Geoffrey Kirk does not see what will be achieved by the proposed Anglican Covenant, and makes an alternative suggestion
I am not, I have to admit, an enthusiast for the proposed Anglican Covenant. Of course, we will all have to support it in the end. As Tom Wright told the Synod, Rowan Williams has rather nailed his reputation to it. It would be embarrassing were his baby to be rejected, at the last minute, by his own province. A resigning matter? I fear so.
But the fact is the Covenant is not a smart idea. Here is the Catch-22: if the Covenant is strongly worded, it will be unacceptable to the Americans, Canadians and others; if it is ambiguously worded, it will probably be unacceptable to the Africans. In either case, it would be unable to deliver the unity it promises. If, peradventure. it is so drafted that both parties can agree it, then all that is affirmed is the status quo. The Covenant, moreover, will have to be ratified by the Synod of each province individually. It is almost certain that some will not ratify. The non-ratifiers, naturally, will then claim that they have been ‘driven out’. The Covenant will be portrayed, not as an attempt to preserve unity, but as a cause of disunity.
The problems will not end there. The result will be two-tier Anglicanism: the real Anglicans who signed and the also-rans who did not. Will the also-rans get to attend the Tambeth Conference as observers (supposing the Conference survives this trauma)? Will they want to? Will the primates of the non-covenantal churches have any part in the Primates’ Meeting? And will a failure to ratify the Covenant be seen as being ‘out of communion’ with the See of Canterbury?
(If communion with Canterbury’ is to be defined in terms of participating in the Covenant, there would be a considerable pressure on churches whose constitutions define their identity in terms of that relationship to agree the Covenant for internal legal reasons. If The Episcopal Church, for example, were deemed to be but of communion with Canterbury, it is doubtful if it would be able to pursue its many lawsuits involving property in the various courts.)
And finally, as though all this were not enough to be going on with, there is the matter of latitude of interpretation. Who will decide by whose interpretation of the wording of the Covenant provinces must abide? In a Communion where many sit light to the plain meaning of anything, there will need to be a final arbiter -which is what almost all advocates of the Covenant say they want to avoid!
The more one thinks about it, the more the nature of the problem becomes apparent. The black hole at the heart of Anglicanism – the elephant in the sanctuary – is the lack of a magisterium. When gentlemen’s agreements break down, and ‘bonds of affection’ are not enough to sustain fellowship, someone needs to rule. This much is obvious.
But what is just as obvious is that you cannot invent a magisterium. Tike the stately and magnificent structure of the English Common Taw, it must grow. And the growing period is about a thousand years – twice the life span of the Church of England and two hundred times that of most of the provinces of the Anglican Communion. To be trusted and effective, a magisterium must be ancient and revered; it must be able to inspire both awe and affection.
There is, it goes without saying, only one magisterium up for grabs. And it is the tragedy of Anglicans that they have defined themselves for the most part over against it. Many will remember, at the time of the debates about the ordination of women, the ugliness of the anti-Romanism which was apparent among the proponents. More recently there was the response of some bishops to the paper graciously delivered to them by Cardinal Kasper.
It would be foolish to suppose that the churches of the Anglican World Federation would or could fall immediately into the papal embrace. But they could, as many of us both in the Synod and outside it have stressed repeatedly, have regard to the fact that the unity for which Christ prayed does and must involve the Roman Catholic Church. Those churches who wilfully place further obstacles to reunion with the Holy See cannot expect to foster any worthwhile unity among their fellow Anglicans. This is becoming clearly and painfully apparent.
But why the enthusiasm for a Covenant, when it is unlikely to deliver anything of worth? What the Anglican World Federation needs is not a Covenant but a Catechism. It is futile to list principles of formal unity before you have declared the parameters of common faith. Rowan Williams is on record as affirming the importance of a catechism in the life and mission of a church. He has risked his all on the Covenant. Now is the time to begin the more fundamental project of the development of a common Anglican Catechism.
Such an exercise would force a serious consideration of the relationship between the universal nature of the Church and the boundaries of permissible incultura-tion – which lies behind many of the present tensions. It would also be a gift to Anglican ecumenism were there to be a systematic document to which ecumenical groups could confidently appeal. Gone would be the days when Anglicans ‘speak with forked tongue’, saying in each different dialogue what it was thought the other participant wanted to hear.
A Catechism would both bind the Communion together, and be an indispensable tool in the hands of every parish priest. The Revised Catechism was a bold attempt in the Church of England to provide what is surely a basic necessity. But the Church of England is at a very different place from where it was back in 1962. And the Anglican Communion as a whole is even further down the track.
It might, of course, be thought that the task is an impossible one: that Anglicanism is now a loose association of at least two different religions for which one handbook would be ludicrously inadequate. And there would be some truth in that. But the failure to produce such a catechism would surely involve the related admission: that the Communion is no longer, in any meaningful sense, a Church. And it would draw attention to the inescapable fact that Cardinal Christoph Schonborn has already provided us with a perfectly coherent text to work on. \ND\