ACNS 4065 | ACO | 2 NOVEMBER 2005

The Panel of Reference - An Update
ACNS Interview of Archbishop Peter Carnley


Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed Archbishop Peter Carnley as the Chairman of a Panel of Reference, established in response to the request of the Primates at their meeting in Dromantine in February. ACNS spoke with Archbishop Peter last week. Here is a transcript of that interview.

The Panel of Reference was set up in May this year, following the request of the Primates at their meeting in Dromantine in February. What has happened since then?

Having been invited to become members by the Archbishop of Canterbury in May, the Panel met for the first time in London in July. At that first meeting we concentrated on trying to understand the precise role of the Panel within the current life of the Communion and on drawing up our rules of engagement. All this was fully published in ACNS, and the material is available on the Panel web pages on the Anglican Communion web site:
So, from July we’ve had our rules and procedures in place and we’re ready for business, as it were.


Some people have suggested that the work of the Panel has been slow to get off the ground …

Well, I can understand their frustration. When the Primates met in February, it was felt that the Panel of Reference could be an important mechanism to relieve some of the stresses of the difficult situations that were surfacing, particularly in the Episcopal Church (USA).
If people are not acquainted with a great deal of the work that has gone on behind the scenes, then it would seem strange that we have arrived at the end of October and the Panel has not yet delivered any assessment of particular situations. But in fact a lot has been happening behind the scenes.

I think it’s important, first of all, to stress that the Panel has no mandate to initiate action. It has been made quite clear from the beginning that the Panel can only act when it receives references from the Archbishop of Canterbury. So the Panel can only act on instructions from the Archbishop. The Panel has also made fairly extensive recommendations about the kind of material that needs to be submitted in order to allow the Archbishop to make an assessment and to recommend whether a matter should be referred to the Panel. It actually takes a long time for groups that wish to invoke the Panel procedure to get their material together. Making any sort of judgement on inadequate information is always a dangerous thing to do, and more likely to exacerbate a situation rather than help it.

I understand from the Chief of Staff at Lambeth Palace that at the moment there are a number of cases that have been drawn to the attention of the Archbishop, and those involved have been invited to collate the material necessary in order to enable the Panel to begin its work. So in fact the first formal referrals are only just coming through.

Can I emphasise the Panel is totally committed to acting with despatch on these issues. There are very substantial reasons why the work of the Panel has taken time, but we should see some positive action very shortly.


There have been several high profile appeals to the Panel, notably the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, and the Diocese of Fort Worth in the United States. Have you any comment to make on these?

Well, I’m aware of both the serious situation of dispute in Brazil and of the appeal of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. I understand that the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking with all parties to find the best way forward in Recife. The Panel itself recommends that every effort should be made for a pastoral intervention and reconciliation rather than the sort of formal process that reference to the Panel involves. The material requested in support of the application from Fort Worth has recently been sent on to the Panel’s Secretariat from Lambeth Palace, and we are beginning to process that now.

Can I take this opportunity however to emphasise that the Panel deliberately chose to do its work discreetly and confidentially? This is partly because we do not believe the process is helped by high level courting of publicity; this only tends to exacerbate a situation, and encourages people to be active in expressing their quite opposite views: public dialogue can become quite strident. But if the Panel is to engage effectively, it needs to be able to do that with people out of the glare of publicity. I have been disappointed when groups who are hoping for the Panel to be able to help them try to draw the Panel itself to take sides even before the facts have been carefully weighed.


So what do you see the Panel as achieving?

Well, there is undoubtedly a sense that the Communion is going through great tensions at the moment. We have seen how parishes can feel themselves seriously alienated from the episcopal care their bishops are providing because of a difference of opinion on some specific issues. And there is a great concern within other Provinces of the Communion that there should not be any inappropriate pressure or persecution of minority groups at a time of very serious theological dispute.

One of the main difficulties facing the Panel is that it is hard to get at the objective reality of what is happening on the ground. There is always the danger of a distorted view, and the Panel has to bring some independence and objectivity to that kind of situation, which involves detailed investigation.

I think everyone would agree that in the Anglican Communion there must be a readiness to accept that not everyone is going to take the same viewpoint on some of the issues in dispute, and that people should not be persecuted when they are in a minority position in a specific situation, particularly when they believe they are trying to be faithful to Anglican teaching as it has been expounded by the Lambeth Conference. The Panel of Reference believes, as does, I think, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that a sense of trust and fair play must prevail. This can only operate when there is space and a sense of security, so that a group does not feel that its continuing life is under threat. So the idea of the Panel is really to introduce a sense of objectivity, a sense of fair play, and a degree of legitimate protection for those who hold minority views in a particular situation, but views which are nevertheless in harmony with the current standard of teaching adopted in the Anglican Communion.


How do people actually get the Panel involved in a situation?

I need to stress again that the Panel doesn’t act on its own authority; it awaits referral to it from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The way in which that process is triggered is fully set out on the web site pages, and these pages should be read and considered with great care by anyone who wants to invoke the Panel procedures. What we can assure the Communion is that once those channels have been followed, then we will be doing our utmost to support those who approach us in an even handed, fair and just way.