Friday, May 30, 2008


Response To Catholic Leader’s Appeal For Clarity From Lambeth ‘08 Likely To Be Blocked By Conference Structure

Report/Analysis By Lee Penn
The Christian Challenge


May 27, 2008

A Roman Cardinal with a liberal reputation – Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity – has called on the Anglican Communion to clarify its identity at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, and to align itself with Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox rather than Protestants.

Kasper warned that any continued effort to avoid resolving Anglican conflicts over issues of doctrine and discipline would only serve to perpetuate the Communion’s crisis, and impede ecumenism between Canterbury and Rome.

There’s just one problem. The Anglican establishment, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has sought to ensure that Lambeth 2008 in Canterbury will – by design – make no substantive decisions.

In contrast to past Conferences, including Lambeth ‘98, which passed some significant resolutions – notably Resolution 1.10, opposing “homosexual practice,” “same-sex unions,” and ordination of those involved in such unions – the 2008 Conference, set for July 16-August 3, will have fewer plenary sessions and “no resolutions,” the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, an Episcopal seminary professor who is on the Lambeth Design Team, said during a May 20 webcast with Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Thus - as some of the mostly African prelates planning to skip the Conference have pointed out before this – disappointment likely lies ahead for anyone who expects Lambeth to make clear decisions on disputes that have taken the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Instead of a decennial deliberative council of the whole Communion, Lambeth this time appears to have been crafted by Dr. Williams and his Conference managers as more of a combination ecclesiastical seminar, retreat, and cultural exchange.

Participating bishops will be assigned to small discussion groups. In the morning, there will be Bible study groups on the Gospel of John, including the same eight prelates for the duration of the Conference. At lunchtime and in the early afternoon, there will be “indaba” discussion groups of 40 bishops each. According to the official Lambeth website, “Indaba is a SiZulu word. It refers to a small group that gathers, without time pressures and constraints, to ‘chew over’ important issues. The word best describes what will happen in these sessions. All indaba groups will discuss the same material. This will relate to the day’s theme and might be a DVD presentation, document or input from a speaker. The group will then be led in an activity or discussion that addresses the theme. All group members will have the chance to contribute and different groups will be able to share their findings with one another.” In the late afternoon, participants will be free to choose among seminars, workshops, and discussion groups. There will be a few evening plenary sessions for bishops and their spouses, given by a “high-profile speaker.”

One official reason given for the increase in group activities at this Lambeth is the Global South participants’ stated discomfort or unfamiliarity with Western processes. But it is worth noting that the group dynamic has been used effectively in The Episcopal Church (TEC) as a device to control outcomes (e.g., it disperses conservative forces in different bi-partisan or multi-partisan groups, hindering them from acting together in the body as a whole).

That is not the way it was portrayed, though, in a Pentecost letter Dr. Williams wrote to Anglican bishops. In it, he maintained that the aim of the new Conference style “is not to negotiate a formula that will keep everyone happy but to go to the heart of an issue and find what the true challenges are before seeking God’s way forward. It is a method with parallels in many cultures, and it is close to what Benedictine monks and Quaker Meetings seek to achieve as they listen quietly together to God, in a community where all are committed to a fellowship of love and attention to each other and to the word of God…The hope is that over the two weeks we spend together, these groups will build a level of trust that will help us break down the walls we have so often built against each other in the Communion.” While calling for Lambeth participants to work toward closer unity as envisaged by the 2004 Windsor Report and proposed Anglican covenant, he said that: “We hope that people will not come so wedded to their own agenda and their local priorities that they cannot listen to those from other cultural backgrounds.”

In this, the Archbishop seems to suggest that, despite ten years of failed appeals for TEC to come sufficiently into line with Communion sexuality policy, getting everyone together again at Lambeth will help cut through a problem that he sees as rooted more in poor communications and psychological and cultural distance than In divergent theology. Therefore, his solution to the crisis is better communications and building trust relationships. In this manner (which conspicuously avoids a clear up or down vote on any significant matter and much of the appearance of a split in the Communion), Williams hopes to resolve today’s intra-Anglican problems, which he told Vatican Radio on May 5 are “unprecedentedly difficult.”

Dr. Douglas, Angus Dun professor of world Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, maintained during the May 20 webcast that the indaba sessions would not shy away from the hard questions, noting that there would be study and conversations on the authority of the Bible, human sexuality, gender and violence, Anglican identity and the Anglican covenant, the proposed pact intended to help assure some level of theological unity and mutual accountability among Anglican provinces.

But he said the Conference will not be text- or report-driven, nor will it include “time spent drafting resolutions based on those reports.”

Dr. Douglas said the Lambeth Design Group, which has worked since 2004 to plan the Conference, intended “to do a new thing and help the Anglican Communion focus on what were the mission opportunities of the Communion globally.” The meeting is to be “de-centered, many voiced, conversational and relational – an opportunity for genuine and deep meaningful conversation and building of incarnational relationships.”

As Lambeth’s design appears to promise that TEC will – once more – go undisciplined for its liberal sexuality policies, it is not surprising that Bishop Schori seems delighted with plans for the confab.

In the May 20 press conference at “815” (Episcopal Church headquarters in New York), she contended that the Lambeth program, in removing the emphasis on procedure and legislation, “really beings us back to the heart of what it means to be Christian community…That is the place to where God calls us.” She said this process will allow Anglican bishops to “encounter each other as human beings working in vastly different contexts around the globe” and to “build relationships.” She clearly aspires by that means to win some friends for the liberal, Western cause. “Conversation entered into deeply and fully leads to opportunity for conversion, and I have that as a hope,” she said.

