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House of Bishops provides necessary clarifications, Joint Standing Committee report finds

[Episcopal News Service] A report from the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion has found that the Episcopal Church has "clarified all outstanding questions" relating to its response to the requests of the Windsor Report, and questions on which the Primates sought clarifications by September 30.

The committee's 19-page report in two parts comes in response to the House of Bishops September 20-25 meeting in New Orleans.

The first part of the report addresses the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report, released in 2004 with recommendations of how the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid differing theological viewpoints. The second part addresses pastoral issues concerning dissenting groups within the church, gay and lesbian people, and issues of polity within the Episcopal Church, including a call for unauthorized interventions by bishops in other jurisdictions to cease.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent the report to all the Anglican Communion's Primates and members of the Anglican Consultative Council, asking them to consult in their provinces and respond to him by the end of October.

The Primates, in a February 19 communiqué issued in Dar es Salaam, requested that the House of Bishops makes "an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses" and "confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."

The Primates asked for an answer to be conveyed to them by September 30, which the House of Bishops did in its September 25 "Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners."

The Joint Standing Committee (JSC) and the Archbishop of Canterbury met with the House of Bishops for part of its New Orleans meeting, but by the time the committee members departed, the bishops were still formalizing their response. Committee members noted the importance of meeting face-to-face with the Episcopal Church's bishops and acknowledged the need for a Communion-wide response to the result of their deliberations.

In its report, the JSC said that the bishops have pledged themselves not to authorize public rites in their dioceses "until General Convention takes further action." The report further noted that the bishops do "not have the power to bind future actions of General Convention, in the same way that most of the general synods of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion cannot be bound by any part or section of their polity."

At the time the report was issued October 2, all but four members of the JSC had responded to endorse its content. Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East and member of the Primates' Standing Committee, later said he strongly disagrees with the JSC report and opines that the bishops "did not meet the request of Windsor Report" in declaring a moratorium on public rites for blessing same-sex unions. He also said that the bishops' explanation of B033 includes contradictory statements about the place of gay and lesbian persons in the church.

After the 2006 General Convention, a Communion Sub-Group, formed by the Joint Standing Committee, was charged with assessing the convention's response to the Windsor Report and reporting its findings to the Primates in February 2007. The sub-group reached a consensus that, although the Episcopal Church in B033 had not used the precise language of the Windsor Report, which called for a "moratorium" on consent to the election of gay bishops, that response was adequate.

"By confirming the interpretation of the Communion Sub-Group and quoting it explicitly, as well as making the explicit acknowledgement in the last sentence of their text that Resolution B033 does refer to 'non-celibate gay and lesbian persons,' the Episcopal House of Bishops is answering the question of the Primates positively," the JSC report said. "They confirm the understanding of the sub-group that restraint is exercised in a precise way 'by not consenting,' and that this specifically includes 'non-celibate gay and lesbian persons.' They have therefore clearly affirmed that the Communion Sub-Group were correct in interpreting Resolution B033 as meeting the request of the Windsor Report."

The JSC noted that "enormous strains have also arisen in the Communion regarding the pastoral care of those parishes and dioceses within the Episcopal Church that have been alienated from the life and structures of the Episcopal Church" because of recent developments. The leadership of the Episcopal Church, the report said, "is content that sufficient provision and protection can be provided" through the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) scheme, "while the congregations that have sought alternatives, have, by that very action, indicated that they believe such provision is insufficient."

In light of this, the JSC recommends that the Archbishop of Canterbury encourage further consultation "on the issue of the provision of pastoral care and oversight for dissenting congregations and parishes..." and that such consultation "could be taken in conjunction with the scheme for 'episcopal visitors,'" announced by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the House of Bishops meeting and supported by the bishops in their statement.

Ten bishops have accepted Jefferts Schori's invitation to serve as "episcopal visitors" to dioceses that have requested this provision.

"We believe that these initiatives offer a viable basis on which to proceed," the JSC report said, adding that Jefferts Schori "indicated that she deliberately left open and flexible the operation of the ministry of the episcopal visitors, believing that it was best for the visitor and the diocesan bishop concerned to work out an acceptable scheme."

