My statement was primarily directed towards the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) and the United Episcopal Church of North America (UEC). This statement since has been affirmed and endorsed by the Most Reverend James Provence, Metropolitan of the APCK, and the Most Reverend Stephen C. Reber, Presiding Bishop of the UEC. The effect of this joint statement has been to affirm or reaffirm that among these three Churches there is a state of full communio in sacris and that we agree jointly that we should encourage unity both among ourselves considered collectively and also within each of our Churches considered separately. We also have agreed to the principle that we are not and cannot be in a state of full communio in sacris with ecclesial bodies that are part of the Lambeth Communion, or indeed with ecclesial bodies that are indirectly in such full communion.
At this point it may be worthwhile to outline why we have come to this conclusion regarding the Lambeth Communion. For some time, well into the 1990s, the ACC still considered itself in full communion with every province or autonomous diocese in the Anglican Communion that did not ordain women. This is shown in the Athens Statement on Unity of 1995, which said “we see our duty as lying towards the retention and maintenance of communion with those Churches, Provinces, and Dioceses of the Anglican Communion which have remained faithful to their Apostolic foundations.”
However, we did not consider ourselves in full communion with any of the dioceses subject to heterodox provinces, even if it was headed by a bishop who, while personally orthodox in theory, refused to fulfill his Catholic obligation to repudiate clearly communion with the heretical remainder of his province. That is to say, we reasoned that since the justification for our existence as a communion separate and apart from the Lambeth one was the strict obligation of repudiating a manifestly heterodox jurisdiction, then to treat those who rejected or ignored this obligation as properly Catholic and Orthodox would be radically inconsistent with our justification for our own origin.
In the period since the 1992 defection of Canterbury we have seen that no attempt has been made by purportedly orthodox Anglican provinces to repudiate publicly Eucharistic communion with Canterbury (or, indeed, with other heterodox provinces). Therefore, given that communion with Canterbury as a central reference point and “instrument of unity” is still considered the sine qua non for membership in the official Anglican Communion, we have determined that all churches remaining in that group have signalled that they do not consider the ordination of women a communion-breaking issue. Thus their orthodoxy is at least questionable, and we cannot be in a state of communio in sacris with them until they make a clean break and so clarify their teaching.
The statement of Archbishop John-Charles looked further a-field than mine and was directed towards all of those who understand themselves to be committed to the Affirmation of Saint Louis. Archbishop John-Charles encourages all such Churchmen to put aside sin and self and to work earnestly for unity among our selves. Archbishop John-Charles also challenges us all to recognize that continuing communion, whether direct or indirect, with Lambeth Communion bodies is unacceptable. While we can and should certainly work for closer relations with those still in the Lambeth Communion, if they agree with us about the basic principles of the Affirmation, nonetheless we cannot be in full communion with them until they have unambiguously and completely severed their ties with an heretical Communion.
The statements from Archbishop John-Charles and from me should be taken together. My statement sets forth the starting point for the ACC’s ecumenical policies and endeavors. Archbishop John-Charles’s statement points to our broader goals and also to the limits that constrain us in pursuing those goals.
There are several Churches or ecclesial bodies apart from the ACC/APCK/UEC which understand themselves to be “traditional Anglicans” or even “Continuing Churches” and are not in the Lambeth Communion. Some of these bodies are not addressed by either ACC archiepiscopal statement because these bodies clearly do not accept the Affirmation and its central principles. In particular a variety of neo-Anglican bodies have formed recently, and still are forming, in North America. These bodies reject some of the theological errors currently abroad in the Lambeth Communion, but nonetheless accept women’s ordination, modernist liturgies, or other serious innovations rejected by the Affirmation. These bodies tend to form as offshoots of what they consider to be “conservative” Lambeth Communion Provinces. While, again, conversations with such folk are possible, we cannot anticipate significant ecumenical progress with them in the short term: our initial assumptions are too far apart.
Another grouping, which includes the Anglican Province of America (APA), formally endorses the Affirmation, but seems to us to embrace ecumenical relationships and other policies which effectively contradict the Affirmation. While we might hope for progress with this group because of its formal endorsement of the Affirmation, here also we do not look for immediate or short term progress.
It is our belief that the most significant body of conservative or traditional Anglicans not described by the principles set forth in the foregoing paragraphs is your own, the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which includes the Anglican Church in America (ACA).
