WASHINGTON – At the end of a Feb. 15-19 meeting in Tanzania, the primates of the world Anglican Communion warned of “fracture” in the U.S. Episcopal Church and urged it to abide by a 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that defines marriage as heterosexual and rejects the blessing of same-sex unions.
They asked the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to “make an unequivocal common covenant” that they will not authorize blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses. They also asked the bishops to affirm that any candidate for bishop who is living in a same-sex relationship “shall not receive the necessary consent (for ordination) unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion.”
The primates are the presiding bishops of the Anglican Communion’s 38 self-governing provinces around the world.
The controversy they were addressing stems chiefly from the 2003 decision by the Episcopal Church, the U.S. member of the Anglican Communion, to ordain Bishop Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire even though he was living in an openly gay relationship.
Paulist Father Ronald Roberson, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and Catholic staff aide for the U.S. Catholic-Anglican dialogue, declined to comment directly on the primates’ decisions, saying it would be inappropriate for him to speak about the Anglicans’ internal affairs.
He and Father James Massa, director of the secretariat, did note, however, that the Catholic Church has no desire for a schism in the Anglican Communion.
They cited a recent joint statement by the Catholic and Anglican co-chairmen of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission in response to a news report in The Times of London speculating on a possible Anglican schism and how the Catholic Church might respond.
The joint statement said that “the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has consistently spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining a communion, rooted in the apostolic faith.”
Following Bishop Robinson’s ordination, the rest of the Anglican Communion asked the Episcopal Church to adopt a moratorium on ordaining openly gay bishops, but during the church’s 2006 General Convention, its House of Deputies voted down a moratorium proposal.
The primates, meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, said: “At the heart of our tensions is the belief that the Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship and by permitting rites of blessing for same-sex unions. The episcopal ministry of a person living in a same-sex relationship is not acceptable to the majority of the communion.”
The Lambeth Conference, which meets every 10 years, is the highest authority in the Anglican Communion. The resolution cited by the primates says in part that “in view of the teaching of Scripture (the conference) upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.”
The primates also expressed concern about developments in the Anglican Church of Canada, where the New Westminster Diocese has begun blessing homosexual unions.
They said that the interventions of other Anglican primates in the Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches “have exacerbated this situation.” Several U.S. parishes have left the Episcopal Church and affiliated themselves with Anglicans in Africa.
The primates said that since the Episcopal Church’s election last year of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop – making her the first female primate of any Anglican province – a “further complication is that a number of dioceses or their bishops have indicated, for a variety of reasons, that they are unable in conscience to accept the primacy of the presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church.”
The primates supported a solution she proposed last November, to name a bishop as a primatial vicar whom she would delegate to assume some of her pastoral duties. The vicar would be accountable to the presiding bishop and would report to an advisory panel representing key parties, including someone designated by the archbishop of Canterbury, England, who is the chief primate in the Anglican Communion.
Father Roberson said the primates’ actions would be among items discussed at the next meeting of the U.S. Catholic-Anglican dialogue, which is to take place in Washington in March.