John Hunwicke has read the proposed Anglican Covenant but is unconvinced that it will deliver what is hoped of it

On 18 December a body of which I had never heard, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion [SCAC], issued a final text of the proposed Anglican Covenant. If this strikes you as boring, have a thought for me as I sit writing this piece. How am I to discover whence this Committee has erupted? It is not one of the four Instruments of Communion (Archbishop of Canterbury; Lambeth Conference; Anglican Consultative Committee; Primates’ Meeting). Is it just a new name for the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council? Is it a close buddy of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on UFOs (Unity, Faith and Order)? Who knows?

But SCAC is clearly the way ahead in preserving the Unity of the Anglican Communion. Under the Covenant, it is SCAC that will attempt to resolve potentially communion-breaking disagreements and will broker the expulsion from electively full membership in the Communion of provinces found guilty of being noncovenant-compliant. It will also broker the admission to full communion of Provinces not currently accepted as parts of that Communion.

So, apparently, having eased the American Church out of the Communion, it could sponsor the admission of a ‘Continuing’ American body. This, rather divertingly, puts SCAC on a similar level to that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican dicastery which, under the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, will have the say-so on admitting corporately groups of Anglicans into full communion with the See of Rome.

Forgetting tradition

It would be easy to worry at textual details in the Covenant. Its use of the word Church can hardly appeal to Archbishop Rowan’s ecclesiology; he, rightly, sees a ‘church’ in terms of a bishop, clergy and people, a definition to which the Covenant pays lip-service [3.1.3] while talking about ‘national and regional Churches’. It uses the foundational ARCIC formula of ‘ancient common traditions’, but declines to grasp the nettle of circularity (if a province repudiates what has hitherto been a common tradition, automatically that tradition ceases to be ‘common’ and thus loses any power to function as a referee).

It talks about the ‘particular charism and identity’ of Anglicanism with not a nod at the question posed in his 1987 Crockford’s Preface by Canon Gary Bennett: what is left of identity if the Communion has abandoned its ‘Englishness’ of style; dumped the unifying force of liturgy recognisable in the Prayer Book tradition; has bishops who are focuses of disunity rather than unity, and theologians who have abandoned the notion of living in a tradition? When the Covenant talks about being ‘mindful’ of ecumenical agreements, does this mean regarding them as determinant, or only that, before discarding them, we must think up some sexy reasons for flushing them away?

The unmentionable

But of course, for us in the Anglican Catholic tradition, the unmentioned, unmentionable, Elephant in the Room is the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate.There is a good reason why it is not mentioned. The Anglican elite operates on the basis that, once something has been given away to the adherents of liberal fashion, it can never be clawed back.

Nobody nowadays pays the least attention to the rather striking terms in which the 1920 Lambeth Conference condemned artificial contraception. But it was quite a different matter when the 1978 Lambeth Conference ‘recognised the autonomy of each of its member churches to make its own decision’ on the ordination of women to the priesthood, and when the 1988 Conference resolved ‘-at each province respect the decision and attitude of other provinces in the ordination of women in the episcopate’.

those resolutions are now set in stone. It is useless, however logical it may be, for Anglican Catholics to point out that, for them, a ‘woman bishop’ is just as potent a focus of disunity as a homosexual bishop is for Evangelicals. Lambeth 1978 and 1988 make it formally unacceptable, in the Byzantine world of complementary and constitutive inter-textuality by which official Anglicanism operates, for our concerns to be classified as communion breaking.

The 39 Articles

It need hardly be said that our problems are actually greater than those entertained by Evangelicals. Article XXVI makes it clear that, however reprehensible the personal life of a minister might be considered, this does not, according to Anglican principle, invalidate sacraments celebrated by him. When Bishop Gene Robinson says Mass, the Body and Blood of Christ are indubitably present and offered in sacrifice. But ‘bishop-elect’ Glasspool, even if she were the most red-bloodedly hetero gal imaginable, could never say a valid Mass or confer Holy Order validly. It is not her lifestyle but her gender that creates, for us, the problem. This Covenant has nothing whatsoever for us.

Anglicanorum coetibus? Now, that’s a different matter.