ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY CONDEMNS CONSECRATIONS AS ILLEGAL
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Thu Feb 17 23:07:18 EST 2000
Archbishop of Canterbury writes to Primates prior to meeting in Portugal.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, has written to senior
colleagues throughout the Anglican Communion spelling out why he cannot
accept the recent consecration in Singapore of two American priests as
In his letter, Dr. Carey, who is President of the seventy-million strong
world-wide Anglican Communion points out that the consecrations last
month breach Anglican rules and practice, and are therefore illegal.
Dr. Carey adds that he cannot therefore recognise the episcopal ministry
of the two priests in the United States, John Rodgers and Charles
The moves will be on the agenda for discussion next month when senior
Anglican leaders gather for a week-long consultation in Portugal. Dr
Carey also calls on his colleagues to use the opportunity of that
meeting to work for a deeper sense of unity on potentially divisive
issues, including human sexuality.
Dr Carey reiterates his personal support for the resolution on human
sexuality at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1988,
describing it as a text around which the vast majority of bishops could
Finally, Dr Carey expresses his belief that the Communion can emerge
stronger from this current debate.
The text of Dr Carey's letter is attached.
17 February 2000
To The Bishops of the Anglican Communion & the United Churches
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
The recent consecration in Singapore of two priests of the Episcopal
Church of the United States as bishops by the Archbishop of South East
Asia and the Archbishop of Rwanda has placed me in the difficult
position of having to write to you, and all our episcopal colleagues, on
Because the principle of communion by which the Anglican Communion
stands promotes the See of Canterbury as the focal point of our
relationship one with another, there are many people who are expecting
me, as the current occupant of the See, to make my views known on this
action, on the implications for the Primates' Meeting in March, and more
generally for future relationships between our various Provinces where
disagreement on matters of faith and morals exists.
As I write, I have very much in mind the Apostle Paul, who, in the face
of profound difficulties in the Church of Corinth, wrote 'Our whole aim,
my friends, is to build you up' (2 Cor 12:19). As bishops in the
Church, that must be our focus, whether as leaders in our dioceses, or
more widely in the Communion.
Let me then turn to the question of the consecrations in Singapore.
Archbishop Tay and Archbishop Kolini have indicated to me that they
consider this to be 'an interim action to provide pastoral assistance
and nurture to faithful individuals and congregations', and that it
'establishes no new entity'. I fear that this pragmatic view of
episcopacy does not accord with the tradition of the Church, which has,
since the second century, recognised the call to be a bishop as a call
from God to a ministry which is fundamental to the right ordering of the
This is a tradition which was reaffirmed in the document known as the
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which was adopted in an amended form as
Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference, and which has since become
a fundamental document in the Anglican understanding of the Church.
Territorial integrity is a most important element of due episcopal order
and collegiality. Against the background of different issues over the
years, successive Lambeth Conferences have emphasised and endorsed this
principle, which itself reaches back at least to the Council of Nicea.
In 1988, we re-affirmed our 'unity in the historical position of respect
for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within these
boundaries', and stated that 'it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for
any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral
ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission
and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof' (Resolution 72).
Against the background of the discussions at Lambeth in 1998, we
specifically affirmed the importance of the principle we had set out so
clearly ten years earlier (Resolution V.13).
In order to safeguard this ministry, the Church has developed a process
by which that vocation to be a bishop can be discerned, encouraged and
authorised. Although the precise details of that process may vary from
place to place, nonetheless every Anglican Province contains within its
constitution and Canon law, a set of procedures for the appointment of
In the case of this particular consecration, neither the constitution of
the Province of South East Asia nor that of the Episcopal Church of
Rwanda, to whose primates John Rodgers and Charles Murphy have sworn an
oath of canonical obedience, have been followed. In addition, Anglican
polity requires that ordained ministers should be properly authorised to
pursue their ministry in the Province within which they wish to work,
and according to the Canon law of that Province. It appears that this
is not the intention in this case, and it is doubtful in the present
circumstances whether such authorisation would be forthcoming.
