Did the Panel of Reference do its homework?

Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference released its recommendations on a matter brought before it by the Diocese of Fort Worth regarding the issue of women’s ordination. The diocese does not recognize the validity of women’s ordination to the priesthood, whereas the Church’s canons insist that no one be barred from testing a priestly vocation based exclusively on their sex.

To deal with the delicate situation in which it found itself, the Diocese of Fort Worth devised what has come to be known as the Dallas Plan, under which women in the diocese who wanted to explore a priestly vocation could do so in the neighboring Diocese of Dallas.

One essential question before the Panel was whether the Dallas Plan was working. The Panel answered in the affirmative (Point 8, page 4): Some women seeking ordination have sought guidance from the Bishop, and it is our understanding that they have been directed to the Bishop of Dallas. As a result some have become ordinands. Thus the Dallas Plan has cared positively for those who do not share the majority diocesan view.

And later, at Point 17 (a), pages 5 and 6: The Panel of Reference commends to all parties the Dallas Plan which appears to have worked satisfactorily for ten years, and recommends that its procedures continue …The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop and the other Primates of the Anglican Communion should publicly commend the adequacy of the Dallas Plan.

On what basis did the Panel form its judgments on the Dallas Plan?

“I understand that the Panel invited submissions from the diocese and from the PB’s office, and came to their conclusions based upon the submissions on both sides,” wrote Canon Gregory Cameron of the Anglican Communion Office in an email relayed through a spokesman.

But did the Panel speak to any women in Fort Worth who explored a priestly vocation either through the Dallas Plan?

“We would have to meet for a longer discussion with Panel members to ascertain more information,” Cameron wrote.

Katie Sherrod, perhaps the most prominent supporter of women’s ordination in the diocese, thinks she already knows the answer. “As far as I have been able to determine, after speaking with all the best-known supporters of women’s ordination here, no one from the [panel] spoke to anyone here,” she wrote in an email. “No one in the Fort Worth Via Media, or the Fort Worth chapter of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus was contacted by the [panel.] None of the very few clergy here who support the ordination of women were contacted. I asked many other laypeople who have publicly expressed support for women’s ordination, and none of them were contacted.”

Barbara G. Click, past president of the Fort Worth Via Media group, confirmed that the panel did not respond to a letter written to the Archbishop of Canterbury objecting to the diocese’s petition.

Did the panel do enough research to conclude that the Dallas Plan is working so well that it should be commended by “the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop and the other Primates”?

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