As an alternative to resolving the Anglican divisions on doctrine and discipline, Schori underscored the Millennium Development Goals “as an image of what the Communion could be engaged in together…Together we are building something that moves toward the reign of God when the hungry are fed…and children have access to healthcare. We are moving toward the dream of what we hold together; of what a healed world looks like. Lambeth is part of that vision.” She did not clarify why a church body is needed for this task, when the Red Cross or a United Nations agency might do the same.

Following upon similar complaints over the last year from some Global South Anglican leaders, the conservative Anglican Laity Fellowship expressed its disappointment with the Lambeth plans in a May 21 open letter to Archbishop Williams: “The cost for Lambeth, which will last for nearly three weeks, has been reported to run in the millions of dollars. We do not see how such a cost, which must be borne primarily by laity, is justified under Christian stewardship” if Lambeth will not “resolve the two most serious issues before the Anglican Communion: (1) the status of the U.S. Episcopal Church’s compliance with the Windsor Report and the primates’ Dar es Salaam ultimatum, and (2) an Anglican Covenant establishing a process for deliberation of doctrinal matters and for discipline of unilateral acts.” (The covenant is to be discussed at Lambeth, but it will likely be after that meeting that a final text of the concord will be submitted to provinces for approval or rejection. By one official estimate, the approval process will take seven years.)

-Pointed Words From Pope, Cardinal-

Cardinal Kasper’s admonition was part of a series of recent appeals by Catholic hierarchs for the Anglican Communion and other liberal-minded Protestant bodies to return to traditional Christian faith, order, and discipline.

First came some pointed remarks on April 18 by Pope Benedict XVI at an ecumenical prayer service in New York City.

“Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called ‘prophetic actions’ that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition,” the pontiff noted. “Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of ‘local options’.”

He said that such innovations could lead to “the splintering of Christian communities,” and cause “those who are not Christians” to become “confused about the Gospel message itself.” The Pope added that “a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.”

Following up on this papal initiative on May 5 – the same day that Rowan Williams met with the Pope in Rome - Cardinal Kasper called on the Anglican Communion to use the coming Lambeth Conference to settle disputes over issues of doctrine and discipline that were dividing the church, and to unambiguously identify itself with “the churches of the first millennium.”

The Anglican Church has traditionally identified itself as both Catholic and Protestant. But Kasper told the UK’s Catholic Herald that unless Anglicanism chooses between two “it only extends [its] crisis” and impedes ecumenical dialogue with Rome.

“Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong? Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium – Catholic and Orthodox – or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions.”

The Cardinal – who Williams has asked to address Lambeth this year – added, “We hope that certain fundamental questions will be clarified at the Conference so that dialogue will be possible. We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis.”

And, on May 7, two days after publicly taking the Anglican Communion to task, Kasper told Vatican Radio and the Catholic News Service that the Vatican is praying for the unity of the Anglican Communion and offering its assistance “because we are not interested in new factions, new divisions – this is not helpful.” He added that local autonomy “must be linked with solidarity and commonality between the provinces (of the church) on a universal level. This is now the project of the Archbishop of Canterbury - to strengthen the bonds of universal communion.”

The Cardinal’s comments followed upon a speech he gave in January at Ushaw College in Durham, in which he noted that divisions emerging on ethical issues were offsetting ecumenical progress that had been made between Rome and Protestant bodies on longer-standing doctrinal disagreements.

The decision by some Anglican Churches to ordain and bless those in same-sex relationships does not conform with the faith of the Gospel and the early Church, Kasper told the Durham audience. If Anglicanism cannot add to the Catholic Church’s fullness by speaking with a common voice on hitherto universally agreed ethical standards, its value as an ecumenical partner was questionable, he said.

TO BE SURE, diplomatic business continues as usual between Canterbury and Rome, as seen in Dr. Williams’ May 5 private encounter with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. Williams’ second audience with the pontiff, a 20-minute meeting, was described by the Archbishop as “friendly and informal.” Williams said they discussed “a number of ecumenical issues, some of the Pope’s impressions from his American visit and common issues in Christian-Muslim dialogue.”

As well, on May 7, Williams installed the Very Rev. David Richardson, former Dean of the Anglican cathedral in Melbourne, Australia, as the new director of the Anglican Center in Rome; in attendance was a Vatican official, Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Indian-born Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who will be one of the speakers at Lambeth. The installation service was held in the Church of Santa Maria Sopa Minerva, where rest the sacred remains of St. Catherine of Siena. This site is the titular church of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Westminster, and he offered it to the Anglicans for that occasion.

Still, impediments to reunion between Rome and Canterbury have multiplied over the years: TEC’s consecration of a partnered homosexual bishop in 2003, and the spread in the U.S. Church of same-sex unions; the acceptance within some provinces of the Communion of the ordination of women priests, and in a few of them, women bishops; and preparations within the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops. Cardinal Kasper has warned that this decision by the C of E would lead to “a serious and long lasting chill” in ecumenical relations.

But in that matter, and in his hopes for clarity from the Anglican Communion this summer, Cardinal Kasper seems doomed to disappointment. Conspiring against him is not just a hamstrung Lambeth, but Anglican nature itself.

“It’s quintessentially Anglican to put things off,” Living Church News Editor Steve Waring observed recently. “There’s always hope that the end of the world would come first.”

Sources: The Catholic Herald, The Vatican, Catholic News Agency, The Lambeth Conference web site, Anglican Laity Fellowship, Times Online, Episcopal Life Online, The Church of England Newspaper, VirtueOnline, Catholic World News, ZENIT, website of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Reuters, The Guardian, Catholic News Service, Anglican Communion News Service, Religious Intelligence

Permission to circulate the foregoing electronically is granted, provided that there are no changes in the headings or text. To learn more about The Christian Challenge, which has provided independent reporting on Anglican affairs since 1962, please visit www.challengeonline.org

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