Dr George Carey has been speaking for orthodoxy. It is a pity, suggests George Austin, he didn’t do so rather earlier when he was Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop George Carey had some fierce and challenging comments to offer at a recent conference of the Anglican Communion Institute held in Houston, Texas [ND May, ‘Correspondents’]. Surprisingly (and I will explain ‘surprisingly’ later) he was highly critical – rightly so – of some North American provinces who on the one hand demand ‘total autonomy theologically from the Communion, while at the same time (imposing) total canonical authority within their dioceses’ As a result, the bishops appear to have ‘unfettered control over their rapidly diminishing flocks (and) from which all who dissent from the regnant liberalism, are being driven out.’

No-one could argue with that. And with the recent behaviour particularly of the majority of bishops in synodical discussions in England, it would be hard not to believe that the same will soon be the case here.

Holding together

So far as the whole Anglican Communion was concerned, Carey went on to ask if it is to become more a ‘loose federation of ecclesial bodies’ or ‘are we serious about being a Communion, united by doctrine and shared faith, and thus willing to pay the price [it] will entail to recover what we have lost?’

His expression of hope that new leaders might arise in the United States and Canada who will realign TEC and the Canadian Church ‘with the rest of us.’ Carey’s comment, ‘We will be waiting in hope’ seemed to have within it more than an element of doubt that this could really happen.

Why do I suggest it is ‘surprising’ that Carey should speak in this way? Well, it should have been obvious to any close observer, especially one as close as a former Archbishop of Canterbury, that this has been building up for at least two decades.

At one time, the canons of York Minster were invited every year to preach a sermon and in September 1991 it was once again my turn. I did something I had never done before and have never done since (believe it or believe it not) – I released it beforehand to the press. Because of its content, I was never again invited to preach there.

A quarter of the sermon was about my personal beliefs – in the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection, the salvation that comes to us through the cross of Christ, that sin is a reality, that the Scriptures set out for that faith through which we are saved, that all this is the Gospel of God revealed to us. Nothing too odd or offensive about that, at least in those far-off days.

The historic faith

I went on to examine the growing conflicts within the Church of England between those who on the one hand share those beliefs and on the other those ‘who wish to impose upon us a substitute faith and morality which in the end can never satisfy’ I suggested that the way to deal with this was not through the prolonged, time-consuming and bitter periods of debate, that were already developing, but by a mutual recognition that each side must respect the other.

I said that there should be no bar to those of orthodox beliefs being ordained or appointed to senior posts; that any liberal plans to ‘to deal with orthodox clergy by legislation to dispense with conscientious safeguards or remove the freehold would have to be abandoned’; and that where dioceses brought pressure against traditionalist clergy they must be made to cease doing so.

The Gamaliel principle

The price for that might have to be a ‘church within a church’ though as one who had worked for church unity, locally, nationally and internationally, it gave me ‘no pleasure to suggest this.’ It was better to have a measure of disunity within the one church, rather than ‘the progressive alienation of loyal church folk whose only crime is to hold to the traditional faith’ or to have no place in its ministry for ‘clergy who claim the right to continue to accept their church’s basic formularies of doctrine.’

I ended by suggesting that each side within the Church of England should say to the other, in the Gamaliel principle, ‘If their undertaking is of men, it will fail. But if what they stand for is of God, nothing will be able to overthrow it.’

All hell broke loose, with some bishops and archdeacons jumping in with critical (and sometimes unpleasant) comments not only attacking what I had said but questioning my right to do so. There was some support, from the then Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, and to some extent from senior religious journalists such as Damien Thompson and Clifford Longley

Archbishop Habgood compared me to the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers, seeking to make people’s flesh creep. But to the fiercest of critics, Archbishop Carey, I was like Humpty Dumpty wanting the Church to split (in fact I had said the opposite). In a letter to The Times he went so far as to suggest that I had no evidence for my claims and that I was ‘making words mean what I wanted them to mean.’

Eighteen years late

Carey must have known well enough that such an attack, printed in the leading broadsheet, would be an endorsement and encouragement to lesser mortals within the church hierarchy to dismiss what I had said as fiercely as they might determine and so prevent any real discussion on what was, even in those days, a serious and major issue for the Church.

So if, as he says in North America, bishops are claiming unfettered control over their rapidly diminishing flocks, and from which all who dissent from the regnant liberalism are being driven out, and if here, at the last July Synod, two-thirds of our present diocesan bishops could not bring themselves to support an amendment simply asking that both sides in the argument on women bishops could be recognised as loyal members of the Church, must Carey not bear some little responsibility for this now deeply unpleasant and entrenched characteristic which has infected and undermined present-day Anglicanism?

If he had used the authority, leadership and power he then possessed, to support the faithful and to challenge that which he now has decided to condemn, maybe this would have gone some way towards curbing the growth of the secular liberalism by which we are now so severely challenged.

Unfortunately he did not say so then, and 18 years on it is now too late.