Farewell for Akinola

1,000 people attended a farewell dinner for outgoing Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola in his 65th year, in Abuja on 24 March, the eve of the installation of his successor, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh.

In appreciating his role in the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justice Akrofi, Primate of All West Africa (except Nigeria), spoke on behalf of the Primates of Africa. He noted that under Archbishop Akinola’s chairmanship, ‘the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa became a voice to be reckoned with’. Under his chairmanship the Global South became a place where African bishops could meet others in the Global South. Under his chairmanship, ‘for the first time in history, was held the first All African Bishops’ Conference’. (The second is to be held in Kampala in August 2010). And then there was the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem in 2008.

The Archbishop of Lagos, Dr Ephraim Ademowo, noted with pride that Archbishop Akinola had become a household name globally. He paid tribute to his work in securing the support of the then President of Nigeria to be treasurer of the fund to build the National Ecumenical Cathedral of the Advent, a magnificent structure that holds 10,000 people and which will be the site of Thursday’s ceremony. He continued ‘The Anglican Church under your leadership spread to every nook and cranny of this country.’

Other speakers noted his very humble beginnings, his loss of his father at an early age, his early work as a carpenter and his training as a catechist at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, starting on the lowest rung of the ladder.

Archbishop Akinola responded to the tributes to his work, by thanking profusely those who had worked with him ‘ not minding who this man is or his inadequacies’ and had supported the work of the church. He expressed thanks to those who had come from America (Archbishop Bob Duncan with 4 other bishops), Kenya (Archbishop Eliud Wabukala), Ghana (Archbishop Justice Akrofi) Canada, UK, Australia (Bishop Peter Tasker) and the Acting President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. He noted that ‘it had never happened before like this’.

He stressed that the Church of Nigeria needed to be financially strong to carry out its work. He challenged the Nigerian church, ‘whatever it takes’, to remain united and insisted that every section of the country be represented and brought along. He counselled his successor, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, to be a father, a brother, a friend, a pastor to his bishops, clergy and people – but above all to be firm. ‘If you procrastinate, you fail.’

‘History will be kind to you’ concluded General T.Y. Danjuma, ‘You have been a titanic defender of the faith, the Ajayi Crowther of our time’ [the first African Anglican bishop, who was rescued from slavery and founded the Anglican Church in many parts of Nigeria]. ‘You will become a document for scholars.’

Chris Sugden, Canon of Jos, Nigeria


Gay celebration

The world’s largest gay church met the Anglican world’s most famous gay rights campaigner in Dallas 24 March. As Bishop V. Gene Robinson stepped to the rostrum in the Cathedral of Hope, the Revd Dr Jo Hudson encouraged the worshippers to welcome ‘our bishop.’ A packed house rose in collective appreciation, applauding enthusiastically. Because of the extensive demands on Robinson’s time, ‘we worked hard to get him here,’ Hudson said.

The 40-year-old Cathedral of Hope, a part of the congregationalist United Church of Christ, claims a membership of 4,000 and describes itself as ‘the world’s largest liberal

Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’

Speaking without notes and stabbing the air energetically with his right forefinger, Robinson likened Jesus’ synagogue reading of Isaiah to an inaugural address. ‘If you and I need to be followers of Jesus Christ,’ he said, ‘then that inaugural piece ought to be our inaugural piece,’ freeing prisoners ‘from all kinds of prisons and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour… living lives with such joy that no one will ever doubt that the spirit of God is within us.’

Robinson’s sermon brought one more standing ovation. Dozens lined up after the service to have the bishop sign copies of his memoir, In the Eye of the Storm, concerning his journey from heterosexual priest, husband, and father to symbol of gay liberation in Christian churches.

William Murchison


Reaction to the interview

Irish Anglican leaders have scolded the Archbishop of Canterbury for telling the BBC that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had ‘lost all credibility’ following revelations of child abuse among the clergy, saying his remarks were ignorant, thoughtless and unhelpful.

In a statement issued on April 3, the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill expressed his ‘deep regret’ over Dr Williams’ remarks. ‘As one who with so many of my colleagues in ministry shares with that Church in a joint proclamation of the Gospel, and who acknowledges the pain and deep suffering of the victims of abuse, I also feel for the countless priests and bishops who daily live out their Christian vocation,’ Dr Neill said.

