Thursday, 22 January 2009

Covenant Blues

Sometimes I think I'm losing powers of analysis; either that or some of the workings of the Covenant to get the Covenant through are so Byzantine and strange that I have lost the plot.

The relevant papers seem to be GS 1716 (to be introduced to February General Synod by the Bishop of Rochester for a take note motion) and GS Misc 910, as formatted and displayed by Thinking Anglicans, the latter being a long paper about Anglican governance including the Church of England and then the Anglican Communion. On the latter, my reading of this paper by Colin Podmore suggests that because bishops are understood as historically the basic pastors in each place (the diocese), under which there are his or her deputies of priests, then the greatest moral authority is in the Lambeth Conference of bishops, and the Primates Meeting has the next greatest authority (being leading bishops for their Churches, speaking for provinces, and working towards the Lambeth Conference), and that therefore the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has the least authority in matters, and yet it would have powers regarding the Covenant that should better lay with, or more lay with, episcopal based bodies.

This therefore makes a more fundamental point about the Anglican Communion and its structures of governance, that prior to a Covenant being released on to the Communion the Communion ought to sort out its governance more in keeping with a set of episcopal Churches.

GS1716 contains this, that seems especially relevant:

46. the lack of clarity about the relationship between the four Instruments leads to a confusing text (3.2)

The ACC cannot have both an initiatory role in complaint as an Instrument and the quasi-judicial role of pronouncement of relinquishment.

GS1716 is a bit odd for the Synod to consider, in that it refers to the St. Andrew's Draft of the Covenant, whereas everyone is waiting for and will see the next draft. So until we see the next one, criticism of this St. Andrew's Draft seems now premature.

Nevertheless, regarding it and the Podmore paper, there is this in GS1716:

53. Are the churches of the Anglican Communion, properly so called, the thirty eight national bodies that belong to the Communion or are they the dioceses of the Communion gathered round their diocesan bishops?

54. ...whether the appropriate signatories of the Covenant are the Provinces or the dioceses...

As far as the Church of England is concerned an individual diocese has no power to issue a statement that purports to declare the doctrine of the Church and could not sign the Covenant.

...the General Synod could not give final approval to the Church of England as a whole signing the Covenant without the agreement of a majority of the dioceses at meetings of their diocesan synods.

The Church of England knows it is a Church, though we have seen in the past attempts to extract out dioceses (by Archbishop of Canterbury and by removed TEC bishops) when it comes to The Episcopal Church: and it says no you can't, it is also hierarchical.

But, hang on, the assumption is that the dioceses in the Church of England cannot alone sign up to the Covenant, but the Church of England can. Can it? There is the reminder at Thinking Anglicans of a crucial reply to a question at the November 2008 General Synod:

Mr William Fittall to reply as Secretary General:

A. The Church of England response of 19 December 2007 to the initial draft Covenant noted on page 13 that ‘it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.’ The same would be true in relation to delegation to any other body of the Anglican Communion...

So the Church of England cannot sign up to a Covenant that could be interpreted as rule from without, whatever the international governance. It would have to be purely voluntary, that is the Church of England can never really sign up. It cannot be under any authority from outside itself. This document, GS1716, just ignores this crippling point altogether. Why did the writers place their heads in the sand over this one?

It would seem, then, that the Covenant would be launched into decision making structures that do not have the authority to make the Covenant operable either internationally or nationally - though there is another draft coming. Is the next draft going to reform these international structures as well as doing a job of disciplining Churches over doctrine, and the disciplining going to be entirely autonomous within every Anglican Church, when presumably such a Church itself passes something that contradicts the Covenant? And what of the disciplining, when the Church of England and wider thought:

47. The legalistic tone of the Appendix has been frequently criticised and at the Lambeth Conference it was described as 'too punitive'.

48. The Covenant will therefore need to address matters of dispute resolution and breach of the covenant and to do so in clear processes consonant with natural justice.

So it should not do the job it was intended to do, but if it was to do the job it was designed to do it could not do it in the present structural situation - because the international structures are wrong and because the Churches are autonomous (and would be contradicting themselves).

Surely this thing is becoming impossible. It is a joke - the Covenant ought to be trashed. Furthermore, the original point of it is rather lost because those who demanded the most on the presenting issue of gay relationship bishops and gay blessings, and falsely linked it to matters of wider doctrine, have run off into setting up their own outside-the-Communion structure, the Anglican Church of North America, as a start, to be approved by a self-appointed group of Primates of the Primates Meeting calling itself a Council, that has taken power to itself (with no authority to do so). Well that muddies the waters of any reform of the governance of the Anglican Communion!

The General Synod in February is only going to take note of this report, GS1716. Why? Why not debate it fully, that the whole thing at every level is becoming ridiculous? Oh and it is being introduced by one of these English indeed diocesan bishops who is well associated with the group that is supporting the setting up of a Primates Council and an Anglican Church outside the Communion...

Imagine designing a bicycle with square wheels that is to seat an elephant and be ridden on a soft sandy beach with the sea coming in? There is a notice too: "No Bicycles on the Beach".


June Butler said...

the Covenant ought to be trashed

If the powers had listened to me, I said from the beginning that the Anglican Covenant was a bad idea. They could have saved themselves much effort and expense. Who could have called a halt to this foolishness a long time ago? I'm not sure, but they should have. Junk it. Give it up. Call it what it is, a farce, and let it go.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, as usual, for the cogent analysis. I especially appreciate your picking up the issue of the "diocese as unit of the church." I commented to some extent on this at my blog, concerning the assertions of the ABoC and folks like Duncan, Iker, et alia.

There is no question in the Anglican tradition of canon law that dioceses are "autonomous" -- self-governing. For one thing, they are not allowed simply to choose their own bishops. I know of no province in our Communion in which bishops are simply chosen by their predecessors or their dioceses, without the explicit and mandatory assent of some body (or somebody) outside of the diocese. Even if one wants to see this as collegial rather than hierarchical, the point is the same: and this goes back to conciliar Christianity. Bishops are only made bishops through the assent and laying on of hands by the metropolitan or the neighboring bishops.

Nor can dioceses unilaterally amend their canon law so as to conflict with the law of the larger church. (Provinces can, though perhaps it is not wise to do so As it stands, for there is no "law" of the church in Anglicanism beyond the provincial level). The Covenant is an effort to remedy a situation with which many are quite content.