A letter to Benedict

Most Holy Father,

Although I had the joy of seeing you twice on Ash Wednesday in Rome last month, the select group of twelve thousand people with me meant that I was unable to pass onto you the latest news from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. No doubt you will find it surprising, but it appears that you may well have been elected as our new Archbishop.

Our voting process began with three candidates: an Evangelical bishop and two ‘Liberal’ Catholic priests. Over two days of voting we attempted to pass stage one in which a candidate needed a simple majority. This was a slow process when you take into account the Synod’s love of Points of Order, whilst at the same time displaying any lack of a grasp of the points themselves.

By the end of the first day of voting our Evangelical bishop passed that first hurdle. The second stage was to vote for him alone to see if he could gain two-thirds of the votes cast. Procedurally if we wished to vote ‘Yes’ we had to write his surname on the ballot paper. Any other words (or none at all) would count as a ‘No,’ even a ‘Yes’ (if you get my meaning).

Sought-after post

Now, I know that I was not the only person present at that Synod who voted ‘No’ by writing your name on the paper. In the end our candidate did not receive the required majority. Some people think that our next stage is to look for new candidates. However I am beginning to wonder if you may receive a letter from the Registrar of the diocese asking if you would consider the move here to Melbourne considering the votes you did receive.

It is a much sought after post, which comes with an overly large detached house within good walking distance of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (but not quite such an easy walk to the cathedral). You may find it rather more comfortable than your present shared accommodation, added to which there would be no restrictions to your having cats in the house.

Before you rush to accept this promotion (and I have no doubt that many Synod members would consider this a promotion for you) I must warn you of some of the difficulties you would face here.

First of all, the diocese takes itself far too seriously. It seemed to come as a surprise to members of the Board of Nominators (whose role it is to present three to six names to the Synod for election as Archbishop) that not one of the overseas names they approached was interested in moving half way across the world to come to a diocese once described as a ‘snake-pit.’ In fact, of the eight people they did eventually ‘interview’ two declined, one withdrew on health grounds and two withdrew after meeting with the Board (what a surprise).

Myopic fulmination

What is more worrying in this diocese is the Liberals inability to see how illiberal they are. Muriel Porter, ‘Chair’ of the Board of Nominators, failed to see the grotesque juxtaposition of two statements she made as the candidates were first announced. Whilst expressing the Boards ‘regret’ that they could not at this stage put forward the name of a woman, and so would not be able to consider ‘one-sixth of the total number of active clergy in Australia’ she lightly tripped over these intolerant and discriminatory words: ‘Given the Diocese of Melbourne’s long commitment to the admission of women to all three orders of ordained ministry, we agreed from the outset that potential nominees must also share that commitment.’ It is obviously unacceptable not to include a sixth of the clergy of Australia, but acceptable to exclude the majority of clergy in the world!

But then, this is a woman whose myopic view of the world led her to write a tawdry piece for the Melbourne Age newspaper in which she wagged a finger at the Diocese of Sydney, who were to hold in St Andrew’s Cathedral the Commonwealth Day Service in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen of Australia.

Whilst the service was nauseating beyond belief, with the Dean looking every bit the school master in suit and tie, as we took a peek into that hideous world of Sydney Cathedral worship, it was no excuse for Dr Porter to claim that Sydney was hypocritical because the same men would bow their heads to the ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ who – shock horror – was a woman! She called upon the diocese to reject the Queen’s status. ‘How can Sydney Anglicans retain even that link [communion with the Church of England] while the Church of England is symbolically under the headship of a woman?’

Her conclusion to the article, which included a statement on domestic violence, made one wonder exactly what the learned doctor thinks of the Monarch’s marriage to the Duke. However the summit of her argument came when she claimed that the doctrine of a wife submitting in marriage is ‘a very dangerous – and ungodly – doctrine indeed.’

It has been suggested that the Board of Nominators is only interested in putting forward the names of people they feel that they can control. (At least that means that they will not be putting forward Dr Porter’s name for a fast-tracked promotion). For all of the peculiarities of this diocese, we have now reached a time where we need a bishop who can control rather than be controlled. So if that letter with the Dame Edna Everage commemorative stamp does arrive, please do consider it carefully.

Respectfully yours,

Philip Murphy


Abortion can be moral

t is often overlooked in the US Episcopal Church’s pantheon of favoured liberal causes: abortion. A reminder of just where ECUSA stands on the matter came recently in the month that saw the 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion on demand in all 50 US states. In January, ECUSA’s Executive Council clearly placed the denomination on the side of abortion advocates by affirming the church’s membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The RCRC says that its ‘primary role is educating the public to make clear that abortion can be a moral, ethical, and religiously responsible decision.’ (Interestingly, however, the organization, formerly known as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, changed its name after concluding that the word ‘abortion’ carried an increasingly negative connotation among Americans!)

