Primates disown open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
November 18, 2005

Primates disown open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury

-18/11/05

An open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury written by some Anglican Primates from the Southern Hemisphere, widely interpreted as an attack on Dr Rowan Williamsí leadership, has been disowned by two of those described as its signatories.

The Most Rev Clive Handford, President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, has now issued a press release saying that his name had been added to the list of endorsers without his assent.

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone in South America, a leading conservative opposing gays in the church, also said that he had not been consulted before the letter was issued.

While not distancing himself from the contents, he commented: ìA number of us are scandalised that a private letter should have been made public in this way.î At least two other bishops involved have expressed anger that the document was published publicly before Dr Williams had a chance to read it.

Others say that it was never intended for publication, and was put up on the web without authorisation by many concerned.

Most media accounts are still claiming 17 signatories, nearly half the leaders of the 38 provinces that make up the worldwide Anglican Communion. However the Global South Anglican website which first reproduced the letter specified that three of these had not seen the final draft.

The letter praised the Archbishop of Canterbury for his ìscholarlyî contribution on the nature and doctrine of the Church at a recent gathering of ëglobal Southí Anglican leaders in Egypt.

But it also repeated robust demands that he discipline parts of the Communion taking an affirmative stance towards lesbians and gay, and called on him to change his personal open attitude on the question.

The signatories, whose true number and level of endorsement is now uncertain, also queried the Church of Englandís state link in the light of its partial accommodation to the new UK civil partnerships law.

In one passage the letter said that clergy being permitted by the state to have registered same-sex partners would give ìthe appearance of evilî in overriding ìclear Christian teachingî.

This was translated by the Times newspaper in London into the exotic headline ìChurch of England evil, say archbishopsî.

As reported on Ekklesia, the administrator of the Global South Anglican website has denied any devious intent behind the letter or its publication, declaring that its intention was not to condemn anyone and ìcertainly not the [Church of England] or Archbishop Rowan Williamsî.

GSA continues: ìThis letter is posted here for the benefit of those who attended the Encounter and the people they represent. Archbishop Rowan Williamsí talk and sharing was appreciated and well received with deep gratitude, though as expected, it will raise some questions as well, some which were conveyed by the delegates to the Primates. [The] letter is a part of the on-going process of dialogue between Global South and the Archbishop of Canterbury and should not be interpreted in other unhelpful ways.î

Responding to the letter and the media storm surrounding it, Bishop Handford said: ìIt is most regrettable, and in no way helpful to the Churchís mission, that a personal letter, which should have been confidential, was broadcast in this way.î

He continued: ìI attended the Global South Encounter in Egypt with some reluctance, but felt that it was appropriate to be there because the meeting was taking place in the Province of which I am President Bishop. I wished, further, to be supportive of my colleague, the Bishop in Egypt, who was the host of the Encounter.î

Explained Handford: ìI was not able to be present for the whole of the programme, arriving after the early sessions and leaving before the end. While I saw a first draft of the letter, I was not involved in any subsequent discussion of it. Several other Primates shared my unease. In no way did I give permission for my name to be associated with the letter.î

The President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East concluded: ìIn a world riven by conflict, the Church has a message or reconciliation to proclaim. That message will not be heard unless it is embodied in a reconciled messenger.î

A commentator on Anglican affairs told Ekklesia: ìThe circumstances surrounding this letter get more confused by the hour. If it was an attempted coup by conservatives, rather than simply the latest salvo in a difficult but necessary exchange, it is beginning to backfire badly. But the mess-up theory seems the more likely.î

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury used the occasion of this weekís Church of England General Synod Meeting in London to call on each member of the C of Eís governing body to seek a conversation partner elsewhere in the Anglican Communion who has a different viewpoint on sexuality or women bishops to them.

The Primatesí letter and responses to it can be read here.

[Also on Ekklesia: Read Stephen Bates of The Guardian in conversation about his book, A Church At War; buy Gays and the Future of Anglicanism; UK Queen addresses post-Christendom challenge; Nigerian gay and lesbian Christians challenge Archbishop Akinola; Episcopal bishop rejects Nigerian criticism on gays; Tutu calls on Anglicans to accept gay bishop; reading St Paul and sexuality, by Oxford New Testament Professor Christopher Rowland]

Primates disown open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury

-18/11/05

An open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury written by some Anglican Primates from the Southern Hemisphere, widely interpreted as an attack on Dr Rowan Williams' leadership, has been disowned by two of those described as its signatories.

