July 16, 2007

Canonical Camouflage

In the form-letter issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office, in response to concerns about the lack of invitation to the duly-elected bishop of New Hampshire to the next Lambeth Conference, the following reminder is made (emphasis mine):

From the time of the election of Bishop Gene Robinson to See of New Hampshire, both the representatives of many Anglican Provinces and the Instruments of Communion made it clear that full recognition by the Communion could not be given to a bishop whose chosen lifestyle would, in most Provinces of the Communion, give rise to canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop. The Archbishop has to be loyal to that widespread concern as well as bearing in mind the position of Bishop Robinson within The Episcopal Church. The Archbishop is therefore exploring inviting Bishop Robinson to the conference in another status.

Thus it appears that the reason for Robinson’s status is some clear-cut canonical principle. However, any woman bishop would also find herself in a similar canonical situation in “most Provinces of the Communion” since most of the provinces do not as yet allow women to exercise the episcopate, and their canons are really rather clear to that end. Yet none of the women diocesans in the Anglican Communion have been told they might be invited to Lambeth “in another status.” As far as I know, all of the women diocesans have been “fully recognized” at Lambeth even though they could not be “fully recognized” canonically.

So the “canonical impediment” cannot be the real root issue here. And I suspect raising it was an effort to divert the discussion — and perhaps to deflect our collective attention with a bit of camouflage — from the real problem for most of those who find it problematical throughout the communion: the chosen lifestyle — which would be “a concern” to them even if it were not mentioned in the canons — as I dare say it is not mentioned in most of them. The canons really have very little to do with it, and it is a bit coy for the Archbishop’s office to try to make it appear that way. I understand they are in a difficult position — but it would be better to stand in it than stoop to such excuses.

Tobias Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Can't the Archbishop of Canterbury just say it? It's all about same-gendered sexuality. Just say it. Can't we have a little plain-speaking?

Tobias, you point out the illogic of his statement in the form letter. It appears to me that there is little clarity or logic in many of his statements. Frankly, that makes me crazier than if he'd speak plainly, even if I disagreed with him.

In addition, it appears unseemly, at least to me, that he's in seclusion during this time of turmoil in the Anglican Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Grandmère,

I think it may have something to do with the way some of the British find it hard to express firm, clear opinions. Naturally, this is not true of all British folk -- our dear friend at OCICBW is a shining example of plain speaking.

Rowan Williams is clearly a very bright man; but his brilliance may cause him to see distinctions invisible to the rest of us, and miss things that are equally obvious. As with Saint Paul, it might be said that "too much learning has made him unintelligible."

There is a very powerful line from Nietzsche: "It is terrible to come to power, for power stupifies." That's "stupifies" (verdummt) as in "makes one unable to speak." Of course, many are capable of stupefaction long before coming to power, but that's another matter -- probably being looked into by the Republican Party Conference even as I write.

Anonymous said...

Tobias --

I am guessing that ++Rowan is trying to appear a moderate -- obviously banning GURLZ & girl cooties makes more sense than not letting a gay man attend because he happens to be honest, but the approach seems to be pseudo-Windsor (but not really since that would ban most of the diocesan bishops of TEC) -- plus there is apparently a letter from +Gene offering to attend in a diminished capacity for the good of the WWAC (my own political sense would have been more likely to go this route, but I am not, happily, the ABC).

FWIW, I think that the important thing is that TEC bishops attend in force (contra Washington) & see the Equatorial Africans boycott & start their own communion (thus continuing the historical precedent of evangelical wastage from Anglicanism) -- but we shall see.

Chris Jones said...

Whether there is a "clear-cut canonical principle" involved very much depends on how one interprets the canons involved. What is "clear-cut" to one person may be considerably less so to another.

Thus I should be very surprised if there had been a "clear-cut" canon of the Episcopal Church before 1976 which stated that "No woman shall be ordained to any order of the sacred ministry." Yet it was thought necessary to change the canons to allow the priesting of women.

Nor is there now any canon which explicitly states (for example) that a woman cohabiting in a sexual relationship with a man other than her husband is not to be ordained. I should think, however, that Title IV, Canon 1, Section 1 of the Episcopal Church canons would cover that situation under the rubric of "immorality" and "conduct unbecoming". (I am assuming that conduct which is grounds for deposition of a cleric once ordained may be taken to be an impediment in a candidate for ordination.)

It is of course a highly debatable point whether such language ("immorality" and "conduct unbecoming") applies to the situation of Bp Robinson. But it is clear that those provinces that +Cantuar is talking about do believe that such language applies to him. +Cantuar is not pretending that there are specific canons in the several provinces that make Bp Robinson's situation a canonical impediment. He is only noting that such provinces interpret quite general canons in such a way as to recognize a canonical impediment.

I do not think +Cantuar is being in any way disingenuous; he is describing the situation as it is. Don't shoot the messenger.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand your comment. Is there a MANNER of LIFE engaged in by women bishops that fits within the AB's statement? If not, the analogy is not a good one. Moreover, didn't the AC, as a whole, agree to a process of reception as regards WO and thus the propriety of consecrating women as bishops? Is there anything the AC acknowledged even remotely comparable as regards Bp. Robinson's manner of life?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I thought I was being clear, but I guess not. Let me try again, with a concrete example.

Canon C2.5 of the Church of England states, quite bluntly, "Nothing in this Canon shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop." So for the C of E, being a woman is a "canonical impediment" to consecration to the episcopate, and is expressed in clear and absolute terms. So if one wished to make a point about canonical impediments in relation to invitations to Lambeth (which is in England last time I looked), one would be on firm ground to do so.