Some assert that the ACC has a rigid view of the TAC and has refused to engage in dialogue with the TAC. This is simply false. On at least four occasions in the last five years TAC bishops have approached ACC leaders or have been approached by us. On each of these occasions the ACC has put into writing the issues we believe need to be addressed before we can move to a relationship of full communio in sacris with the TAC. In each case our position was given frankly, directly, politely, and was not widely publicized because doing so could be interpreted as seeking not true unity but instead mere political advantage.
We set no preconditions for conversations, but indicated principles that we considered essential. In one case in 2005 a TAC bishop was invited, at his request, to the Provincial Synod of the ACC’s Original Province. This bishop was warmly received, attended the public meetings of our College of Bishops and then of the Synod, came to dinner with the College, had private conversation with me, and received a copy of my report as chairman of our Department of Ecumenical Relations, which included a clear, written statement of our ecumenical policies and principles. While with us, he appeared to be pleased and made several tentative proposals for further steps. However, after the Synod there was no further contact of substance. Likewise the other TAC-ACC contacts mentioned ended with the TAC bishops failing to continue the dialogue. We do not note this fact to complain: the TAC may well have had good reasons not to sustain dialogue. But it is not true that the ACC has been “isolationist”, unwilling to engage in dialogue, or even unfriendly towards the TAC.
We are happy to acknowledge that the initiative for making contact has often been taken in an admirable way by the TAC. For example, Archbishop Hepworth, as Primate of the TAC, arranged a face-to-face meeting with Archbishop John-Charles, our former Acting Primate, where important ecumenical matters were discussed. This meeting, held on the 19th of March, 2004, was friendly and a good beginning.
Thereafter, we sent to Archbishop Hepworth a paper discussing the theological issues between our churches. However, the official response of the TAC foreshadowed by Archbishop Hepworth never came. Later requests for such a response, expressly conveyed to the TAC bishop who attended our last Provincial Synod as the TAC’s emissary, also came to nothing. Thus, the ecumenical ball has consistently been returned by the ACC to the TAC side of the court, where it consistently has rolled to a stop.
Before moving to the substantial issues outstanding between the ACC and TAC, I should say that in what follows I do not presume to speak for the UEC or the APCK, though I have given their chief bishops copies of this document in advance. While I believe the UEC and APCK share some of our concerns, and while no formal steps will be taken by the ACC with other Churches or ecclesial bodies without seeking approval or at least acquiescence from the UEC and APCK, in what follows I speak for myself and for my Church alone.
We understand the objections to bringing up the subject of the Deerfield Beach consecrations. Many feel that raising this subject merely dredges up the past in an unnecessary and unforgiving way, which betrays a lack of perspective and constitutes a refusal to face the real challenges of the future. However, the problem is not that we cannot or will not forgive, for we are certainly willing to do so. Similarly, we are willing to discuss the rescinding of disciplinary sentences against former ACC bishops now in the TAC, as noted in the paper sent to Archbishop Hepworth some years ago.
However, the real problem is that neither our pardon of perceived past offences or our silence concerning such, brings us much closer to genuine reconciliation. It is this that is seldom understood. There are a number of reasons to consider the Deerfield Beach events, quite apart from issues of justice or mercy. To begin with, it should not be forgotten that the ACA was founded by these very events and that the TAC (minus the ACC, which was until then a member of that body) performed them. Thus it is not unreasonable to ask whether any objective disorders therein in fact essentially characterize the nature of the ACA and of the post-1991 TAC. These issues will be discussed below with the specific intention of unfolding their possible theological implications in the present.
The ACA began in 1991 when five bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church joined with a body called the American Episcopal Church (AEC), whose leader was a colorful episcopus vagans named A.F.M. Clavier. This union was effected in Deerfield Beach, FL, within the ACC’s Diocese of the South, when all of the men who were intended to be bishops in the ACA were consecrated conditionally by, among others, the Right Reverend Robert Mercer and the Right Reverend Charles Boynton.
Bishop Mercer was Ordinary of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACC-C), which at the time was in a state of full communio in sacris with the ACC and with Archbishop Lewis, the Ordinary of the ACC’s Diocese of the South (and by that time already Archbishop Falk’s successor as ACC Metropolitan). Bishop Boynton was a bishop of the ACC residing in the Diocese of the South. The consecrands included not only A.F.M. Clavier and other bishops of the AEC but also the five bishops of the ACC. Clergy and laymen of Bishop Lewis’s diocese also were ordained at Deerfield Beach for the ACA.
However, in clear contradiction of ecumenical canon law and sound principles of Catholic order, bishops in full communion with Archbishop Lewis and the ACC entered his diocese, ordained laymen and clergy of his diocese without his permission or foreknowledge, and reconsecrated several of his episcopal colleagues without his permission or foreknowledge. They did this also without the permission or foreknowledge of the majority of the ACC’s bishops. It is difficult for us not to see this as the serious ecclesiastical offence of invasion.
