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DROMANTINE: Press Conference


By David W. Virtue

DROMANTINE, Northern Ireland (2/25/2005)--Today we, the great unwashed who had been excluded from the deliberations of 35 primates, were able to enter the majestic Victorian buildings that constitute the Dromantine Conference and Retreat center owned by the Roman Catholic Church, with grounds laid out by Capability Brown. There, the primates had been living in luxury inside with natural beauty outside.

Some 50 press including cameramen and photographers appeared for this historic occasion.

It all began much like a football match with the team of Primates emerging from the tunnel, as one Irish pressman observed. They sat down in front of microphones facing a battery of TV cameras and press. Archbishop Robin Eames immediately launched into a brief introduction of the Primates and the issues.

The first to speak was Peter Carnley of Australia who introduced the communiqué of the previous day and virtually repeated its contents in a brief overview. He particularly emphasized that it had been an easy communiqué to write because of the agreement of those who collaborated in its composition.

(My own careful reading of the communiqué suggests that Dr. Carnley's style is found throughout the document. Its style hardly seems to be that of an African or Asian Primate. It does not ostensibly reflect a biblical worldview. The only biblical references are in the final paragraph, No.22) It is my opinion that had the committee been composed exclusively of African and Asian Primates the communiqué would have been suitably and poignantly filled with biblical citations and allusions.)

However Carnley did make the point that this was a not a political document but one grounded in theology, which did not receive nods of approval from the gathered press who were clearly more theologically astute than some of the primates were aware of.

The second to speak was Archbishop Williams who has a gentle and sincere manner and respectfully speaks well of those with whom he disagrees.

He explained that the primates meeting does not have the authority to expel dioceses or provinces from the communion of churches, however, the Primates meeting can use its spiritual and moral authority to make strong recommendations to provinces for their spiritual welfare.

At the primates meeting they had used this same authority to recommend to the ECUSA and the ACiC that they voluntarily withdraw from the public activities of the communion for the next three years.

The purpose, he said, was to create a space for more listening. He had discerned that there was a real fear amongst a majority of primates, who had not been consulted on the unilateral actions of the North American churches.

"We have entered into a listening process and I have asked them to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council in order to create such a space so that there will be a hearing to discuss theology and the reasoning behind their actions, and to clarify their actual processes. These strategies will go a long way to restore the bonds of affection," said Williams.

Archbishop Drexel Gomez (Nassau and the Bahamas), a member of the commission which produced the Windsor Report, came to Ireland fearing that it could be the end for the Anglican communion. However by the end of the conference he was deeply moved by the fact there had been such honesty and sharing that he now felt optimistic for the future of the communion. "The main thrust of the commission is that it offered a mechanism; providing a vision of what the Anglican Communion should look like."

"I was impressed with the honesty and civility of our meetings. I came with strong convictions. I was relieved, and agreed to create a space to hear the voices of others." We came with a deep affection of the Anglican Communion. We enjoy being Anglicans; we want our communion to live and to thrive."

Finally, but certainly not least, African Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda spoke quietly, yet firmly, and in a gracious way of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury during the conference. He personally thanked him for his honest and fair chairmanship.

"I was touched by his allowing us to be open with each other, and to speak from our hearts. We are very committed to seeing God at work in our communion."

Later, in answer to a question about the crossing of diocesan boundaries by overseas bishops, he said if a particular parish has an issue with his bishop he could use a neighboring bishop and in telephone conversations try and resolve it. Orombi said he would retain the USA parishes he already had as he was convinced that there was not adequate Episcopal oversight available in the US. We were all committed unanimously to that. He accepted the conclusions of the communiqué but that situation envisaged therein is not yet anywhere near available and in place, therefore he would hang onto the parishes which he has till this future adequate relationship is made available.

(The Archbishop of Canterbury did not offer an explanation of how he was handling this in relationship to the situation in the Province of Brazil where their archbishop is trying to unseat the Bishop of the Diocese of Recife, the Rt. Rev. Robinson Cavilvcanti.)

The questions and answers provided minimal insight into what had happened during the conference and what the communiqué meant.

When this reporter asked, what advice they would they give to conservative churchman in revisionist dioceses of the Episcopal Church, I was told that the Archbishop of Canterbury would personally ensure that adequate pastoral care provision would be available to all these groups. He did not say when or how.

Dr. Williams said that it was a small miracle that produced a unanimous communiqué. He said there was a powerful will to stay in close contact and learn from each other. Where there is a will there's a way, he concluded.

The archbishop opined that the Windsor Report offered guidelines to resolving the current issues without requiring the need for dogmatic answers.

When asked by a reporter what the difference between this request for withdrawal and a split/schism and the call to not merely regret but repentance, Carnley said we did talk about expression of regret and the American Primate has made an expression of regret and we will leave it to the Episcopal Church to do the right thing.

Williams said the Windsor Report contains a number of things and the communiqué still expects the ECUSA to repent.

Another reporter asked if it was a vain hope if ECUSA did not repent would there be a fight at the next Lambeth Conference? Williams said that he hoped by 2008 these big issues would be resolved and the conference could concentrate on mission to the world. "We hope to see the Lambeth Conference free of dissension and ill will."

When asked about the possibility of irreconcilable worldviews, Williams replied, "We are allowing time for the problems to be looked at. As Christians we are committed to exhausting every avenue and possibility."

Questioned by the liberal, pro-gay religion reporter Stephen Bates of the Guardian newspaper what structure there was to listen to the voices of gays and lesbians and rule out the possibility of the majority accepting the minority positions, and what of Ugandan homosexuals that he said were being persecuted, Archbishop Orombi replied, "We are listening to homosexuals, we represent God, and we are not judgmental and we proclaim the Good News of Jesus and we believe in the power of change."

A final question from a seasoned Ulster reporter, "Is this not schism by another name."We hope not," said Williams. "I believe we are giving them time to behave as Christians and an opportunity for reconciliation.

There is a real possibility that in three years time there could be division questions on the table if these issues have not been resolved.

Asked by one reporter if this was not just a fudge, Archbishop Gomez replied that a fair reading of the communiqué is that it is not a fudge. "It was a frank exchange of views."

Addressing the sexuality issue again, Carnley said there was a wide range of interpretation of Scriptural texts.

Asked if he believed that was a candid way of solving the situation short of saying that we were wrong. Williams replied, "A lasting solution means people always say "yes" they were wrong. What I don't know, it is for them to determine. They must count the cost."

Archbishop Eames in concluding the conference said that "we are on an amazing journey together and it was worth making," However for many of us we weren't quite sure what the starting point was and where will be the end, while they are taking us along with them.


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