The Primates of the Anglican Communion asked for a Panel of Reference to deal with the ecclesiological flash-points in provinces and dioceses.
Now the Panel has been named we give some samples of the problems it will face
At its recent meeting at Dromontine, Ireland the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion requested, amongst other thing, the establishment of a Panel of Reference whose aim would (in the words of the Primates themselves) be ‘to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces.’ The panel was set up under the chairmanship of the recently retired Primate of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley.
There has naturally been speculation about the working methods of the Panel and the nature of the appeals which might come before it. The two accounts below are of the series of events leading up to the lodging of two such appeals, from South America and Australia. Forward in Faith UK will, of course be watching carefully the procedures of the new Panel. Not least because it might, if provisions in the legislation to ordain women to the episcopate were inadequate to our needs, be necessary to apply to the Panel ourselves.
Brazilian Anglicanism started life as a daughter church of ECUSA. For sixty years, from its foundation in 1898, evangelicalism was the primary vision, but changes came about in the 1960s through the influence of ECUSA and the WCC. Clergy were sent to the USA to liberal seminaries and there was wide provision of literature. Less than one decade was enough for the liberals to take over the whole church and liberalism has dominated ever since. The province remains financially dependent on ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada, over 40% of their budget coming from these two churches.
The Diocese of Recife, founded in 1974 is the only beacon of orthodoxy. After Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire, the Diocese of Recife issued a declaration of impairment of communion with New Hampshire and New Westminster. The Brazilian House of Bishops responded by putting pressure on Bishop Cavalcanti to stop speaking out on the subject, arguing that this was not an issue for the Brazilian church.
It would be naïve to be surprised. The other six bishops in the province voted against Lambeth resolution 1.10 and all have ordained openly gay or lesbian priests. One of the bishops is even known to attend voodoo cults.
The Recife diocesan synod responded by passing a motion with a substantial majority declaring a state of impaired communion with any diocese or province that supported the ECUSA decision.
The House of Bishops then took some extraordinary measures. They declared special oversight of the Diocese of Recife by a bishop from outside the diocese, and as a result the suffragan bishop and fourteen clergy, who support the province’s liberal views, are now fully supported financially by the Province. They act as a parallel diocese within the Diocese of Recife. There is however a significant inequality between the two groupings.
Fourteen clergy (of whom two are retired and four are not working) have sided with the suffragan bishop. Forty clergy with forty-two congregations remain loyal to Bishop Cavalcanti. They are ministering to something like 90% of the parishes and 99% of the Anglican laity.
One church planted eight years ago, the Church of the Holy Spirit where Archdeacon Miguel Uchoa is Rector, has a congregation of nearly a thousand. It is the largest Anglican church in South America. Significantly Miguel estimates that there are more active members in his church than in any other diocese in the whole province. The Episcopal Church of Brazil is largely an ‘empty pews’ organisation and is the only denomination in the country that is not growing – except in Recife.
Taking no notice
The Brazilian House of Bishops are now taking action to suspend Bishop Cavalcanti on the spurious grounds that he is alleged to have abandoned the communion of the Church and has failed to provide pastoral care to those within his diocese.
Archbishop Rowan Williams issued an appeal to all Anglicans last year to refrain from taking further action to compromise the unity of the church. He urged us to wait for the deliberations of the Primates who were due to meet in Northern Ireland. Bishop Cavalcanti accordingly made no public statements and took no other action.
The Primate of Brazil, in contrast, has pursued a determined campaign to undermine Bishop Cavalcanti’s position. For instance, he crossed diocesan boundaries to ordain three new deacons and priests within the Diocese of Recife, without the permission of the diocesan committees, contrary to canon law. He then created a special commission to analyse the situation in the Anglican Communion, which produced a document that included an appendix attacking Bishop Cavalcanti and reaffirming the principle of unlimited inclusivity within the province.
He has failed to restrain the small minority of seminarians and clergy loyal to the suffragan bishop who have continued to attack Bishop Cavalcanti personally. Over 400 emails have been received.
The Primate has nominated the suffragan bishop as the diocesan authority in Recife and has stopped inviting Bishop Cavalcanti to meetings of the House of Bishops.
Sitting in judgement
So, Bishop Cavalcanti must appear before the House of Bishops as part of the suspension process. One might ask what we know of the diocesan bishops who will be sitting in judgement?
