Common principles of Anglican canon law

The Anglican Communion Legal Advisors Network have created a book called “Principles of Canon Law Common to the Anglican Communion.” The book was given to the Bishops attending the Lambeth Conference about midway through the conference and outlines principles of canon law that all the provinces of the Anglican Communion share.

The Anglican Communion Legal Advisors Network was established by resolution of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Hong Kong in September 2002.

The book is outlined into eight sections: Church Order, the Anglican Communion, Ecclesiastical Government, Ministry, Doctrine and Liturgy, Ecclesiastical Rites, Church Property and Ecumenical Relations.

Canon Rees said that the principles described in the book are meant to be descriptive not proscriptive. ENS reports:

Saying it is not intended as a covenant or a code of law, Canon John Rees, the legal adviser for the Anglican Communion, told media that a newly released draft document is intended to assist lawyers around the world and “to inform, not to oblige,” especially in provinces that have limited legal provisions.

“The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion” has been presented to the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and their feedback will inform the development of a second draft of the document.

Rees told the media that the principles, which were deduced by looking at a range of legal provisions in a variety of churches around the Anglican Communion, are “descriptive, not prescriptive.”

The principles address issues such as ordination, clergy discipline, doctrine and liturgy, ecumenism, and church property, which Rees said needs to be “held in trust [for the church] and be available from generation to generation.”

The document is the result of the work of the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers’ Network and a drafting group, which has been meeting for six years. It originated in a series of conversations between Rees, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, and Norman Doe, director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff Law School.

Members of the drafting group include Rees, Philippa Amable, chancellor of the Diocese of Ho, Ghana; David Booth Beers, chancellor to the presiding bishop, the Episcopal Church, United States; Robert Falby, chancellor of the Diocese of Toronto, Canada; Bernard Georges, chancellor of the Province of the Indian Ocean; Rubie Nottage, chancellor of the West Indies; and Fung-Yi Wong, provincial registrar of Hong Kong.

Rees described the principles as an “exercise” that would help “to keep faith with our Anglican heritage, doctrinally, liturgically and structurally. These principles are an attempt to map out what the main legal themes of that inheritance might look like, when some of the peripheral local detail is stripped away.”

George Conger writes:

Canon Rees noted the booklet was not “any sort of quick fix,” it was “not the Covenant,”” and was not “a code of canon law,” but might serve as a “”fifth instrument of unity” for the Anglican Communion.

Conger describes some of the principles in this way:

Under the heading of church property, Principle 80 states that property is held in trust by local church leaders as stewards for the national church—a point currently under litigation in the United States. David Booth Beers, chancellor to US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the United States is credited as one of the authors of the code.

Principle 13 attacks the interventions of the Gafcon primates by stating that “no church, or any authority of person within it, shall intervene in the internal affairs of another church without the consent of that other church given in such a manner as may be prescribed by its own law,”

The right of the churches to pursue liturgical and doctrinal experiments is enshrined in Principle 12,, which states that “each autonomous province has the greatest possible liberty to order its life and affairs, appropriate to its people in their geographical, cultural and historical context, compatible with its belonging to and interdependence with the church universal.”

According to The Church Times, Rees said

“It is Anglican DNA. It is illustrative in some ways of some of the elements that will be incorporated in different ways in the Covenant,” he said. It could have “persuasive authority”, but it could “not be quoted directly in a court of law”.

Each province would have to do its own exercise within its cultural tradition and common law to apply the shared principles that the legal team had discovered. The relationship between provinces was not like that between the hub of a wheel and its spokes, Mr Rees said. It was a web of interconnectedness, and, where the many of the lines crossed, the Anglican Communion was apparent. The relationships between the provinces were “genetic and historical”.

The Anglican Communion Legal Advisors Network website is here. The page describing the Principles is here. A PDF of the document may be found here.

Read: George Conger: Canon Law Reader Released

ENS reports on the document here.

Church Times: Lawyers see 1662 as still able to unite

A video of Canon John Rees describing the Principles may be found here.

Past Posts