The Most Rev Clive Handford, President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, has now issued a press release saying that his name had been added to the list of endorsers without his assent.

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone in South America, a leading conservative opposing gays in the church, also said that he had not been consulted before the letter was issued.

While not distancing himself from the contents, he commented: 'A number of us are scandalised that a private letter should have been made public in this way.' At least two other bishops involved have expressed anger that the document was published publicly before Dr Williams had a chance to read it.

Others say that it was never intended for publication, and was put up on the web without authorisation by many concerned.

Most media accounts are still claiming 17 signatories, nearly half the leaders of the 38 provinces that make up the worldwide Anglican Communion. However the Global South Anglican website which first reproduced the letter specified that three of these had not seen the final draft.

The letter praised the Archbishop of Canterbury for his 'scholarly' contribution on the nature and doctrine of the Church at a recent gathering of ëglobal South' Anglican leaders in Egypt.

But it also repeated robust demands that he discipline parts of the Communion taking an affirmative stance towards lesbians and gay, and called on him to change his personal open attitude on the question.

The signatories, whose true number and level of endorsement is now uncertain, also queried the Church of England's state link in the light of its partial accommodation to the new UK civil partnerships law.

In one passage the letter said that clergy being permitted by the state to have registered same-sex partners would give 'the appearance of evil' in overriding 'clear Christian teaching'.

This was translated by the Times newspaper in London into the exotic headline 'Church of England evil, say archbishops'.

As reported on Ekklesia, the administrator of the Global South Anglican website has denied any devious intent behind the letter or its publication, declaring that its intention was not to condemn anyone and 'certainly not the [Church of England] or Archbishop Rowan Williams'.

GSA continues: 'This letter is posted here for the benefit of those who attended the Encounter and the people they represent. Archbishop Rowan Williams' talk and sharing was appreciated and well received with deep gratitude, though as expected, it will raise some questions as well, some which were conveyed by the delegates to the Primates. [The] letter is a part of the on-going process of dialogue between Global South and the Archbishop of Canterbury and should not be interpreted in other unhelpful ways.'

Responding to the letter and the media storm surrounding it, Bishop Handford said: 'It is most regrettable, and in no way helpful to the Church's mission, that a personal letter, which should have been confidential, was broadcast in this way.'

He continued: 'I attended the Global South Encounter in Egypt with some reluctance, but felt that it was appropriate to be there because the meeting was taking place in the Province of which I am President Bishop. I wished, further, to be supportive of my colleague, the Bishop in Egypt, who was the host of the Encounter.'

Explained Handford: 'I was not able to be present for the whole of the programme, arriving after the early sessions and leaving before the end. While I saw a first draft of the letter, I was not involved in any subsequent discussion of it. Several other Primates shared my unease. In no way did I give permission for my name to be associated with the letter.'

The President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East concluded: 'In a world riven by conflict, the Church has a message or reconciliation to proclaim. That message will not be heard unless it is embodied in a reconciled messenger.'

A commentator on Anglican affairs told Ekklesia: 'The circumstances surrounding this letter get more confused by the hour. If it was an attempted coup by conservatives, rather than simply the latest salvo in a difficult but necessary exchange, it is beginning to backfire badly. But the mess-up theory seems the more likely.'

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury used the occasion of this week's Church of England General Synod Meeting in London to call on each member of the C of E's governing body to seek a conversation partner elsewhere in the Anglican Communion who has a different viewpoint on sexuality or women bishops to them.

The Primates' letter and responses to it can be read here.

[Also on Ekklesia: Read Stephen Bates of The Guardian in conversation about his book, A Church At War; buy Gays and the Future of Anglicanism; UK Queen addresses post-Christendom challenge; Nigerian gay and lesbian Christians challenge Archbishop Akinola; Episcopal bishop rejects Nigerian criticism on gays; Tutu calls on Anglicans to accept gay bishop; reading St Paul and sexuality, by Oxford New Testament Professor Christopher Rowland]

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