At the time of his election, two of the six diocesan bishops refused to accept Bishop Cavalcanti’s election. These six bishops preside over dioceses that, unlike Recife, are in steep decline. They support a primate who has refused to listen to the reasonable request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Primate himself has not heard the voices of the forty-two clergy who remain loyal to Bishop Cavalcanti. He has not responded to invitations to come to Recife, preferring to listen only to the fourteen clergy who side with the suffragan.
Archdeacon Miguel spoke enthusiastically of the work of his church. In the last three years they have sponsored four church plants and have two more in the pipeline. They have social outreach to a nearby slum area, including day care for fifty children, professional courses, a medical clinic and a dental practice. An orphanage is to be built next year.
‘We find it very hard,’ he said, ‘to live within the Episcopal Church of Brazil. They do not seem to believe anymore in the same God, or the same Jesus. They appear to have no vision for mission or growth. It appears that we are different churches speaking different languages. Is it right and fair that all these expressions of mission should be put at risk, and Bishop Cavalcanti should be judged by those who show no interest in the matter of mission at all?’
An urgent appeal
The diocese has now appealed to the Panel of Reference, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has set up, asking the Archbishop to give the Diocese of Recife alternative provicial oversight.
Their petition reads: We can no longer accept the oversight of the Primate of the Episcopal Church of Brazil, who has acted illegally, in a way that is untrustworthy and supports practices that are unbiblical and against the accepted teaching of the Anglican communion. We need a province which can help us and to whom we may be accountable. We are doing the work of the Lord and we need the help of our brothers and sisters. The clergy, people and the bishop of the diocese of Recife want to stay in the Anglican Communion. This is our church; this is the place the Lord has called us to serve. We appeal to the mind and the heart of the leaders of the Anglican Communion. Help us, to be able to proclaim the faithful gospel that the Anglican Church proclaims. We urgently appeal for a temporary oversight under any orthodox province until Lambeth 2008. Then we will be judged not by one small group, but by the whole Anglican communion where it may be clarified who are the faithful Anglicans in Brazil.
In a recent Spectator column, Taki made the useful observation that ‘if you’re afraid to lose, you can’t win.’ As an heroic gambler, he was speaking from the heart of what he knew. Despite our reputation as a nation of punters, Australia’s orthodox Anglican Catholics had been playing it very safe indeed in the twelve years since 1992.
Afraid of losing, we concentrated on making ourselves a small target, and the ecclesiastical establishment obligingly assisted in this policy, as one by one our parishes were picked off, orthodox ordination candidates were rejected, and the pastoral emergency deepened.
When the General Synod set up a Commission to look into the consecration of women to the episcopate, it occurred to no one that natural justice might dictate that a token member of our constituency really ought to be a member.
Action not reaction
In June 2004 the National Council of FiF Australia decided that the time had come to act rather than continue to react. For once, we would have a go at setting the agenda ourselves. Convinced that the plight of orthodox Catholics in Australia would continue to be ignored, FiFA proposed a pastoral rather than a canonical solution. A bishop would be consecrated whose oversight parishes and individuals could claim.
In good Gamaliel-fashion, we proposed a twenty-year moratorium on matters of property ownership, and meanwhile a splitting of parish assessments between the geographical diocese and the proposed orthodox bishop. In line with resolutions from FiFA’s 2001 National Conference, this pastoral solution would be pursued in alliance with the Traditional Anglican Communion.
As with FiFNA and FiFUK, local circumstances must inevitably dictate the means by which we work to maintain Catholic faith and Order in our Church. In Australia our numbers are few and we are scattered. The dividing line between those of us ‘just inside’ the ACA and our TAC brothers and sisters ‘just outside’ is a porous one, and becoming more so, as priests and faithful increasingly minister and worship across the faint dotted line. It is natural and inevitable that we should continue to grow closer to one another.
Constituted as an electoral college, the June 2004 National Council Meeting put forward the name of FiFA Vice-president Fr David Chislett ssc for consecration as a bishop. Fr Chislett’s name had already been approved by the TAC’s College of Bishops, with whom FiF, internationally, has a Concordat.
In this we were following the reluctant suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the best solution for achieving alternative episcopal oversight in the Australian context lay in working something out in conjunction with the TAC.
Initial reactions seemed promising. Fr Chislett received a friendly letter from Australian Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley. A meeting between Frs Robarts and Chislett of FiFA, TAC Primate, Abp John Hepworth, and the ACA Primate, Abp Aspinall, and Abp-elect of Perth, Roger Herft, took place in a cordial atmosphere on 19 January 2005 in Sydney.
It was there agreed that informal talks should continue, but the Primate saw no need for haste; after all, such talks can fruitfully continue over some decades. Meanwhile, Fr Chislett embarked on a series of lengthy interviews with his Archbishop, Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane.
