Primates draw back from sanctions for liberal Anglican dioceses
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
February 19, 2007
Anger among conservative Primates was growing tonight as it became clear that the Episcopal Church of the US is to escape discipline for ordaining an openly gay bishop. Anglican Primates, meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, are to ask all 38 provinces to unite under a new Anglican Covenant published in draft form today. US and Canadian dioceses that have introduced same-sex blessings for gay couples are also to escape discipline. The Covenant is a four-page document which summarises Anglican doctrine and makes clear that provinces that overstep the mark in future will be excluded until they "re-establish their covenant relationship". Far from being expelled from the meeting, as some conservative archbishops had demanded, the Communion's first woman Primate, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, was elected onto the influential Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting. That puts Bishop Jefferts Schori at the heart of the Anglican Church's policy-making body and places her in pole position at the right hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Church's "focus for unity".
Although the Covenant makes provision for the first time in the 400-year history of Anglicanism for disciplining provinces that step out of line, its wording throughout is so general as to make a problem for which discipline is deemed necessary to be almost impossible to define. Under the Covenant, where provinces breach its doctrine, they will be deemed to "have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the Covenant's purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches." The Primates spent nearly three days debating the Covenant, along with the fine detail of the communique from their five-day meeting at Dar es Salaam's White Sands Hotel. According to the report of the Covenant Design Group, chaired by West Indies Primate Drexel Gomez, a conservative Anglo-Catholic, the Covenant was urgently needed in the Church in order to "restore trust". The document, agreed in draft only, will now be debated by provinces and dioceses before being revised at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The Rev Graham Kings, Vicar of St Mary's, Islington and who runs the Fulcrum website for centre-ground evangelicals, said the Covenant was "encouraging".
He predicted a welcome for the document's emphasis on "biblically-derived moral values" and for insistence that actions taken by provinces are consistent with "the Catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition." There Covenant also demands a commitment that "biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently." It says there must be acknowledgement of the "interdependence" of the 38 provinces.
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