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Does the Primates Meeting have any Authority?

Does the Primates Meeting have any Authority?


By Archbishop Mouneer Anis
March 24, 2016

In the last few weeks, following January's Primates' Meeting in Canterbury, we have heard several voices doubting the authority of the Primates in decision making. Some said "[It] is not a decision-making body--it's a body for Primates who come together to pray and discuss and discern and offer some guidance. They don't make resolutions." Others said, "The Primates meeting has no jurisdiction."

Most of these comments are reacting to the Communique of the Primates:

2- Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage.

7-It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should
not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

I am sorry to say that such voices ignore an important history and base their assumptions on Archbishop Coggan's now-outdated recommendation of 1978 for "meetings of the Primates of the Communion reasonably often, for leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation". However, it is essential to review the following history before reacting to the outcome of the Primates' Meeting:

1. Resolution 11 of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 urged "member churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates' Committee and requests the Primates to initiate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion (emphasis added)." This resolution gives the Primates' Meeting, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the authority to say yes or no to divisive "issues which are of concern to the whole...Communion".

2. The Lambeth Conference of 1988 broadened the scope of the responsibilities assigned the Primates' Meeting. Resolution 18.2 "Urges that encouragement be given to a developing role for the Primates' Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates' Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters." Some people say the meeting is limited to "offering guidance." However, offering guidance means creating guidelines that include "limits of diversity" on doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues. Obviously, we cannot be in one family, one
Communion, if every member province has unlimited diversity on these matters. We are autonomous provinces but we remain interdependent as well.

3. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the request made in Resolution 18.2 of 1988 was reiterated. The conference noted that it "urges that encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates' Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Does the Primates Meeting have any authority?

Primates' Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters." The conference further asked "that the Primates' Meeting, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, include among its responsibilities positive encouragement of mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies."

4. It is important to note here that Lambeth resolutions are resolutions made by three Instruments of Unity, not one (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and the bishops of the Lambeth Conference are all present). No one instrument can undo such resolutions. Even the Primates' Meeting cannot undo these resolutions, as some attendees presumed to think at the 2011 Primates' Meeting in Dublin. Moreover, this meeting signaled a critical impairment of the Primates' Meeting as an Instrument of Unity. Fifteen Primates did not attend, which should cast serious doubt on the credibility of the statements concerning the function of the Primates' Meeting which came out at that time.

5. It should also be noted that the earlier 2003 Primates' Meeting in London, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, accepted the responsibility given to the Primates' Meeting. In doing so, they endeavored "to exercise the 'enhanced responsibility' entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences."

6. The Windsor Report, in its recommendations for the Instruments of Unity, stated that "It may be clearer if the 'Primates' Meeting' became known as the 'Primates' Conference -- the Lambeth Standing Committee'."
In other words, the Primates' Meeting is designed to provide a more flexible and frequent meeting than the Lambeth Conference and with comparable authority.

7. In 2005, the Primates' Meeting of Dromantine requested that "in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference." This request was carried out at the ACC-13 meeting in Nottingham later the same year in Resolution 10d; "[ACC] consequently endorses the Primates' request". In fact the representatives of TEC and Canada left the room after they had explained the position of their provinces on the issues in conflict. If this means anything, it means that the recommendations of the Primates' Meeting have an enhanced and binding authority.

8. In 2007, the Primates' Meeting of Dar es Salaam made the following recommendation that is still waiting to be carried out:

Does the Primates Meeting have any authority?

"In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church 1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134). The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.

If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion." (Emphasis added.)

In accordance with this request, the Archbishop of Canterbury removed the members of TEC and Canada from the Ecumenical Commissions after the consecration of Mary Glasspool in 2009. This means, that the requests of the Primates' Meeting carry a moral authority requiring them to be implemented.

9. Some are rightly saying that the Primates' Meeting has no authority in matters of faith and order within individual Anglican provinces. Yet, in the light of the foregoing history, it is clear that the Primates' Meeting does have the authority and responsibility to oversee the relationships between Anglican provinces with regards to doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues. Consequently, while the ACC may have primary oversight for budgetary matters in interprovincial affairs, executive leadership in spiritual matters between the provinces continues to be vested in the Primates' Meeting, under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that they may fulfil their responsibility as the chief pastors of the Communion to guard its unity in the faith. It is worth mentioning here that the Windsor Continuation Group stated in its report of 2008 the following:

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is not to be understood as a synodical body at the Communion wide level. It is 'consultative'. Its Constitution provides for the bringing together of bishops, clergy and laity in order to advise, encourage and inform the Provinces. It is particularly valued by those who emphasise the contribution of the whole people of God in the life, mission and the governance of the church.

Therefore, good order requires ACC-16 to implement the disciplinary measure decided by the 2016 Primates' Meeting. Does the Primates Meeting have any authority?

In conclusion, I would say that the Primates' Meeting together with the Archbishop of Canterbury carry an authority and responsibility in preserving the unity of the Communion. It is important for both of these Instruments to deal with the divisive issues at hand and especially the unilateral actions of TEC in regard to their alterations to the Anglican Communion's doctrine of marriage.

Failure to carry out the decision of the January Primates' Meeting will bring back the distrust which was there before the last meeting, the source of our impaired communion.

The Rt. Rev. Mouneer Egypt is Archbishop of Egypt

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