ACC rejects proposed moratorium on litigation over property

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Kingston, Jamaica
The 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) by a tight vote on May 8 rejected a move to add a fourth moratorium on issues related to divisions over human sexuality that would have asked for a “cessation of litigation” among member churches of the Anglican Communion involved in disputes over property.

The ACC, however, said it “affirms” the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), which included not just moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions, and cross-provincial interventions, but also “relational consequences” for those who breach them. The original text of the resolution had used the word “notes,” instead of “affirms.”

The word “notes” had been used to reflect the “range of views” expressed by delegates in discernment groups, said Anthony Fitchett, chair of the resolutions committee and a lay delegate. Opponents said, however, that using a “more neutral” word was not useful, since the ACC “needs to give an indication of how it feels” about the WCG recommendations.

The WCG was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury to assess the situation in the Anglican Communion after the publication of the 2004 Windsor Report and to give proposals on how member churches, divided by the thorny issue of human sexuality, can move forward.

Josephine Hicks, lay delegate of The Episcopal Church, urged the ACC to vote against the WCG’s recommendation to uphold the moratoria, saying that cross-provincial interventions had taken place in her church as early as 2000, or three years before the consecration of a gay bishop in the diocese of New Hampshire. She also said that while her church has “complied with all the moratoria at significant cost” these incursions “have continued, unabated and unapologetically.” She said that regardless of what the Instruments of Unity say, “those who engage in cross-boundary activity have no intention of stopping.”
(The four “instruments of communion” or unity of the Anglican Communion are: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting.)

Ms. Hicks added, “It’s time to move on, it’s time to move beyond the moratoria and to allow The Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada and others to be true to themselves, to be true to their members and to allow everyone in their churches to participate fully in the life of the church and the furtherance of God’s mission in the world.”

By a secret ballot vote of 60 in favour, four against, and one abstention, the ACC also said it “acknowledges the efforts that have been made to hold to the moratoria, gives thanks for the gracious restraint that has been observed in these areas and recognizes the deep cost of such restraint.”

The ACC also asked that “urgent conversations” be facilitated “with those provinces where the application of the moratoria gives rise for concern.”

Voting 33 against, 32 in favour, and 1 abstention, the ACC defeated an amendment introduced by Archbishop Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, to include a call for a moratorium on litigation, which he said had been requested by the primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2007. Passionate sentiments were expressed for and against the proposed amendment.

Bishop Bill Godfrey, delegate of the Church of the Province of the Southern Cone (in South America) expressed support for the amendment, saying, “I share the concern about intervention across provinces. It’s a great danger for the church if we lose the discipline that’s traditionally been there.” But, he added, “when good men and godly men decide to set aside that discipline of authority in provinces and move into other provinces, we have to ask why … I believe if we ignore the question of litigation, we’re simply postponing dealing with the ills of the Anglican Communion – the treatment of people within different provinces for reasons that have not been questioned but applauded in our provinces.”

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, urged delegates to vote against the amendment saying, “the reality is that those who have sought to remove property from The Episcopal Church have done so without consultation, with an unwillingness to be in dialogue.” She added that “this is not a difficulty in North America,” citing instances where Anglican churches such as in Brazil and Harare, Zimbabwe, have had to go to court to recover church properties.
Leaders of the church have a “moral and fiduciary responsibility” to see that its assets are preserved for the purpose for which they were given, she said.

Rev. Ian Douglas, clergy delegate of The Episcopal Church, expressed his concern about “moratoria creep,” saying that it opened the way for other Instruments of Unity within the Anglican Communion to introduce their own moratoria. “This will only increase chaos,” he warned.

Dato Stanley Isaacs, delegate of the Church of the Province of Southeast Asia, countered by saying, “We should not be afraid of restraints if it advances the unity of the church.”

By a vote of 65 in favour and one against, the ACC also called on the Anglican Communion “to pray for repentance, conversion, renewal; leading to deeper communion.”

The eight-part resolution approved by the ACC also asks the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order to “undertake a study of the role and responsibilities in the Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting; the ecclesiological rationale of each and the relationships between them…” This was in line with another recommendation of the WCG.

The commission was asked to report back at the next meeting of the ACC.

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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