Hasty decisions

The Executive Council motion to affirm ECUSA’s membership in the group came from John Vanderstar, a retired attorney and member from the Diocese of Washington. (Vanderstar is a long-time activist for revisionist causes and gave legal advice to former Washington Suffragan Bishop Jane Dixon during the struggle over the Accokeek, Maryland, rectorship in 2001.) He noted that nothing about ECUSA’s position on abortion was changed by the vote. Rather, the resolution was intended to clarify ECUSA’s relationship to the organization.

In 1978, the Executive Council voted against participation in the Coalition on the grounds that its stand was (at that time) inconsistent with that of General Convention. (ECUSA now professes ‘unequivocal opposition to any federal or state legislation that would interfere with a woman’s right to make a decision on terminating a pregnancy.’)

Remarkably, however, the Episcopal Church Center joined the RCRC on behalf of ECUSA in 1986, according to The Living Church. A resolution asking that the church withdraw from RCRC went nowhere at the 2003 General Convention when the House of Bishops failed to act on it.

Expressing displeasure with the Council’s recent affirmation of ECUSA’s membership in RCRC, Georgette Forney, Executive Director of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life (NOEL), said it is not possible to see ‘children as a gift from God but celebrate the ‘right’ to kill them.’

Perhaps surprisingly, the Council’s action seemed to stir a few Episcopal dioceses from slumber. On February 11, the Diocese of San Diego’s convention called on June’s Episcopal General Convention to ‘confirm or deny’ the Executive Council decision to join the RCRC. The council of a second diocese (Springfield, Illinois) has voted to disassociate the jurisdiction from RCRC membership, and a similar action was under consideration in at least one other diocese, Tennessee.

In any case, it appears that the Executive Council vote may be yet another example of ECUSA’s penchant for catching the backside of a wave: Roe, it appears, is in trouble and its days may be numbered.

New judges new laws

On January 18, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a lower court was in error in its wholesale striking down of restrictions on abortion passed by New Hampshire’s legislature. In its opinion, written by retiring Associate Justice (and Episcopalian) Sandra Day O’Connor, the high court said in essence that such restrictions may not be invalidated because they might place an ‘undue burden’ on women. Rather, courts should look at each case on its merits and enjoin unconstitutional application of such laws.

Justice O’Connor’s replacement on the court, Samuel Alito, was confirmed and sworn in days later, after Senate hearings in which he steadfastly refused to adopt the notion that the Roe decision is of such significance that it amounts to some sort of ‘super-precedent’ that is forever immune from judicial reversal.

With the confirmations of Alito (replacing ‘swing vote’ O’Connor) and Chief Justice John Roberts (replacing the late William Rehnquist), the reliable pro-life votes on the court have in the last few months gone from three to four. The first test of the new constituency will come as the high court considers reinstating an act banning the gruesome procedure known as partial birth abortion.

Of the two justices most likely next to vacate their seats due to age or illness (John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg), both are consistent Roe backers. The inability of the hardline pro-abortion minority in the Senate to derail the Alito appointment means that the next vacancy could well tilt the balance – which, for RCRC, Pro-Choice America, and ECUSA’s Executive Council, is the stuff of nightmares.

A frequent contributor to
The Christian Challenge
(Washington DC),
the Revd Samuel Edwards
is the former director of FiFNA,
and rector of Holy Comforter,
Montevallo, Alabama


The trial of two bishops

entral Africa is a province in toils. The disputed election of Nicholas Henderson as Bishop of Lake Malawi has attracted attention because Fr Henderson is an Englishman. As interesting, however, is the case against the Bishop of Harare which has been in suspension for over six months. The chancellor of the diocese here demands further action.

Six months of official ecclesiastical silence have elapsed since the abrupt adjournment of the trial against the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, Bishop of Harare, accused on 38 different counts by 90 people in his congregation.

The Honourable Justice James Kalaile sc of Malawi, announced in open court on the second day of the trial that he had decided to stand down as trial judge and would contact The Most Revd Bernard Malango, who is both bishop of a diocese in Malawi, and archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, to appoint another judge. Six months of perceived prevarication have dragged by with no official answer to letters asking the archbishop when the trial would continue.

One count against Bishop Kunonga is that, without lawful authority from the diocesan trustees, he issued an urgent interdict in the Civil Division of the Magistrates Court personally to restrain the duly elected churchwardens and members of the church council of the Cathedral of St Mary’s and All Saints from carrying out their normal duties, and to restrain a commercial bank from giving access to and acting on the legitimate instructions of the council in respect of the cathedral account.