The ACC does not recall these unfortunate events in order to reopen old wounds or to indicate a refusal or failure to forgive. The ACC recalls these events in order to probe the ecclesiology of the TAC as an important and necessary part of ecumenical dialogue. The ACC has to ask what theological principles could justify what happened at Deerfield Beach? What essential failure or heresy could justify such unfriendly acts towards Bishop Lewis and the majority of his colleagues who remained loyal to the ACC? Perhaps more importantly, in the future if the ACC achieved full communio in sacris with the TAC but then in some way displeased the TAC, could such events occur again? And if not, why not?
If, on the one hand, the consecrators and consecrands at Deerfield Beach, who were in the process of abandoning the ACC or its communion (despite not, except in one case, formally resigning from it), acted for what they deemed to be necessary, justifiable, and important reasons, why do not those reasons still exist and remain as a barrier between the TAC and the ACC? If, on the other hand, the consecrators and consecrands were guilty of unjustifiable oath-breaking and invasion, why have they not expressed regret, apologized, and perhaps even sought to return to our communion? This apparent dilemma remains unresolved, and until it is resolved, the ACC cannot be sure that we will not suffer similar invasion and schism in the future at the hands of the TAC.
At the time of Deerfield Beach one of the ACA’s bishops justified his departure from the ACC by asserting that the ACC’s ecumenical policy was an essential error that demanded departure from the ACC and so also repudiation of his oaths thereto. Since that policy has not changed to become more like that of the TAC, does the TAC believe that there still is an essential or Church-dividing error in ACC ecumenical policy? If not, what has changed? Or was the ACA bishop mistaken earlier?
In asking these questions the ACC is not demanding apologies or refusing to forgive or seeking to score debating points. The ACC is concerned to understand the ecclesiological principles that govern the TAC and its partners in dialogue.
The Lambeth Communion
At the time of this writing two bishops of the TAC appear to be simultaneously bishops in a diocese of the Lambeth Communion. One of the same two bishops appears to be rector of a parish in the Episcopal Church. In the last three years the TAC has claimed another Lambeth Communion bishop from Africa as one of its own, or at least has claimed a state of full communio in sacris with him. The TAC appears to enjoy or seek a state of full communio in sacris with a number of other “conservative” Lambeth Communion bishops. The TAC also has a close relationship with Forward-in-Faith and other para-Church organizations whose status is unclear and somewhat unsettling. Forward-in-Faith/North America, for instance, has recently elected a bishop. The ACC does not understand how a para-Church organization can elect a bishop. How does the TAC, which is in full communion with Forward-in-Faith, view a Forward-in-Faith bishop?
The ACC has difficulty reconciling many of these relationships and facts. Taken as a whole, these relationships and facts suggest an unacceptable laxity in regards to the Lambeth Communion and a willingness, when it appears to be expedient, to avoid clear conclusions. Once again we seek to understand the TAC’s ecclesiology and its limits and implications. We have asked such questions before quietly and in private, as I have noted above, and have not received answers. We only ask such difficult questions now more publicly because we have been publicly accused of rigidity and refusal to engage the TAC in dialogue.
A great deal of confusing information and many doubtful claims have circulated within the last three years concerning the TAC and the Roman Catholic Church. Careful attention to all press reports and official statements on the matter have not resolved the confusion in our minds. We do not understand if the TAC seeks to become a part of the Roman Catholic Church, whether as a Uniate Church or merely a personal prelature, if it seeks a relationship of full communio in sacris with Rome without any organic and organizational unity, or if it seeks some other goal.
Again, this matter has important ecclesiology implications which need to be clarified if fruitful dialogue with the ACC is to occur. It is not for the ACC to dictate the TAC’s policy towards Rome. But there is little point in the ACC talking to the TAC if the TAC merely seeks to become absorbed into the Roman Catholic Church.
This is not an exhaustive set of concerns, but it suggests important areas which, if clarified, would take the ACC a long way towards understanding the TAC better. I have noted to more than one TAC bishop that we understand that the TAC may well have questions for and concerns about us. We ask what we ask, not in a spirit of self-justification, but in a sincere attempt to clarify our own position and to understand the position of the TAC. We recognize the many subjective and objective sins and negligences that exist among us in the ACC. We understand that our own sins contributed to our unhappy division. But if we are to progress we must talk. And if we are to talk, the conversation has to begin and then must be pursued. We are willing and still are waiting.