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DROMANTINE: Virtue's Irish Notebook

FROM NEWRY, Northern Ireland (2/22/2005)

By David W. Virtue

Greetings brothers and sisters from the land of leprechauns, four leaf clovers, Guinness stout and out and out blarney.

I thought you might be interested in some back room politics, VirtueOnline attitude, table talk gossip and more.

My first day here turned up trumps. I arrived late in the afternoon and after a shower and shave met up with a friend and we decided to drive straight to the Dromantine Center, where the 35 Primates (three are absent) are ensconced, to see what we could learn, knowing that the place would be heavily policed and more.

We got through the main (entrance) gate onto the grounds without incident and drove up to the retreat center. I got close enough to the building, jumped out and headed to the main front door and lobby area. Before I got halfway down the long driveway a guard stepped out from behind the glass front door and came briskly out to meet me and asked me my business. I told him that I wanted to meet Primate X and would he find him for me. He disappeared into the bowels of the monastic building to look for him.

A second guard mysteriously appeared and stood guard at the door, presumably so I would not slip in.

While waiting in the driveway in front of a sweeping lawn I went up to the large windows and peered in and saw the Primates moving from one room to the next as they headed for dinner. I waved at one or two and they waved back.

Being the demure and modest man that I am, I bowed deeply from the waist and retreated to the driveway and waited. A few minutes later Ken Kearon the new Anglican Consultative Council head came out the door and walked past me not saying a word. (He's John Peterson's replacement). I think he tried to smile, a very thin one, but his face got stuck and he couldn't muster anything. Someone must have warned him as to who I was.

Then who should appear but Jonathan Jennings, Archbishop Rowan Williams personal Communications director and we made polite small talk. He didn't ask me what I was doing there, but he clearly wanted to know. Moments later Jim Rosenthal the Anglican Communion press officer emerged from the monastic building and came right up and asked me what I was doing here. I told him that I was there to deliver some gout pills to a certain Primate. (I showed him the pills). Clearly surprised, and taken off guard, he retreated. Minutes later the Primate appeared, we embraced and we walked down the driveway together.

As we talked the picture emerged about what was going on and you got a story from me yesterday.

Today, Tuesday, Rosenthal and Jennings came down from the Dromantine Center and met the press and a few others at the Canal Court hotel and over an informal lunch Rosenthal opined that the next three hours could determine the future of the Communion. The primatial huddle over the Windsor Report is clearly serious business, which one wag wrote to say that if schism was upon us, I should write a story with a head line reading "ARMAGH-GEDDON!"

The day, said Rosenthal, "could be a make or break day, the three most important hours" of the conference where the Primates are discussing the Windsor Report. With the orthodox Primates setting the agenda, and the tone as well, the liberals have clearly lost their last grasp for power in who controls what. The agenda is no longer there's. Gregory Cameron, another ACC official said the agenda had changed very little and everything was on course.

Early indications are that Williams is backing, (read, is supportive of) the conservative line. There was a full and frank exchange of opinions yesterday. Is there blood in the water? Maybe not, but Wednesday will be critical and we may see an outcome that is most pleasing to the orthodox.

Still and all it ain't over till the fat lady sings, said AAC president David Anderson. He is right.

The Primates were huddled into small groups, a favorite technique of Frank Griswold at HOB meetings, as small group discussions have the remarkable ability to dilute truth. Putting ying and yang together will NOT get you Yong Ping Chung (the orthodox primate of Southeast Asia), all small groups do is put persons of opposite theologies together who talk about their felt pain without ever addressing 'sound doctrine' from whence good morals flow.

Are their "warring camps" as Jonathan Petre of the Telegraph wrote? Rosenthal got around answering the question indirectly by saying that there were Primates who could not afford stamps for postcards and said these, meaning issues that were life and death for many (like AIDS), should concern the primates.

Rosenthal did give us an inkling into his own soul when he said, "This is a hard time for me. I have risked life and limb for the communion." He opined that the church was his family and what is going on "harms me." There are gospel imperatives at stake, he said.

I felt sorry for Jim. He is clearly on the other side, but he's not a bad stick. He clearly is being hurt by the battles and possibly his own future is at stake as funding for the ACC comes from a mix of monies from Trinity Wall Street and 815, ECUSA's national headquarters, which as we know, is losing money over gay battles and more. The power and whatever passes for ministry by the fourth instrument of unity is at stake here.

When one reporter said he had been trying for three years but could never get an accounting of monies taken in and spent by the ACC, as the fourth instrument of unity is a registered British Charity, the equivalent of a 501©3 American nonprofit. He was told by Rosenthal that the question was fair. When the reporter said he was repeatedly told by Peterson that the books needed to be redone as things were chaotic, Rosenthal opined that he could not get an answer when he asked the same question.

Who's accountable to whom at the ACC? Where does all the money come and where is it going? Inquiring minds want to know. Rosenthal said that Trinity Wall Street funded Anglican World magazine, but that is all he said he knew.