The JSC noted that the Presiding Bishop laid down only two conditions: "first, that such episcopal visitors did not encourage dioceses or parishes to leave the Episcopal Church, and second, that the episcopal visitors would report occasionally to the Presiding Bishop."

The report said that "by leaving this ministry flexible for negotiation and development, we believe that the Presiding Bishop has opened a way forward." The JSC recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury find ways "to encourage the leadership of The Episcopal Church to draw those who are seeking alternative patterns of oversight into conversation with those who are charged with their oversight under current structures about the way ahead."

The JSC said it is also mindful of the increasing levels of litigation within the Episcopal Church "and of the call of the primates at Dar es Salaam to bring an end to such litigation."

In its New Orleans' statement, the bishops recognized the need for "communion-wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight, as well as the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian persons in this and other provinces."

The JSC said that the House of Bishops "is correct in identifying that the co-operation and participation of the wider Communion, in a way which respects the integrity of the American Province, is an important element in addressing questions of pastoral oversight for those seeking alternative provision."

Acknowledging the need for incursions to cease, the JSC noted that the bishops reminded all Anglicans about their commitment to uphold the principle of local jurisdiction. "Not only do the ancient councils of the Church command our respect on this question, but the principle was clearly articulated and defended at the time when the very architecture of the Anglican Communion was forged in the early Lambeth Conferences, as well as being clearly re-iterated and stated in more recent times as tensions have escalated," the JSC report stated.

"[W]e do not see how certain primates can in good conscience call upon The Episcopal Church to meet the recommendations of the Windsor Report while they find reasons to exempt themselves from paying regard to them. We recommend that the Archbishop remind them of their own words and undertakings," the report continued.

The report cites communiqués from the last four Primates' meetings in which they call for the integrity of each other's provinces to be respected and note the urgent need to bring an end to all interventions and for the recommendations of the Windsor Report to be embraced.

The JSC said that the recent consecrations in African provinces of missionary bishops for North America "would seem to fall into the same category" as the consecrations in 2000 of bishops to serve the Anglican Mission in America, which then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey described as "irregular."

"We understand that ... the consecrations took place either without consultation with or even against the counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury," the report said. "[W]e believe that the time is right for a determined effort to bring interventions to an end. The Windsor Report has called upon intervening 'archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.'"

The JSC has recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury "explore ways of facilitating conversation between these primates and the Presiding Bishop, which may have to include other bishops of the intervening provinces and the bishops of those dioceses where interventions have taken place, so that the dimensions of the problems faced may be fully articulated and understood, and so that ways forward may be discerned."

In addressing the "Life of Persons of Homosexual Orientation in the Church," the committee reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 as being the widely accepted teaching for the Communion, but noted that Lambeth resolutions do not have "magisterial force in the Anglican Communion; that is, they are not per se binding on the faithful of the Churches of the Anglican Communion."

Nevertheless, the report continues, "Resolution 1.10 expresses the understanding on Christian marriage and sexual relationships actually taught and held by the vast majority of Anglican churches and bishops across the globe -- indeed, by the vast majority of Christian denominations and their leadership."

In its conclusion, the JSC acknowledged that "the life of the Anglican Communion has been much damaged in recent years following the tensions raised by the consecration in The Episcopal Church of a bishop living in a committed same-sex relationship and the authorization in some dioceses of Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions," but recommended that "with the response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in September 2007, the Communion should move towards closure on these matters, at least for the time being."

"The Communion seems to be converging around a position which says that while it is inappropriate to proceed to public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions and to the consecration of bishops who are living in sexual relationships outside of Christian marriage, we need to take seriously our ministry to gay and lesbian people inside the Church and the ending of discrimination, persecution and violence against them," the report concludes. "Here, the Episcopal Church and the Instruments of Communion speak with one voice. The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion."

A PDF of the report is available here.

-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and international correspondent for Episcopal News Service.

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