The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, voices
support for new Network
an address to the General Synod of the Church of England
February 10, 2004
Williams supports Americans who oppose gay bishop
BY RUTH GLEDHILL, RELIGION CORRESPONDENT
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has offered his support to a network of traditionalist churches being set up in America to oppose the gay Bishop Gene Robinson.
Dr. Williams, addressing the General Synod of the Church of England said that he had been following “sympathetically” the discussions about setting up a network to operate within the Episcopal Church of the United States.
His comments came as the commission assembled to resolve the controversy in the Anglican Church over the ordination and blessings of homosexuals met for the first time in Windsor yesterday.
Dr. Williams said: “We do, as a communion, face perhaps unprecedentedly difficult challenges and it's all the more important that we keep those involved in these discussions – in controversy and also in the work of the commission – in our prayers, to equip all of us in the communion for the task that lies before us.”
He said the commission, headed by the Primate of Ireland, Dr. Robin Eames, had been charged with “an exceptionally difficult and delicate task.” Because of this, Dr. Williams said, it was inappropriate to attempt to second-guess the recommendations “on these large issues of communion, maintenance of communion and breakage of communion.”
He said he was looking for “some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible.” The aim is to find a way of offering “episcopal oversight” or pastoral care by bishops to conservative parishes in a form that is acceptable to the ruling liberal majority.
Even as he spoke, however, it became clear that the divisions over homosexuality were deepening when 13 primates from around the world issued a statement condemning once again the actions of the Episcopal Church of the US.
The primates, headed by the Most Rev. Peter Akinola of Nigeria the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez of the West Indies and the Most Rev. Greg Venables of the Southern Cone said the consecration of Bishop Robinson had “created a situation of grave concern for the entire Anglican Communion and beyond.” The action of the American Church was “a direct repudiation of the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures, historic faith and order of the Church.”
Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury
General Synod, 9th February
As the Dean of Derby indicated there may be some members of Synod who have some questions in their mind about the issue affecting the wider Anglican Communion, and whether it is appropriate to debate such issues in this forum. And I hope you'll bear with me if I say just a word about some of those wider issues, perhaps in explanation of why we have not thought it fit at this point to encourage such a wider debate – though questions will undoubtedly arise.
I'm thinking, of course, of developments particularly around decisions taken in the United States of America and the extraordinary meeting of Primates which took place in Lambeth Palace in October of last year. And Synod members will, I am sure, remember the statement issued at the end of that two-day gathering at Lambeth Palace. One of the things for which it called was the setting up of a Commission to examine some of the issues that were arising and would continue to arise for the Communion in the light of actions by any one province or diocese which created acute difficulties for the maintenance of communion. You will be aware that that Commission has been set under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Robin Eames to whom it is obligatory to refer all difficult and delicate matters in the Anglican Communion. And under his expert guidance that Commission is actually beginning its work; even as we speak, as they say, its first meeting takes place this week at Windsor.
I hope that Synod will hold that meeting in prayer during its time together this week. They have been charged with an exceptionally difficult and delicate task. But precisely because of that it would be very difficult indeed, and I think inappropriate for either myself or the House of Bishops or Synod to attempt to second-guess the work of that Commission and its recommendations and reflections on these large issues of Communion, maintenance of Communion and breakage of Communion.
The Primates’ statement in October also mentioned the situation in the diocese of New Hampshire, where the consecration of Gene Robinson as coadjutor Bishop has already taken place as you may have noticed. And many Synod members will be aware of some of the reaction to that that continues in the United States and elsewhere.
Now the Primates in their statement in October called on provinces to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury for those in conscience unable to accept certain dispositions made by their provinces. In line with that request from the Primates, I want to say that I remain fully committed to searching for arrangements which will secure a continuing place for all Episcopalians in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States and I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible. It is in that light that I’ve been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight.
I have also been sharing with Archbishop Eames the relevant documents and statements which have come from a number of parties around the world in this debate, so that the Commission may be fully aware of them and use them as a resource as appropriate in making their assessments and recommendations, in due course, concerning the future of the Communion.
The Commission has deliberately a limited life. It will report to the Primates probably at the very beginning of the next calendar year, and interim reports will be issued meanwhile.
I hope Synod will have take account of this very brief, necessarily very sketchy, update in order to put some of these matters in context. I hope Synod will be receiving and reflecting on the interim reports that will come from the Commission to which I am extremely grateful for already a good deal of work that has already gone on. As I have indicated on a number of occasions in recent months we do, as a Communion, face perhaps unprecedentedly difficult challenges and it's all the more important that we keep those involved in these discussions - in controversy and also in the work of the Commission - in our prayers, to equip all of us in the Communion for the task that lies before us.
Thank you, madam Chairman.