Everything changed with the November, 2004 meeting of General Synod when the Diocese of Brisbane put forward a ‘Bill to Restrain Certain Consecrations’ directed specifically at Fr Chislett and his presumed consecrator, Bp Ross Davies ssc of The Murray.
The Bill passed and became a Provisional Canon. Although legal opinion had it that nothing proposed, including the involvement of the TAC, was currently illegal in terms of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia, this window of opportunity would soon be closed to us.
On 16 February, 2005 the Rubicon was crossed when Fr Chislett was consecrated Bishop in the Church of God alongside Fr David Moyer at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania by TAC Primate Hepworth assisted by Anglican Communion Bishops, Maternus Kapinga of Ravuma and Ross Davies of The Murray.
The secrecy surrounding Fr Chislett’s consecration was regrettably necessary to protect both Chislett and Bp Davies. Both Moyer and Chislett were licensed as Bishops in the Diocese of The Murray.
The spin immediately and predictably put on Bp Chislett’s consecration by both Carnley and Aspinall was of sorrow and disappointment that Chislett had left the ACA and joined the TAC. This continues to be their official line.
In Brisbane, Archbishop Aspinall dusted off a draconian and unique piece of legislation entitled the Benefices Avoidance Canon under which the Ordinary may dismiss an incumbent for anything he considers to be ‘grave cause’, the demands of natural justice notwithstanding. Under the Canon, Aspinall set up a Commission to examine Bp Chislett’s case.
When the Commissioners reported on 17 May, they found that Chislett had not acted dishonestly, nor had he contravened the Constitution, Canons, Rules or Regulations of the Anglican Church of Australia in the Diocese of Brisbane. Abp Aspinall, however, was able to see his way clear to finding ‘grave cause’ under the Canon for depriving Bp Chislett of his Incumbency of All Saints’, Wickham Terrace.
In his Ad Clerum announcing the deprivation, the Archbishop intriguingly notes ‘The resolution of the ‘pain and sorrow’ that [Bp Chislett] described to the Commissioners has yet to be fully addressed, but in my view it will have to be within the structures of this Church, and not outside them. I fully acknowledge that these matters have not yet reached a satisfactory solution, and I am committed to working for a solution that will be for the good of all people who are participating in the debate about the ordination of women’.
Of course we await Abp Aspinall’s plans for addressing our ‘pain and sorrow’ with great interest. In the mean time, FiFA will be one of four interested parties making submission to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference (chairman? none other than our own Peter Carnley) regarding Bp Chislett. Questions are also being put to Australia’s Church Law Commission, by the Appellate Tribunal.
Chislett was deprived of his Incumbency of All Saints’, Wickham terrace on Tuesday, 24 May. The following Friday the National Council of FiFA, meeting at Kooyong in Melbourne, resolved to put forward two further names of priests for consideration for consecration. Given Australia’s vast distances, three regions of episcopal oversight would be necessary to minister adequately to our scattered faithful.
While this action might seem provocative to some, it is only prudent that when consideration is being given to possible providers of alternative episcopal oversight for orthodox Catholics, the names of priests who have the confidence of our constituency should already be on the table.
FiFA has undertaken these actions after much prayer and deliberation. They are steps taken in the risk of faith, in the face of legal threat and political pressure and in what we believe is God’s opportune moment for us: it is now or never for FiFA.
We have irrevocably moved beyond reactive, and often negative, responses, due to others writing our agenda. In resolutely moving forward in faith, we cannot be certain that we will win, but we have demonstrated that we are no longer afraid to lose, and surely that is something authentically Christian to have done.
Christopher Seton ssc
The establishment of the Panel of Reference is an unprecedented development in the life of the Anglican Communion. Eyes will not only be fixed on the decisions which the Panel reaches, and its ability to persuade Provinces to adopt its recommendations, but also on the procedures of the Panel itself.
In the case of the dossier presented by Forward in Faith Australia and Bishop Chislett an obvious matter arises. Is it appropriate that the Chairman of the Panel in such a case should have been the Primate of Australia during most of the events to which the dossier refers; one, moreover, who ordained women to the priesthood before (and so without) the sanction of the General Synod of his Church? Will Dr Carnley recuse himself in this matter? Will the Archbishop of Canterbury require him to do so?
No one can doubt that the future coherence of the Communion hangs on the answers to such questions. The procedures of the Panel will need to be scrupulously just and its conclusions made public at the earliest opportunity.