Anglican Unrest Follows New Bishop
DURHAM, N.H. — On Nov. 2, the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated Gene Robinson as its first openly homosexual bishop.
While the event could destroy any hope for formal Anglican-Catholic unity in the near future, some believe it will also serve to drive many Anglicans “home to Rome.”
How likely is an Episcopal schism? What will the effects on the Catholic Church be?
To investigate these questions, the Register talked to Episcopalians, former Episcopalian ministers and Cardinal Walter Kasper in Rome.
Some say Robinson's consecration threatens to permanently sever the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church and the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs.
Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been living openly with a male partner for the past 14 years. In June, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected him bishop.
At a general convention in August, the Episcopal Church consented to Robinson's election. The convention also allowed same-sex blessing rites, a kind of liturgy for homosexual unions.
After the convention, conservative Episcopalians as well as Anglican leaders across Africa and Asia — where two-thirds of Anglicans live — vehemently warned that Robinson's consecration would force schism.
At Robinson's Nov. 2 consecration ceremony, three people came forward to object formally, the Associated Press reported.
David Bena, assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, N.Y., objected that Robinson's “chosen lifestyle is incompatible with Scripture and the teaching of this church.” Bishop Bena spoke on behalf of 36 bishops in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Rev. Earle Fox from the Pittsburgh Diocese was another objector. But when Rev. Fox cited sexual practices engaged in by homosexuals, the Associated Press reported, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, leader of the Episcopal Church, interrupted, saying “please spare us the details and come to the substance.”
After the objectors spoke, Robinson's consecration was completed to the applause of 4,000 worshippers in attendance at the ceremony, which was held in the University of New Hampshire sports arena.
The American Anglican Council, a conservative Episcopalian group, coordinated Bena's objection, said the group's president and chief executive officer, Rev. David Anderson. The council represents approximately 10% to 20% of Episcopalians, Anderson estimated.
“The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is the same as Anglican teaching on homosexuality,” Rev. Anderson said.
He described Anglicans as teaching that “homosexuals are loved by God and deserving of ministry and love by the church, but homosexual behavior is wrong.”
Robinson supporter Rev. William Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City, has known Robinson since seminary, he said.
He stressed that the Robinsons' divorce was amicable and said the couple had a liturgical ceremony to dissolve their vows. Tully called the election of Robinson “prophetic.”
“We realize that not everybody will accept it… but a majority in the [Episcopal] Church feel that it's an idea whose time has come,” he said.
American Anglican Council president Rev. Anderson said “no matter how capable [Robinson] is, he can never overcome the fact that the way he is ordering his life is in defiance of God's will.”
Rowan Williams, who as archbishop of Canterbury serves as senior primate for the entire Anglican Communion, expressed concern in a Nov. 3 statement.
“The divisions that are arising are a matter of deep regret; they will be all too visible in the fact that it will not be possible for Gene Robinson's ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the communion,” he wrote.
Benjamin Nzimbi, primate of the Anglican Province of Kenya, reacted to Robinson's consecration more strongly, saying, “The devil has clearly entered the church. God cannot be mocked,” Reuters reported.
Father George Rutler, pastor of the Church of Our Savior in New York City and a former Episcopal minister, surmises that “the whole ecumenical dialogue [with Anglicanism] is over. … These people have shown total contempt of the faith.”
American Anglican Council president Rev. Anderson agreed, saying, “We do really wonder how the existing [Anglican-Catholic ecumenical dialogue] can go forward with Griswold as leading Anglican on that conversation … We don't see how that can continue.”
Indeed, both Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, have warned that Robinson's installment as bishop creates a grave hurdle to unity.
At an Oct. 4 meeting with Archbishop Williams in Rome, the Holy Father said “new and serious difficulties have arisen” between Catholics and Anglicans. “These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature,” he said. “Some extend to essential matters of faith and morals.”
Further evidence of high-level Vatican interest came through a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that sent the Catholic Church's “fraternal regards” to the American Anglican Council's “A Place to Stand” gathering in Dallas. The meeting was convened to organize opposition to Robinson's consecration and the approval of same-sex “blessings.”
“The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond [Dallas], and even in this city [Rome] from which St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England,” said the letter as released by the American Anglican Council.
Speaking to the Register on Nov. 5, Cardinal Kasper said, “We have to wait for what will happen in the Anglican Communion, but there is no doubt that the problem can be church-dividing.”
One Anglican group still holds out hope for future unity, however.