The bishop had refused to recognize the lawful election of the church council at a properly constituted AGM and was determined to prevent the members from carrying out their lawful duties in terms of the Acts (laws) of the diocese. He lost the case and was ordered to pay the legal costs of the respondents (council and bank).

Malango breaks silence

That silence has now been broken; not by direct communication to the court officials, but obliquely through the Press. A report in The Herald, Zimbabwe, and Pravda, Russia, both published on December 23, 2005, stated the archbishop had reached a decision. Surprisingly, contrary to normal procedure, neither the archbishop nor the provincial secretary have officially notified the decision to the registrar of the province who acts as registrar of the court, or the prosecutor of the trial, who was appointed by the archbishop.

It is only through the public media that over 90 indigenous complainants and others, like the provincial registrar and the prosecutor, have read that Archbishop Malango apparently said he will not after all appoint another judge to try Bishop Kunonga but will rule on the matter himself, based on a copy of a report from his own officials. (Who these are is not disclosed).

In view of the time lapse and the stance adopted by the archbishop, the time has come to speak out against what is turning out to be a travesty of justice. Appropriate facts and comments must be spelt out to eradicate misconceptions and to indicate where the laws of the church are being ignored. Being a servant of the church as chancellor of the Anglican diocese of Harare and deputy chancellor of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, covering Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, I believe that, at the very least, I have a moral obligation to draw attention to where these laws have been cast aside.

Exceeding his authority

First and foremost what the archbishop has said and done, if correctly reported, is a violation of the Canons (laws) of the province and he has exceeded his authority. For the archbishop to make the reported unilateral decision that, ‘as far as the case against Bishop Nolbert Kunonga is concerned, the matter is closed and cannot be revived,’ is in direct contravention of the laws of evidence, the laws of the church and natural justice. It is submitted that his ruling is null and void and that the archbishop has not fulfilled his lawful obligation as holder of that office.

He has no right to abolish an ecclesiastical court which he himself has convened and which has already commenced proceedings. Neither the archbishop nor the duly constituted court has yet actually heard evidence and cross-examination of the witnesses.

Consequently, neither can argue they are in a position to make a fully considered and objective judgment. The causes between the parties are still to be heard in an open court and judged righteously, impartially, fairly and justly. This will give the complainants the opportunity to give evidence and the bishop the opportunity to defend himself against the charges made. The church laws protect a person from being judged before he or she has been heard so that the court can first find out what that person has done.

The alleged offences

Canon 24 states that a bishop may be tried in a church court for various offences. Bishop Kunonga stands accused of committing the following offences listed in the canon:

• Wilfully contravening any provincial or diocesan laws. [Comment: This refers to any contravention of administrative, legal, ecclesiastical. financial, canonical or spiritually-related laws and all duties, obligations and procedures laid down in both canon and diocesan law. Failure to obey and follow these laws of the province is a breach not only of the laws but also of the oaths sworn by clergy, bishops and archbishops.]

• General neglect of duty. [Comment: ‘duty’ includes carrying out administrative, as well as any other type of duty and behaviour normally required or expected of any priest or bishop or archbishop.]

• Conduct giving just cause for scandal or offence, or otherwise unbecoming a clergyman. [Comment: This offence goes far beyond the two artificial, non-existent categories quoted by the archbishop in his letter to the twelve bishops. No differentiation is made in the laws of the province between these two categories in respect of offences. If the archbishop disputes this and infers no administrative act or omission can be regarded as an offence, even if such act or omission is in fact contrary to the canons, acts, rules and regulations of the church, he is openly giving permission in such instances to bishops to ignore the church laws with total impunity. It is an invitation to treat with contempt laws laid down for the efficient and effective, practical, caring, just and faithful running of a church or diocese or the province, notwithstanding the oath to be bound by the church laws.]

The way forward

The archbishop needs to be called upon to comply with the laws of the province, appoint another judge immediately and reconvene the court forthwith. Any pleadings, which may require to be completed, should be attended to now in preparation for the resumption of the case. In this regard the laws of evidence of Zimbabwe shall apply, but the prime object is to ensure the case can proceed without hindrance or delay, without frivolous or vexatious obstacles being put forward by either party.

It is therefore necessary to hear all the evidence carefully, impartially and fairly, in open court, to ascertain the truth or otherwise of the allegations and to acquit Bishop Kunonga if he is found not to have committed the offences, or to find him guilty if he has.

To find out whether the allegations are justified or not is the task of the provincial court whose members have promised to do justice and give a true verdict according to the evidence of the witnesses. This is the way the laws of the church require the matter to proceed.

R.A. Stumbles

Chancellor of the Diocese of Harare