Response to Panel of Reference Recommendations - Archbishop Drexel Gomez (West Indies)

Response by Archbishop Drexel Gomez to Recent Panel of Reference Report


The entire Anglican Communion has been awaiting information on the work of the Panel, and this report will undoubtedly receive comments from Canada and other parts of the Communion. The recommendations of the Panel will have impact not only on the applicants but in the wider Anglican Communion especially the conservatives of the Communion.

The basic argument of the report comes down to the question of “jurisdiction” vs “oversight” (par. 31-34) on the one hand, and to the time-line or “ordering” of the Windsor Report’s (TWR) notion of adjudication of the current Communion-wide dispute. In the first case, the Panel believes that jurisdiction cannot be “divided” (33, 34), and therefore only some form of “delegated oversight” that remains under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop can be accepted. In the second, it believes that the dispute over, for example, sexuality teaching and discipline, is not yet fully adjudicated by the Communion, and therefore Canadian bishops are, with whatever impairments, “full members of the Communion.” Taken together, the Panel cannot accept the request by the parishes to be “put under” another jurisdiction, in order to remain members of the Communion. The report raises questions over “the situation” which was referred to the Panel. Paragraph 6 offers such a description “as a temporary breakdown in relationships between the dissenting congregations and their Diocese.” There are, of course, other ways of describing the “situation” such as that found in paragraph 143, that is, New Westminster has taken ‘action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it, and of bonds of affection in the life of the Communion…’. That description would, I suspect, lead to different conclusions.

Steps which formalize the transfer of Episcopal ministry on a longer term basis can not be justified unless formal reconciliation has demonstrably proved impossible to achieve. The report is clearly correct in terms of its terms of reference and theology, but it begs the enormous question of when and how we know that “formal reconciliation has demonstrably proved impossible to achieve” and given the note in paragraph 3 that the Diocese of New Westminster is disputing practically everything to do with the Windsor Report, there is surely a case to be made that we have either arrived at this situation or we are very close to this situation. In paragraph 21, the report deals with the applicants’ desire to remain “in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world.” The claim is not in relations to the Church of England but ‘the Church of England throughout the world,’ that is, the Communion. It is clear that many provinces are not in communion with the bishop of the diocese and so the Panel needs to make clear how they can fulfill their clear declaration to ‘remain in communion with those whom they regard as faithful’ as long as they are under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. The Panel seems to want to say there is no problem because parts of the Communion have not declared impaired communion with the diocese and even those who have not declared it with the parishes but (a) it is not clear how the Panel makes sense of this latter claim canonically or ecclesiologically and (b) if there is any doubt many of the Provinces will make clear that indeed “In order to continue in full communion… ‘we cannot at present function in structural fellowship with Bishop Ingham and the Diocese of New Westminster. (AS 3.2.3)”. This is a crucial stage in the Panel’s whole argument and it is precarious to say the least. In paragraph 25, the Panel’s response to the request for special arrangements given the current status of the Diocese and Province within the worldwide Anglican Communion. However one describes it, the situation is clear and unprecedented – the province of which they are part, as a result of the actions of the diocese of which they are part, are currently unable to participate in the Instruments of Commuion. To attempt to force any solution to this unprecedented situation into the normal systems of provincial authority as if nothing is problematic about the diocese’s status in the wider Communion needs stronger justification. Even when one accepts the terms of reference of the Panel and their determination not to prejudge the outcome of the eventual outcome of the Windsor process, there is one major problem with their reasoning, it seems to me, and that is given in their own description of the nature of “jurisdiction” in paragraph 31:

“It includes guardianship and promotion of Christian doctrine, both in the bishop’s own teaching, and in ensuring the standards of education and orthodoxy of the clergy serving in the Diocese. It includes discipline, exercised by supervision of the clergy and parishes of the Diocese, expressed in the case of the clergy by an undertaking of canonical obedience to the bishop. The bishop is called to be a focus of unity within the Diocese, and representative of the unity of the wider church within the Communion.

Put this way, it is clear that the Bishop of New Westminster is not ‘in fact’ exercising proper ‘jurisdiction’ over his Diocese! He is neither guarding nor promoting Christian doctrine nor ensuring the standards of orthodoxy among his clergy; he is not exercising discipline in a way that coheres with the above; and he is certainly not proving either a focus of unity or a representative of unity within the larger church and Communion.

I take it that the Panel would say that they are not in a position to make a judgement about this, given that the ordering of the Windsor Report’s adjudication has not taken place fully yet. But they are certainly in a position to accept that this engaged ‘jurisdiction’ is in serious question, given the well-expressed and publicized and formal views of many Provinces, Primates and already Instruments of Communion. And that being in such ‘question,’ it would be better to recommend limits on this jurisdiction.

It would be better that the Panel not simply reject the call for alternative ‘jurisdiction,’ but rather recommend that some aspect of the bishop’s jurisdiction be ‘ceded’ to the Province. The Province should effect provisional jurisdictional oversight of these congregations through a delegated arrangement, that is, that jurisdiction be ceded to a ‘college’ of bishops for a time (who then delegate), until the adjudication envisaged by the Windsor Report be completed. This would not involve recognizing some ‘new entity.’

While one appreciates the legal logic displayed by the Panel, one cannot help but conclude that the Panel has failed to understand the political and theological reality of the situation in which the applicants find themselves. Consequently, in my opinion, the recommendations of the Panel do not respond adequately to the real situation. In addition the Panel seems to have ignored the present situation in the Communion as described by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his 14th of September, 2006, letter:

“It is clear that the Communion as a whole remains committed to the teaching on human sexuality expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and also that the recommendations of the Windsor Report have been widely accepted as a basis for any progress in resolving the tensions that trouble us. As a Communion, we need to move forward on the basis of this twofold recognition.”

The Panel is recommending that the applicants who share the position outlined by the Archbishop of Canterbury to submit to the jurisdiction of a bishop who vociferously denies both of the elements so clearly articulated by the Archbishop. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Province of Canada provide a secure resting place for the applicants while the Province prepares for its General Synod. Christian charity demands no less.

The Most Rev’d. Drexel Wellington Gomez

1 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. mccabe Says:

    Such a display and comment is unworth of Archbishop Drexel Gomez. The question isn’t the parishes being in communion with the members of the voluntary and often fictional ‘Anglican Communion’. The question is jurisdiction within the Anglican Church of Canada. The parishes will be remain under the care of an Anglican Bishop within the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishops outside of the structure of the Anglican Church of Canada have not power to govern outside of their respective churhes.

    Would Archbishop Gomez allow Roman Bishops,  Episcopal Bishops, Methodist Bishops, Lutheran Bishops or Coptic Bishops to govern one of his parishes? I really don’t think that he would allow that to happen within his own church in the West Indies. Why would he expect the Anglican Church of Canada to act otherwise?