When Martyn Minns said the magazine treated Global South Anglicans shabbily, badly misrepresenting them as ignorant and uneducated, Rosenthal said he would be glad to correct that view and invited Minns to write articles for the magazine.

This reporter opined that there were more earned Ph. D's among the bishops in Nigeria than the US, Canada and the Church of England put together. No one contradicted me.

Of the ten present at the lunch which included Rosenthal, Jennings, the Rev. and Mrs. Martyn Minns, George Conger, the Rev. Tim Smith (AMIA), the Rev. David Anderson, Cynthia Brust (both AAC) and yours truly, was Stephen Bates, religion writer for The Guardian newspaper. He never said a word. He is a very leftist, pro-gay advocate who hates Evangelicals and what he calls American pressure groups like the AAC. He has even taken a swipe at this reporter in a recent book he wrote. It'll be interesting to see how he spins this luncheon. He was the reporter who promulgated the "chicken dinner" lies at the Lambeth conference in 1998 - that is that Africans were bought off by dinners provided by white western conservatives. It was all lies of course. No one had to bribe anybody. The vote 526 to 80 was overwhelming and decisive, but that has not stopped people like former Mass. Bishop Barbara Harris reviving the lies from time to time when it suits her.

But clearly the man in the hot seat is Frank Griswold and Akinola will not allow him to discuss AIDS or Tsunami waves until they are sure they are [still] brothers and that BIG wave has passed over them, hopefully leaving them unscathed. I was told that Phoebe Griswold was very upbeat the first day it all started but has been depressed ever since as she senses things are not going Frank's way.

We were told that when the Primates talk, nobody else is present except for ACC head Ken Kearon who sits in as secretary for the Primates. It is truly closed doors.

But a real stink arose when a question was asked about how it is that Barbara Braver could accompany Frank Griswold into the Dromantine Center as his assistant but Bill Atwood; Ekklesia head could not provide similar services for Southern Cone archbishop Greg Venables? There had been an effort, first by Peterson and then by Kearon to allow "assistants" but this backfired when it was realized that that could apply equally to conservatives as well as liberals. Apparently Williams closed the door on any more persons coming into Dromantine, so, at the end of the day Atwood is out and Braver is in. A win for the liberals, but not much of one. Braver has to stay out of sight we were told.

When I asked a question about whether Williams had spoken to Brazilian Primate Orlando Santos in his showdown with evangelical Robinson Cavilcanti of the Diocese of Recife, I was told nothing had been raised. So too with the consecration of Fr. David Moyer and TAC Archbishop John Hepworth. Australian archbishop Peter Carnley is here and is on the team to produce the final communiqué but nothing has been said about his recent threat to depose Fr. (now Bishop) David Chislett of Adelaide. Perhaps these issues will be raised in private. Certainly the focus and heat is on the Windsor Report and the consecration of Vickie Gene Robinson and its impact on the whole communion.

We did learn however that some 300 submissions had been received over the Windsor Report and that sorting and sifting was going on. I asked if a book might be produced with them all but got no solid response either way. I think an attempt will be made to take the kernel out of each one and publish it. We shall see.

MET UP with Ruth Gledhill of the London Times and together we traveled with her young son Arthur up to Armagh and St. Patrick's cathedral where choral Evensong "to mark the visit of the Primates" was held. Williams was the preacher. I have sent a separate news report about that which while very telling, it was not memorable, however it was understandable, which caused a sigh of relief from the reporters with the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and yours truly.

As I sat in the cathedral waiting for the service of choral evensong to begin I got word that nothing was resolved today with the Primates talking but Griswold was under a lot of pressure. They will talk again tomorrow. A lot of "pushing" but no resolve. Frank is still on the hot seat.

As the primates came down the aisle I looked for signs. Akinola was smiling like a Cheshire cat and the Global South primates looked happy. Frank Griswold had his head down trying to mouth the words of the hymn. Body language told me he looked whipped.

THE SIMPSONS. Some of you may know that the Episcopal Church was lampooned by the Simpsons, a television show. In the show the Simpsons e-piscopal Church Online Divinity School was built into the show to perform the marriage of Homer's lesbian sister to a lady golf professional who wore army boots. The "man" was apparently dressed in drag and turned out to be a man after all. Now Rowan Williams has said The Simpsons is one of his favorite shows, and you will recall had said he would not mind being a character in the show. No more, that idea is kaput. He's in a deadly game of 'can we save the communion.' The Simpson thing is dead.

As the primates traipsed out the cathedral door I collared Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola to get a comment. He looked at me, laughed heartily and then whacked me with his program. We laughed some more and I then gave up. This guy is tough, now I know why he is a titan and why his province will double in three years. He takes no prisoners and he is not going to give one inch of ground to Griswold. Count on it. Following the service the primates bused off to a late dinner to celebrate Robin Eames retirement. As they departed I shook hands with several of the Primates who seemed happy to see me, as I did them.

There was no photo op of all the Primates together, as had been promised, for the Media. It was every photographer for himself.


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