The Archbishop of Dublin added that he extended his support to his Roman Catholic counterpart Archbishop Diarmuid Martin ‘as he works for the proclamation of the Gospel and the healing of hurt, including that of the faithful and their clergy whose ministry has been undermined by those guilty of the abuse of children.’

The head of the Church of Ireland’s Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, Bishop Richard Clarke of Meath and Kildare on April 3 stated Dr Williams was speaking from ignorance about the Irish scene.

‘Whereas it is clearly true that the Roman Catholic Church in this country is facing deep and serious challenges to its authority as a consequence of clerical abuse scandals, this careless and reckless use of language by Archbishop Williams is extremely unfortunate,’ Dr Clarke said.


Open letter to Rowan Williams

Your Grace,

Easter greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In February I read with great interest Bishop Mouneer Anis’ letter of resignation from the Joint Standing Committee. I am grateful for his clarity and honesty. He has verbalized very well what many of us have thought and felt, and inspired me to write, as well.

As you know from our private conversations, I have absented myself for principled reasons from all meetings of the Joint Standing Committee since our Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2007.

Subsequent meetings of the Joint Standing Committee have included the Primate of the Episcopal Church (TEC) and other members of TEC, who are the very ones who have pushed the Anglican Communion into this sustained crisis. How can we expect the gross violators of Biblical Truth to sanction their own discipline when they believe they have done nothing wrong and further insist that their revisionist theology is actually the substance of Anglicanism?

We have only to note the recent election and confirmation of an active Lesbian as a Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles to realize that TEC has no interest in ‘gracious restraint,’ let alone a moratorium on the things that have brought us to this point of collapse. It is now impossible to regard their earlier words of ‘regret’ as a serious gesture of reconciliation with the rest of the Communion.

Together with Bishop Mouneer, I am equally concerned, as you know, about the shift in the balance of powers among the Instruments of Communion. It was the Primates in 2003 who requested the Lambeth Commission on Communion that ultimately produced the Windsor Report. It was the Primates who received the Windsor Report at our meeting in Dromantine in 2005. It was the Primates, through our Dromantine Communique, who presented the appropriate ‘hermeneutic’ through which to read the Windsor Report. That ‘hermeneutic,’ however, has been obscured by the leadership at St Andrew’s House who somehow created something we never envisioned called the ‘Windsor Process.’

The Windsor Report was not a ‘process.’ It was a Report, commissioned by the Primates and received by the Primates. The Primates made specific and clear requests of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. When TEC, particularly, did not clearly answer our questions, we gave them more time in 2007 to clarify their position.

Suddenly, though, after the 2007 Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, the Primates no longer had a role to play in the very process they had begun. The process was mysteriously transferred to the Anglican Consultative Council and, more particularly, to the Joint Standing Committee. The Joint Standing Committee has now evolved into the ‘Standing Committee.’ Some suggest that it is the Standing Committee ‘of the Anglican Communion.’

There is, however, no ‘Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’. The Standing Committee has never been approved in its present form by the Primates Meeting or the Lambeth Conference. Rather, it was adopted by itself, with your approval and the approval of the ACC. The fact that five Primates are included in no way represents our Anglican understanding of the role of Primates as metropolitan bishops of their provinces.

Anglicanism is a church of Bishops and, at its best, is conciliar in its governance. The grave crisis before us as a Communion is both a matter of faith as well as order. Matters of faith and order are the domain of Bishops. In a Communion the size of the Anglican Communion, it is unwieldy to think of gathering all the Bishops of the Communion together more frequently than the current pattern of every ten years. That is why the Lambeth Conference in 1998 resolved that the Primates Meeting should be able to ‘exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.’ [Resolution III.6].

What has emerged, however, is the Standing Committee being given ‘enhanced responsibility’ and the Primates being given ‘diminished responsibility,’ even in regard to a process begun by them. Indeed, this Standing Committee has granted itself supreme authority over Covenant discipline in the latest draft. Under these circumstances, it has not been possible for me to participate in meetings of the Joint Standing Committee that has taken upon itself authority it has not been given.