If the folks in the A B of C's office had stuck with the language of, "his manner of life is a challenge to the church, a cause for dissension, etc." I would have no objection. It is the weasely reference to the canons to which I object. I see it as a kind of "don't blame me I'm only following the rules" kind of misdirection.

Others, including myself, have commented extensively on the romanticized account of the reception of women's ordination in the Windsor Report. So I will not comment further at this point. It is not germane to this discussion, which concerns purported canonical impediments.

Good Prior, I have also written on the letter +Gene sent to the Archbishop. All in all, it would have been better simply to say,

"Thank you for your letter of concern. As Bishop Robinson himself has volunteered, and in the interest of reducing tensions to the highest degree possible, I have asked him to attend the meeting in a limited capacity as a non-voting guest, recognizing that he is the duly elected bishop of his diocese, but also the extent to which his election has caused division in the Communion."

Is that so hard to say?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Tobias, thee are not enough "nuances" in your clear statement for top leadership to say it so plainly. Nuances are prerequisites!!!! (smile)

Anonymous said...

just as with B033, which even our friend bishop Epting defends. it may say "manner of life" or "canonical impediment", but that's irrelevant, because what it says has nothing to do with it. what it means is "no queerz allowed". the pleasant-sounding phrasing is supposed to set it up that when we say "that's a dishonest subterfuge" we are told that we are being rude.

the solution is, of course, to continue to say, "that's a dishonest subterfuge", which caused our friend +CE some consternation i fear when i said as much.

Jon said...

Hmm, perhaps he wants to draw a distinction between impediments due to one's nature (which one can't change) as opposed to impediments due to things that are at least theoretically a matter of choice (like who one lives with). I don't know that the distinction makes sense, though.

Maybe he thinks it helps that the ACC has spoken of WO as something to be tolerated at the least, while it hasn't said much of anything about homosexuality at least as far as I've heard.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

It seems to me that raising the notion of a "canonical impediment" in this case is a red herring, and would better have been left aside.

The various canons of the various churches list a number of impediments to ordination. As such, they are, dispensation aside, absolute (or to use the technical term, diriment) impediments. Being a woman is an absolute impediment to ordination to the episcopate in the Church of England. Being divorced and remarried is an impediment, but it is possible to obtain a dispensation. I have been unable to find a canonical reference to sexuality in the C of E, but believe there is a "policy" in place. But the issue here is that the canonical status is irrelevant. The Windsor Report can say as many nice (and wishful) things about the ordination of women it cares to, but there is an insurmountable canonical impediment to women bishops. So, the issue, for England at least, isn't Bishop Robinson's canonical status.

The Church of Nigeria has an interesting canon that requires all church officers to attest they have never been part of a secret society. Under their definition this would include the Freemasons -- though I imagine it is aimed at native cults. Yet no one has suggested that any bishops throughout the communion who might be Masons (and I have no reason to think there are none, though I know of none for certain) should not be invited to Lambeth, or forced to resign.

My brother Thomas is correct: this reference to canonical impediments is a poor excuse designed to mask the real issue under a cloak of "our hands are tied" -- which they most certainly are not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tobias about everything (except the way the president of the Eucharistic assembly should face)


C.B. said...

Tobias - Was there ever a canonical impediment that would have at one time applied to a divorced and remarried bishop.

Lifestyle - to my ears is a way of saying "living in sin." Given what the ABC has said with respect to the fact that VGR was consecrated before TEC authorized SSBs - the nub of VGR's problem maybe that he is openly living in sin as far as even TEC is concerned.

What would be the situation if TEC had approved SSBs first?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The Canons of the C of E state, "no person shall be admitted into
holy orders who has remarried and, the other party to that marriage being alive, has a former spouse still living; or who is married to a person who has been previously married and whose former spouse is still living." Although this appears under the section on deacons and priests, I can only assume it applies to bishops as well, since one must be both of the others before becoming a bishop. So I would say there is a canonical impediment right now.

++Rowan has made statements similar to what you mention, that the church ought to have authorized SSB's before consecrating a bishop who was in one. This, however, flies in the face of what the church teaches about the nature of marriage: that is, the ministers of the sacrament are the couple, and the nuptial blessing does not "make" the marriage. Moreover, TEC did everything short of authorizing SSB's in recognizing that such relationships partook of the same kind of grace as marriage.

Obviously, had TEC approved of SSBs more explicitly we would still have been in the same hot water in which New Westminster found itself. So again, these suggestions about proper sequence really are Cantuarial red herrings.

Jon said...

It might have been slightly different hot water; at least it might mean that we had in writing something like solid arguments in favor of ssb's and treating same-sex couples like any other married couple. I suspect that there are some fence-sitters who'd like to see those sorts of arguments in writing.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

That may well be; though my sense is that there are very few fence-sitters out there on the issue itself. I think most of the fence sitting is based on concerns about the Communion, or the impact the changes might have. I think that ++Rowan is a prime example of this. His own position is clear, but his concern is for the "well-being" of the church, as he understands it.

Jon said...

Eh, I wouldn't be surprised if there are very few who are neutral strictly speaking, but what about those who tilt one way or the other without being entirely committed to the position they tilt. Sudan, for example is pretty clear on where they stand, but they haven't moved to break communion so they might be convincable.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I don't know, Jon. From what I read those who are most vocally opposed to the Robinson ordination are also fairly vocally opposed to SSBs.

As I see it, the Communion has been split in thirds fairly much from the beginning: about a third of the provinces agree with TEC; about a third disagree but don't feel the need to break communion; and about a third disagree and will break communion unless something changes -- and that something is not authorizing SSBs but precisely not authorizing them --- and, as the "Road to Lambeth" says, having all gay clergy (not just Bishop Robinson) removed from office. Perhaps they are asking for more than they know they could get as a bluff; but part of me says that is really what they want. It is not going to happen.