Welby back on top

The primates are fully satisfied with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s handling of the disciplinary measures handed down by the 2016 primates gathering, Justin Welby said today.

The primates of the Anglican Communion are fully satisfied with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s handling of the disciplinary measures handed down by the 2016 primates gathering, the Most Rev. Justin Welby said today.

In a press conference where he also announced the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) would face sanctions for having altered its marriage canons to permit same-sex church marriages, the Archbishop of Canterbury reaffirmed his unchallenged leadership of the 39 member body, saying had had been given sole authority to take action against the SEC in the same way he had acted against the errant Episcopal Church.

If Archbishop Welby’s claims of support from the primates are true, today’s announcement represents a significant climb down by the GAFCON/Global South coalition of primates, who have voiced concern over his implementation of disciplinary actions against the Episcopal Church following the 2016 primates gathering. And it signals that no meaningful disciplinary actions will arise over this summer’s vote by the Scottish General Synod to permit same-sex marriage.

At the close of the second day of meetings on 3 Oct 2017, Archbishop Welby, accompanied by the secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, Dr. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Primate of Australia, the Most Rev. Philip Freier, and the Primate of Hong Kong, the Most Rev. Paul Kwong, briefed reporters on the first two days of the meeting.

Archbishop Welby said the meeting had been structured to discuss “internal” affairs for the first half of the week, and “external” matters in the second. The gathering began with a half day of prayer and a silent retreat followed by an afternoon’s discussion on the workings and finances of the “instruments of unity” — the unofficial entities that order Anglican life and practice: the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The primates heard two presentations from members of the task group assigned to discuss how the communion can walk together in light of its differences over human sexuality. Asked if the primates were satisfied that the consequences from the communion over the 2015 decision of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention had been met, he responded they were.

“I went through what we had done and [the primates] were satisfied. I think I can show very clearly that everything that was decided was carried out that could be carried out,” he said.

Some of the primates he said had been confused about what had been decided in 2016. The Episcopal Church had been at the April 2016 ACC meeting in Lusaka as was its legal right, he explained. “Of course the ACC is a trust under English law. [The Episcopal Church] are members of that trust, in fact one of them at the time, though he has stepped down, was a trustee. And therefore I have no power to overrule English law and say that they can’t come. That was explained and they fully understood.”

The archbishop’s explanation represents a shift from past statements. The 2016 primates asked “the Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

Last year Archbishop Welby and Dr. Idowu-Fearon rejected assertions the Lusaka gathering ignored the primates’ communique in the treatment given to the Episcopal Church delegation in Lusaka, denying they had taken part in decisions on issues pertaining to “doctrine or polity.” However, the Episcopal delegation released a statement saying they had voted on issues of doctrine and polity and that one of their number had been on the drafting committee that prepared the resolutions.

The archbishop said a second misunderstanding had arisen over the formation of a task group charged with “maintain[ing] conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship.” Archbishop Welby explained “when you look at the wording of what was decided last time it was perfectly clear there was to be a conversation,” and “you can’t have a dialogue if you only have one group in the room.”

Several primates came away from the 2016 meeting with the understanding the task group would consist of primates who would then be in dialogue with the Episcopal Church, monitoring its compliance with their requests.

Archbishop Welby stated that “there was no disagreement” with his interpretation of events.

On the second day of the meeting the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Mark Strange, explained the actions taken by the Scottish General Synod in adopting same-sex marriage. Archbishop Welby said Bishop Strange “expected there would be consequences” for the synod vote.

The “consequences” for the SEC would be “in line with the decisions reached in 2016,” Archbishop Welby said. There was “no difference to what was decided then.”

The implementation of these consequences had been “left in my hands to follow through and it will be followed through as I did after the primates meeting of 2016.” He noted that “no formal vote” was taken and the decision was reached through consensus.

The actual consequences the SEC will face from the wider communion for its vote on same-sex marriage are immaterial, representing only a loss of opportunity, if Archbishop Welby applies the same standard to it as he did the Episcopal Church.

As he stated in the press conference Archbishop Welby believes he is powerless to remove members of the ACC standing committee. The SEC delegate to the ACC, Mr. Alistair Dinnie, who serves on the standing committee will not likely be removed, and last June Archbishop Welby stated he would invite the bishops of the SEC to the 2020 Lambeth Conference even if they adopted same-sex marriage..

In a report on the 2016 primates gathering given to the SEC’s General Synod on 9 June 2016, the Primus, the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, Bishop of Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, said he spoke with Archbishop Welby about proposals before the Scottish Synod to begin the process towards introducing same-sex marriage rites for that church.

Bishop Chillingworth said:

Two weeks ago, I went to London and met with Archbishop Justin specifically to ask the question, ‘Will this also apply to us if we complete the process of Canonical change in 2017?’  The answer is that it will.  Most directly, I will be removed from the role of Anglican Co-Chair of the International Anglican-Reformed Dialogue. But other effects are limited.  Our bishops will be present and fully involved in the Lambeth Conference planned for 2020.  We shall continue to be actively involved in our network of Diocesan Companionships and in the Anglican Networks.

The rosters of the ACC list no other members of the SEC as members of ecumenical commissions, save for Bishop Chillingsworth. However, as he retired this summer it is unknown whether any consequences will be forthcoming for its adoption of same-sex marriage, other than the opprobrium of conservatives and no new appointments to commissions.


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