Representatives of the conservative Anglican group Forward in Faith North America have traveled to Rome twice in the past month for conversations with Vatican officials, according to the group's director Rev. Dr. David Moyer. Rev. Moyer said the conversations were on behalf of Forward in Faith International.
Forward in Faith International represents 12,000 to 15,000 Anglicans plus an additional 200,000 members of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a break-away church, Moyer said. Forward in Faith North America represents approximately 25,000
Episcopalians, he said.
Rev. Moyer would not name the people involved in the conversations “out of respect for both sides,” he said, although he did state that representatives of Forward in Faith Australia were involved as well.
Rev. Moyer would not confirm the involvement of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In his interview with the Register, Cardinal Kasper specifically denied Rome's participation in such talks.
“We are seeking to be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church … that's what we long for,” Rev. Moyer said. But Forward in Faith does not want “total uniformity of doctrine and discipline,” he added.
“There are many uniate churches,” such as the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Serbian Catholic Church, Rev. Moyer noted. “They have their own tradition, their own liturgical expression of faith, their own bishops and their own governing authority,” he said.
Forward in Faith North America hopes “that a grouping of orthodox Anglicans would be looked upon by Rome in the same way” as the uniate churches, he said.
But “the first step is the [Vatican's] recognition of the legitimacy of orthodox Anglicans” as “the people who are really true to the Anglican heritage rather than the Episcopal Church,” he said.
Cardinal Kasper said the idea of an Anglican rite was possible “in principle” but could not be considered so long as fundamental doctrinal issues remain unresolved. Moreover, the cardinal said, such a rite could be established only if “a whole province or a diocese comes to the Catholic Church.”
Two weeks prior to Robinson's consecration, the primates of the Anglican Communion met in London to discuss the crisis and issued a statement requesting that the Episcopal Church “make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities … in consultation with the archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the primates.”
The American Anglican Council has already prepared an application for congregations requesting adequate episcopal oversight, meaning that conservative parishes could come under the jurisdiction of conservative bishops.
The American Anglican Council has received between 75 and 100 applications from U.S. parishes, Rev. Anderson said. They expect to receive many more, he added.
When the Anglican primates met, they also asked Williams to establish a commission to analyze the crisis and report its results within 12 months.
Archbishop Williams established the commission in late October with a mandate to report “on the canonical understandings of … impaired and broken communion” and on how provinces that are not in full communion with each other can still relate to the Anglican Communion as a whole.
Events appear to be outpacing the commission, however.
On Nov. 3, Peter Akinola, Anglican primate of Nigeria, issued a statement declaring that “a state of impaired communion now exists both within a significant part of ECUSA [Episcopal Church USA] and between ECUSA and most of the provinces within the communion.”
Mark Dyer, a member of the commission, explained that “impaired communion” means that if an Episcopal minister who supported Robinson went to Nigeria, he or she could “receive communion at the altar, but there's no way you'd be allowed to celebrate.”
In response to Robinson's consecration, Primate Nzimbi of Kenya announced that his province is cutting all ties with the Episcopal Church, according to Reuters.
Also in response to Robinson's consecration, a spokesman for the Anglican Province of Uganda told the Associated Press that the province would break communion with the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and would refuse to recognize Robinson as a bishop, The New York Times reported.
Broken communion is “equivalent to excommunication in the Roman Catholic Church,” Dyer said.
Rev. Bill Atwood, general secretary of the Ekklesia Society, a conservative Anglican group whose members include 17 Anglican primates and another 160 Anglican bishops, mainly of the Global South, agreed that the Global South primates will wait for the primates' commission to act before they do anything “final” and “irrevocable.”
Nonetheless, Atwood said he was talking to primates who were drafting statements with language “even stronger than impaired [communion].”
Williams' predecessor as archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said Nov. 6 that Robinson's consecration had caused “incalculable” damage to Anglicans.
“I can only share the principled distress of the primates of the Global South and others who have expressed themselves so strongly in recent days,” Archbishop Carey wrote in a letter published by The Times of London. “They are surely right to do so. The damage done to ecumenical relations, interfaith dialogue and the mission of the worldwide church is incalculable.”
Father Rutler predicted that what would happen to the Anglican Communion eventually is “what happens inevitably in all Protestant sects — fragmentation, schisms upon schisms.”
“All the Catholic Church can do now,” Father Rutler said, “is say ‘renounce the errors of the past 500 years and become Catholic.’”
Katharine Smith Santos writes from Garden City, New York.
(CNS contributed to this story.)
- Nov. 16-22, 2003