Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has described the report of the Anglican Communion's Panel of Reference on the Diocese of New Westminster as an important contribution to the process of reconciliation in Canada. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, released the report October 13.
"I want to thank the panel for the careful and professional manner in which they carried out their work," said Hutchison. "This is the first report the panel has issued and their diligence in seeking the truth and their concern that all voices be heard is an important model for the Communion. I am also very appreciative of the panel's clarity over matters of jurisdiction and oversight and I am pleased that they have supported the understanding of those concepts that is shared throughout the communion."
The Panel, which is composed of thirteen lay and clerical Anglican leaders from the Communion, was appointed by Williams in response to concerns expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion about the adequacy of proposals for alternate episcopal oversight where parishes and bishops are in disagreement.
Four dissenting parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster requested that Williams refer their concerns to the Panel. After the initial meeting of the Panel, two of its members visited the diocese in July 2006 to meet with representatives from the parishes and diocese.
The report affirms the need for alternate episcopal ministry in the four parishes as a temporary measure, "until the presenting issue is resolved and theologically sustainable reconciliation is achieved."
The report also upholds the appropriateness of the Shared Episcopal Ministry process developed by the Canadian House of Bishops in 2004, and passed with near unanimity. The panel recommends some additional safeguards to take into account the special circumstance of the Westminster case, inviting the diocese and newly formed missions associated with the dissenting parishes to explore how a formal relationship might be established. Hutchison indicated that these safeguards were within the spirit of the original document.
"I believe this report represents an important milestone in the ongoing dialogue in Canada," he said. "I ask that all the parties involved renew their efforts at reconciliation as the report envisages and seek the healing of divisions and the unity that our Lord so sincerely desires for the Church."
A pdf of the full report is available here.