Therefore, whilst recognising John Rodgers and Charles Murphy as
faithful and committed ministers of the Gospel, I have to conclude that
I cannot recognise their episcopal ministry until such time as a full
rapprochement and reconciliation has taken place between them and the
appropriate authorities within the Episcopal Church of the United
I must also comment on the claim that this action was taken 'in
fulfilment of our own consecration vows to guard the Faith of the
church'. I do not question the motives of those involved in the
service, nor their own perception that the situation in the United
States is so serious that this action could be justified. However, the
understanding of episcopal ministry, which appears to have allowed them
to act unilaterally, without consultation and in secret, is quite
foreign to the Anglican tradition. Bishops are called to act
collegially, to work together as one body. The corporate and
representative nature of episcopal ministry is one of its greatest
strengths. For Anglicans, there is a Communion-wide expression of
episcopal collegiality in the Lambeth Conference and the Primates'
Meeting. It is difficult to understand how this action can be
reconciled with this tradition or how it can be seen to 'guard the
Church', without the support or even the knowledge of the vast majority
of the bishops of our Communion. Indeed, even those who have worked
most closely on these matters were not in agreement over this
But let me briefly address the more general issues. Over the past few
months there has been a growing expectation placed upon the meeting of
Primates which takes place at the end of March. It is assumed that at
the end of a week-long consultation, we shall produce an authoritative
answer to the searching questions of faith and morals which are
currently challenging the Communion. That is unrealistic. Perhaps I
need to remind everyone that the Primates' Meeting is consultative.
Although the 1998 Lambeth Conference suggested developments in the role
of the Primates acting collegially, there has been no opportunity for us
to explore these proposals in any detail. We have no authority to
impose our will on any Province. To talk of the Primates disciplining
the Episcopal Church of the USA or any other Province for that matter,
goes far beyond the brief of the Primates' Meeting.
Nonetheless, we are certainly well aware of our responsibility to offer
guidance to the Communion and to build up the bonds of unity and
fellowship which unite us, and the programme for our forthcoming meeting
fully reflects the current concerns both on how to handle division, and
specifically on attitudes to issues of human sexuality which are clearly
at the heart of the present difficulties. I can assure you there will
be a vigorous consideration of all these concerns, and I am quite
confident that if our meeting with one another is generous, respectful
and prayerful, then we will reach a deeper sense of unity, and will be
able to offer a constructive lead to the Church.
Let me reassure those who are deeply concerned at the direction in which
some parts of the Communion are moving. I understand your fears, your
worries and your frustrations. The Lambeth Conference resolution on
human sexuality (1.10) provided a text around which the vast majority of
bishops could unite. It reflects the traditional teaching of the
Church, and that is where my own belief and understanding rests; and I
hope that those bishops who have, by actions they have permitted in
their dioceses appeared to reject the resolution, will recognise the
substantial difficulties they have raised for many of their colleagues
around the world.
Nevertheless, in many parts of the Communion, faithful Christians, some
of whom are homosexual themselves, are seeking to engage the Church in a
challenging reassessment of its teaching on human sexuality, because
they have felt excluded from the Church for many years. I believe that
it is wholly in the spirit of the resolution, and that is why the
Presiding Bishop of ECUSA and I set up an international conversation
between bishops of different views, an experiment which was so
successful that it will meet again later this year. I have also sought
to encourage such conversations more locally as well.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this situation is a test of our
belief in the Anglican way of dialogue, study and prayer. I believe
that the precipitate action in Singapore on 29 January has made it more
difficult for the Presiding Bishop and his colleagues to respond
constructively to the criticisms which are being laid on them. But let
us keep this in perspective. We must guard against the risk of allowing
one issue to divert all our attention from the primary task of mission
to which we are called. In just a few weeks, I hope to be present at
the installation of the new Archbishop of Sudan. The struggle in which
the Sudanese people are immersed for the fundamental right to exist as
people and as Christians in peace and prosperity, is a timely reminder
to us all of the urgent demands on our time, energy and commitment.
I believe that, as in the past when we have faced deeply divisive
issues, we can emerge from our current debate as a stronger, more
Christ-centred Church than before, and that we are actually being given
an opportunity to build up the Church, the body of Christ 'until we all
attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to
mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ'
Archbishop of Canterbury
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