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LONDON: Consecration Sets Precedents For Boundary Crossing


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The recent disclosure that the Archbishop of Canterbury, in concert with the Bishop of London, to allow the consecration of an English vicar by an African Primate to be a missionary bishop, is precedent setting, and raises more questions than there are answers.

The Rev. Sandy Millar, of Holy Trinity, Brompton is a major player in the ALPHA movement and he will become a Ugandan Bishop with responsibility for ALPHA parishes in England and will work as a missionary in Britain following his consecration by the Primate of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi.

How his appointment differs from that of an English 'flying bishop' (PEV) who does not
have any legal jurisdiction and ministers only with the permission of the Diocesan, remains to be seen.

But this extraordinary ecclesiastical act must be seen in a much larger and wider context. Why did the Archbishop allow it? It has been suggested by this writer that it was a quid pro quo for the Jeffrey John appointment as the first openly gay Dean of St. Alban's and the steadily advancing liberal agenda in the Church of England over the ordination of women priests and the church's acceptance of sodomy. The other suggestion is that Williams and Millar are good friends and the Archbishop has been a public supporter of ALPHA and addresses Holy Trinity, Brompton theology schools. Williams is also a theologian for the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement as well.

But the fact that the archbishop gave his blessing to this extraordinary ecclesiastical act raises far bigger questions of provincial autonomy and geographical boundary crossing that could have legal implications for numerous orthodox American Episcopal priests locked in legal combat with revisionist ECUSA bishops.

The Episcopal Church has repeatedly argued that crossing boundaries is a violation of their autonomy and their canons and constitutions, they say, forbid such actions.

Recently Bishop Charles E. Bennison privately blasted Edwin Barnes a flying bishop in the Church of England for coming into his diocese to perform sacramental functions at Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont. At that time Bennison, in a face off said to Barnes, "What are you doing invading my diocese?"
Barnes: "I am a flying bishop. It is my job to visit beleaguered parishes."
Bennison: "You realize I am in contact with Bishop Griswold to bring this to the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury."
Barnes: "He was informed before I came over."

Then Barnes made the extraordinary statement, "I am not subject to your canons and neither is Archbishop Malango."

Other revisionist ECUSA bishops have also expressed similar sentiments to that of Bennison arguing that orthodox bishops have no business crossing diocesan lines to perform ecclesiastical acts in their dioceses. When they do, there usually follows threats of deposition and presentment, but to date none has ever occurred, owing to that fact that the House of Bishops is enormously dysfunctional.

The most notable boundary crossing to date was the appearance of six retired orthodox ECUSA bishops appearing in the Diocese of Ohio led by revisionist Bishop Clark Grew II. The bishops confirmed more than 100 persons in what they described as "emergency measures" for those ECUSA congregations in dioceses who cannot in good conscience accept the radical actions taken by General Convention in 2003.

The six churches applied to the American Anglican Council (AAC) for emergency oversight after seeing a preliminary draft of the ECUSA proposal for supplemental oversight and found it unacceptable and not in keeping with the promise of oversight by the worldwide church leaders last summer. Adequate Episcopal Oversight allows an alienated parish to welcome a substitute bishop if the local bishop and the parish encounter serious theological differences. To give global significance to their actions, the diocesan bishop of Recife, Brazil, Robinson Cavilcanti appeared, adding a certain international flavor to the occasion.

The six bishops were put on notice that there actions could lead to ecclesiastical
action against them, and a scheduled appointment with the President of the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice was turned down, as the fear existed of a kangaroo court and presentments.

But the most recent case of boundary violation is in the Diocese of Los Angeles where three parishes have left the diocese and the Episcopal Church, sought pastoral oversight from the Primate of Uganda, who in turn placed them under the authority of the retired Bishop of Texas, Bishop Maurice "Ben" Benitez. To date no presentment has been issued against the former Texas bishop.

Internationally, three Primates and several bishops have intervened in a number of dioceses in The Episcopal Church with mixed results. Some parishes have left the Episcopal Church and their priests have been inhibited and deposed, others have asked for oversight while waiting for their local bishop to rule against them. Several parish priests face court action over their desire to leave the ECUSA but retain their properties.

Dr. Williams' action in allowing an African Primate to cross geographic boundaries and consecrate a bishop in an orthodox diocese (London) clearly has legal ramifications for other provinces, especially the Episcopal Church.

It will now allow attorneys in the US, who are fighting for the right of orthodox parish priests to keep their properties, and they can also argue that the church's titular head has himself crossed diocesan boundaries for the sake of global unity. It could mean that new legal leverage is now possible for those orthodox ECUSA parishes that are fighting to keep their properties from revisionist bishops!

Clearly the Archbishop of Canterbury is desperate to keep the Anglican Communion together, and the instinct for institutional self-preservation has over-ridden revisionist hegemony. Dr. Williams is expected to go as far as possible in appeasing evangelicals in order to prevent their departure, but the cost might be much higher than he thinks.


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