The intervention, at the request of FiF/UK, of the Archbishops of Canterbury and Wales into the affaire Moyer has raised the stakes.
Bishop Bennison, of course, is seeking to portray the events of the last few weeks as a little local difficulty, involving a straightforward transgression of Canon Law. He is unwise to do so for a number of reasons.
The first is his own broken promises. In the period immediately before his election as bishop, Bennison gave undertakings that the ‘flying bishop’ arrangements negotiated by his predecessor for the FiF parishes in the diocese would be continued under his episcopate. Bennison withdrew those undertakings as soon as he had acquired the votes which his duplicity was intended to purchase.
The second is his failure to affirm, at Dr Moyer’s request, basic doctrines of the faith. A priest gives a diocesan bishop his pledge of allegiance on the strength of that bishop’s own vow ‘to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same.’ A failure on the part of the bishop to honour that solemn promise does not permit a priest in his diocese to do the same; rather the contrary.
The third is the simple fact that no bishop of the Communion has expressed solidarity with the Bishop of Pennsylvania. On the contrary, numbers have denounced his action. His neighbour, the Bishop of Pittsburg, has admitted Dr Moyer to his diocese. The Archbishops of Canterbury, Wales and Central Africa have expressed their willingness to do the same. The ‘deposition’ of Fr Moyer is not what it purports to be. It is not an exercise of Canon Law. It is merely an act of petulance by an individual acting against the best advice available to him.
407,791 people came to London on the 21st September for the Liberty and Livelihood march for the countryside. It was the biggest civil liberties march in British history and, peaceful and good-natured as it was, reflected the growing resentment of rural folk at the increasing urban agenda of successive governments. While hunting may have been the presenting symptom (and we know our readers are divided on this), the crises of autonomy, integrity and survival run much deeper. Agriculture has been devastated by successive disasters and grossly incompetent responses by central government. Rural transport is a joke while fuel duty booms. Rural education cutbacks would never be tolerated by middle-class urbanites. Great estates, shredded by generational taxes, no longer fuel the local economy but now belong to distant institutions or have become heritage theme parks. The mines are shut, the fishing vessels beached. Wages remain depressed while house prices rocket fuelled by the spare cash of visiting city dwellers and natives become strangers in their own land.
Long-standing members of the Church of England may reflect that this story is not a million miles from the experience of the rural church. Once the Church of England’s heartland, it has been relentlessly sold off and sold out by a Church government ruthlessly determined on centralization of power and finance and whose political analysis has shown a strong urban bias in both staffing and finance. Stripped of its historical assets the rural church is now told to be self-supporting. Robbed of its natural leadership, the rural Church has, too often, seen its senior appointments used as a consolation prize for men with no sympathy for or understanding of the countryside. The rural church is no longer in a position to support the fragile economy of the urban church. Only a return of assets and autonomy to the local church will see any hope of revival. People are tired of failed policies from the centre implemented by the episcopal equivalent of second home owners. They will not march on Lambeth but they will not come back to their local churches either, in any numbers, until their voice is heard.
The ironies of the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong, will, we suspect, be apparent to all but the protagonists themselves.
Dr Carey, whose imminent retirement seems to have loosened his tongue somewhat, spoke of his fears for the future.
‘My concern’, he told the Council, ‘is that our Communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usually (but not always) in matters to do with sexuality; and as a result steadily driving us towards serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two (or, more likely, many more) distinct Anglican bodies emerging. This erosion of communion through the adoption of ‘local options’ has been going for some thirty years but in my opinion is reaching crisis proportions today…’
Then he, with Archbishop Peter Kwong and the Archbishop of Wales, took part in the ordination of a woman priest – the Reverend Dorothy Lau – in St John’s Cathedral.
It was, of course, in that very spot, in 1972, that the first ordinations of women took place. The then Bishop of Hong Kong, RO Hall (Hong Kong was an extra provincial diocese under the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time) had consulted the fledgling ACC, (it had been created less than a twelvemonth before) about the possible ordination of two women priests. By 24 votes to 22 the Council voted ‘this Council advises the Bishop of Hong Kong acting with his Synod, and any other bishop of the Anglican Communion acting with the approval of his Province that, if he decides to ordain women to the priesthood, his action will be acceptable to this Council, and that this Council will use its good offices to encourage all Provinces of the Anglican Communion to continue in communion with these dioceses.’ (Resolution 28, ACC 1971) Hall went ahead.
Why the ACC was a body deemed by anyone to be competent to take such a momentous decision, only Bishop Hall and those present at that first meeting can tell. Whether the devisers of the Council intended that it should have such authority when they created it, is extremely doubtful. What Bishop Hall would have done had the vote gone 24 to 22 against him is a matter of speculation.
What cannot be doubted, however, is that the diocesan autonomy which Dr Carey now dreads began in Hong Kong and was abetted by the Anglican Consultative Council. The criminals have returned to the scene of the crime.
It has been claimed that Bishop Hall’s action was prophetic. But so, of course, was Bishop Ingham’s initiative in New Westminster! And the same will necessarily be said when Sydney officially adopts lay celebration! They are self-fulfilling prophecies of the very disintegration which Dr Carey himself predicts.
How ironic, then, that he has at last diagnosed the disease, but is still wilfully blind to his own role in the epidemic.