Live: softpeddaling the appendix

By Jim Naughton

Press briefers at the Lambeth Conference continue to speak encouraging words to Left Wing Inclusion Mongers–trademark pending–even as a disappointing draft of the bishops’ reports on human sexuality emerged from the indaba groups.

Canon Gregory Cameron, of the Anglican Communion Office, secretary of the Covenant Design Group, discussed progress toward a covenant at this morning’s news conference, and was at pains to emphasize that the St. Andrew’s Draft of the covenant is open to revision.

The appendix of the St. Andrew’s Draft, which many Episcopal Church leaders find overly legalistic and potentially punitive, is “a first draft,” Cameron said, merely “an attempt,” to determine how disputes should be settled within the Anglican Communion.

Canon lawyers were asked to contribute to the draft, Cameron said, “so we shouldn’t be surprised it came out legalistic.”

The design group has heard “a great deal of anxiety about a juridical, legalistic” covenant,” Cameron said. “To get the right mechanism [for resolving disputes] is perhaps the most difficult part.”

The bishops of the Lambeth Conference will not be voting on the covenant, but they have been asked “to add their own reflections to the text,” Cameron said.

“If the Anglican Communion declines into legalism … we will have lost something vital about the life of the Anglican Communion,” he said. “Therefore the covenant process is about trying to strike a balance.”

The covenant design group reconvenes in September in Singapore, and will synthesize these reflections. Provinces have been asked to respond to the St. Andrew’s Draft by March. A third draft will then be submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council which meets in Jamaica next May, Cameron said.

The ACC can accept the covenant and pass it on for approval to the provinces, reject it, or request revisions.

If the ACC passes the covenant on to the provinces, it is unlikely the Episcopal Church could move quickly enough to consider the covenant at its General Convention in early July. A binding vote could not be taken until 2012, at the earliest, and perhaps 2015 if accepting the covenant required constitutional changes.

Cameron said the covenant project would be abandoned if a sufficient number of provinces did not accept it, but wouldn’t set a minimum number.

If a province does not sign the covenant “it doesn’t cease to be an Anglican body, but lives in a different way,” in relation to the rest of the communion.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury outlined a proposal for a two-tiered communion in Challenge and Hope for the Anglican Communion in June 2006.

“Those churches that were prepared to take this [covenant] on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness: some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were ‘constituent’ Churches in the Anglican Communion and other ‘churches in association’, which were bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion and not sharing the same constitutional structures.”

Cameron said Communion leaders had not yet determined how to respond to situations in which a diocese wanted to be a constituent member of the Communion and its province did not.

Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, “will be writing to all those bishops who are absent,” to solicit their input, Cameron said. Many of these bishops are boycotting Lambeth, or had been threatened with reprisals by their Primates if they attended, conference organizers have said. Several Anglican primates from the so-called Global South have already said they would not sign the covenant because it is not strict enough.

In a brief interview after the news conference, Cameron defended two members of the Covenant Design Group, the Most. Rev. Drexel Gomez, Primate of the West Indies, who chairs the group, and the Rev. Ephraim Radner, an American priest who now teaches in Canada.

Gomez preached at the consecration of two American priests who now work as bishops in the United States on behalf of the Church of Kenya. These “cross border interventions” were condemned in the Windsor Report.

While helping draft the covenant, Radner was a member of the board of directors of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative political group based in Washington, which works to destabilize the mainline Protestant churches it considers too liberal. He has since resigned. The IRD has worked closely with parishes in Virginia that have joined the Church of Nigeria.

He said Episcopalians who were skeptical of the two men’s intentions should “meet them yourselves, talk to them, tell them your concerns and then make a decision.”

He said he did not think that Gomez’s preaching at the Kenyan ordinations or Radner’s membership in the IRD “invalidated” the work they have contributed to the covenant.

Some notes from the afternoon press conference, also on the covenant, also fairly encouraging.

Drexel Gomez said the covenant is not meant to solve the current controversy within the Communion, but is forward looking. He says the covenant needs to respect and maintain “the autonomy of each church, while at the same time” establishing “the consequences and commitments that flow from being able to work together.”

“Our overall aim is to hold the Anglican Communion together.”

Trevor Mwamba, bishop of Botswana saw “an overwhelming consensus on the need to uphold the communion.”

TM: “We need to discover each other, become friends. You do not fear friends.”

The covenant “not to penalize and put people in a state of fear.”

DG, asked about consequences for transgressing the Covenant: “We were not inclined to give detailed consideration to consequences.”

DG: I believe firmly that the Anglican Communion is going to continue by God’s grace.

TM: We are not in a hurry. Only the devil is in a hurry.

DG: the covenant will have to “make space for those who can’t sign up yet.”

Philip Aspinall, archbishop of Australia: It will be difficult for every province in the communion (to approve the covenant). Provinces will guard that autonomy very jealously.

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