea that governance is most effective at the level where it is most likely to be settled. Subsidiarity means that many matters can therefore be left to the dioceses or congregations without having to enact a Provincial canon.