Accordingly, I stand with my brother Primate, Bishop Mouneer Anis, in his courageous decision to resign from the Standing Committee. Many of us are in a state of resignation as we see how the Communion is moving away further and further into darkness, especially since the Primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam.

Your Grace, I have urged you in the past, and I will urge you again. There is an urgent need for a meeting of the Primates to continue sorting out the crisis that is before us, especially given the upcoming consecration of a Lesbian as Bishop in America. The Primates Meeting is the only Instrument that has been given authority to act, and it can act if you will call us together.

The agenda for that meeting should be set by the Primates themselves at the meeting, and not by any other staff in advance of the meeting. I reiterate this point because you will recall our cordial December 2008 meeting with you, Chris Smith, and the other GAFCON Primates in Canterbury where we discussed the agenda for the Primates meeting to take place in Alexandria the following month. None of our submissions were included in the agenda.

Likewise, at the beginning of the January 2009 Primates meeting I was asked to present a position paper on the effect of the crisis in the Communion from our perspective, but I was not informed in advance, so I did not come prepared. Yet, other presenters, including TEC and Canada, were given prior information and came very prepared. I have never received a formal written apology about that incident, and it has caused me to wonder if there are two standards at work in how a Primate is treated.

Finally, the meeting should not include the Primates of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada who are proceeding with unbiblical practices that contradict the faith of Anglicanism. We cannot carry on with business as usual until order is brought out of this chaos.

Yours, in Christ,

The Most Revd Henry Luke Orombi Archbishop of Church of Uganda


Journalistic malpractice

We’re off and running once again, with another completely phoney story that purports to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in the protection of abusive priests.

The ‘exclusive’ story released by AP, which has been dutifully passed along now by scores of major media outlets, would never have seen the light of day if normal journalistic standards had been in place. Careful editors should have asked a series of probing questions, and in every case the answer to those questions would have shown that the story had no legs.

First to repeat the bare-bones version of the story. In November 1985, then-Cardinal Ratzinger signed a letter deferring a decision on the laicization of Fr Stephen Kiesle, a California priest who had been accused of molesting boys. Now the key questions.

Was Cardinal Ratzinger responding to the complaints of priestly paedophilia? No. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the future Pontiff headed, did not have jurisdiction for paedophile priests until 2001. The cardinal was weighing a request for laicization of Kiesle.

Had Oakland’s Bishop John Cummins sought to laicize Kiesle as punishment for his misconduct? No. Kiesle himself asked to be released from the priesthood. The bishop supported the wayward priest’s application.

Was the request for laicization denied? No. Eventually, in 1987, the Vatican approved Kiesle’s dismissal from the priesthood.

Did Kiesle abuse children again before he was laicized? To the best of our knowledge, no. The next complaints against him arose in 2002, fifteen years after he was dismissed from the priesthood.

Did Cardinal Ratzinger’s reluctance to make a quick decision mean that Kiesle remained in active ministry? No. Bishop Cummins had the authority to suspend the predator-priest, and he had placed him on an extended leave of absence long before the application for laicization was entered.

Would quicker laicization have protected children in California? No. Cardinal Ratzinger did not have the power to put Kiesle behind bars. If Kiesle had been defrocked in 1985 instead of 1987, he would have remained at large, thanks to a light sentence from the California courts. As things stood, he remained at large. He was not engaged in parish ministry and had no special access to children.

Did the Vatican cover up evidence of Kiesle’s predatory behaviour? No. The civil courts of California destroyed that evidence after the priest completed a sentence of probation – before the case ever reached Rome.

So to review. This was not a case in which a bishop wanted to discipline his priest and the Vatican official demurred. This was not a case in which a priest remained active in ministry and the Vatican did nothing to protect the children under his pastoral care. This was not a case in which the Vatican covered up evidence of a priest’s misconduct.

This was a case in which a priest asked to be released from his vows, and the Vatican, which had been flooded by such requests throughout the 1970s, wanted to consider all such cases carefully. In short, if you’re looking for evidence of a sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, this case is irrelevant.

There is a scandal here, indeed, but it’s not the scandal you’re reading about in the mass media. The scandal is the complete collapse of journalistic standards in the handling of this story.