By Robin G. Jordan
In this third article in the series “Proposals for the Reform of the Anglican Church in North America” I look at the office of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, the first independent daughter church of the Church of England, shied away from establishing an Archiepiscopate or a Metropolitan’s See in the newly formed United States of America, and chose to organize itself as a voluntary association of autonomous dioceses with a Presiding Bishop. The latter was the senior most diocesan bishop and his primary role was to preside at meetings of the new denomination’s General Convention and its House of Bishops. The Anglican Church in North America has adopted a different form of organization, which, as we shall see, is still evolving.
The Constitution: Article IX establishes the office of the Archbishop, prescribes his designation and title, the manner of his election and his term of office, and delineates his “duties and responsibilities.” The designation and title that the constitution gives the Archbishop is “the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America.” Article IX does not include metropolitan in the Archbishop’s designation and title.
Under the provisions of Article IX the Archbishop is elected by the Bishops of the Province from their own ranks. His term of office is five years. He may serve two terms of office. Article IX contains no provisions for the resignation of the Archbishop from office or his removal for cause—mental incapacity, malfeasance, etc.
While it may be argued that precedence for the Provincial Bishops’ election of the Archbishop may be found in the constitutions of a number of African provinces, it must be noted that the African provinces in which this method of election of the Archbishop is found show the influence of Roman Catholic Church and its practices in their election of bishops. The Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Church of Nigeria, and the Church of Uganda, the clergy and laity play a negligible role in the election of diocesan bishops and their suffragan or assistant bishops and no role in the election of the Archbishop of the Province. It is certainly a departure from North American practice in which the clergy and laity have shared in the election of diocesan bishops and their suffragan or assistant bishops and the Archbishop or Presiding Bishop of the Province. It certainly does not represent the practice of a number of other Provinces, including the Anglican Church of Australia, the Anglican Church of Kenya, and the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of America.
Article IX does not give metropolitical authority over the Bishops of the Province to the office of the Archbishop or recognize the office of Archbishop as having metropolitical authority over the Bishops of the Province. The primary role of the Archbishop as set forth in the constitution is that of presiding bishop and spokesman.
Article IX.3. states:
“The Archbishop convenes the meetings of the Provincial Assembly, Provincial Council and College of Bishops, represents the Province in the Councils of the Church….”
In the earlier drafts of the canons the Governance Task Force arrogated to the office of the Archbishop all kinds of authorities, duties, functions, and powers for which the constitution made no provision. This was drawn to the attention of the Governance Task Force and they quickly added this clause, “…and carries out such other duties and responsibilities as may be provided by canon” to Article IX.3.
The Canons: The Governance Task Force took what might be described as a cafeteria approach to drafting the canons. They borrowed provisions from the canons of a number of Anglican ecclesiastical bodies and in some cases appeared to have altered the language for no apparent reason other than to disguise the source of a particular provision which was all too evident from the language used in that provision or to give the appearance that they had not relied too heavily on the work of others. Otherwise, the alteration of the language made no sense. The result was that the canons resembled a patchwork quilt in which the fabric from two or three sources had been used more than the fabric from other sources. In the canons one can find provisions borrowed from the canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Church of England, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, and the Roman Catholic Church. In borrowing language from these sources, the Governance Task Force also borrowed doctrine, norms, and principles.
Provisions relating to the office of the Archbishop are scattered throughout the canons. I will point out these provisions and their implications. Title I.1.4 assigns responsibility for setting the agenda of Provincial Council meetings to the Executive Committee. It designates the Archbishop as a member of the Executive Committee and its chairman. This is not exactly how the constitution envisions the preparation of the agenda of Provincial Council meetings. According to Article VII.9, the chairman of the Executive Committee prepares the agenda of each Provincial Council meetings with the assistance of the Executive Committee and other office bearers. There is a gap between the provisions of Article VII.9 and Title I.1.4. In the article the Archbishop prepares the agenda with help of the committee and church officials; in the canon the task is collectively assigned to the committee and church officials are not included in the agenda preparation process.
Title I.1.5 designates the Archbishop as the presiding officer of the Church as well as the presiding officer of the Provincial Council. It authorizes the Provincial Council to appoint a deputy chairman, a chancellor, a secretary, a treasurer, a registrar, and such other officers of the Church “as it deems necessary.” We will return to this provision later.
Title I.2.6 designates the Archbishop as the presiding officer of the Provincial Assembly and authorizes him to designate other persons as its presiding officer. The general synod of a province or its equivalent as a general rule chooses its own presiding officer in the absence of the Primate. However, the Provincial Assembly is in no real sense a general synod with supreme authority over a province. It is modeled on the Anglican Mission’s Winter Conference, which plays no role in the governance of the Anglican Mission.
Title I.5.6 authorizes the Archbishop, “with the majority vote of the Council” to “appoint a Vicar General to assist the group toward final qualification as a Diocese of the Church.” It is not clear from the provisions of this section whether the majority vote of the Provincial Council is required for the granting of temporary Diocese-in-Formation status to the group, for the appointment of a Vicar General for the Diocese-in-Formation, or for the for the approval of the Archbishop’s nominee for the position of Vicar General of the Diocese-in-Formation.
Title I.6.8 requires the bishop of every diocese or grouping to submit an annual report to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee in turn is required to “cause to be prepared a report to the Archbishop on the status and growth of the Province.” As has already been noted, the Archbishop is the chairman of the Executive Committee, This means that he has access to the raw data as well as receives the final report. The canons do not make any provision for the distribution of the raw data to other parties for independent analysis or the distribution of the final report to the diocesan bishops, the members of the Provincial Council, the members of the Provincial Assembly, to the members of the Church, or to the public at large. This is left solely to the discretion of the Archbishop who is free to withhold parts or all of the report and to interpret the report to these groups as he sees fit.
The provisions of Title I.6.8 point to a major shortcoming of the Anglican Church in North America—its lack of openness and transparency. It has acquired in its short existence first as the Common Cause Partnership and now as a GAFCON-recognized province wannabe a culture of secrecy and behind-closed-doors decision-making.
One is also prompted to ask why does the final report go to the Archbishop and not to the members of the Provincial Council, as the Council is the governing body of the Province—its equivalent of a general synod.
Title I.7.3 authorizes the Archbishop to invite representatives of ACNA ministry partners to ACNA functions and gatherings and to give them a seat and a voice in these functions and gatherings. Title I.8 authorizes the Archbishop to invite any person or group to observe ACNA functions and to accord such visitors a seat and a voice. Under these provisions the Archbishop may invite representatives of the Anglican Mission to attend meetings of the Provincial Council, the Executive Committee, the various other Committees and Task Forces, and the College of Bishops and to exercise their influence in these gatherings.
Title III.1.2 is adapted from the canons of the Church of England. It states:
Any person who has received authority to be a Presbyter or Deacon in any Diocese of this Church owes canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the Bishop of the Diocese, and the Bishop of each Diocese owes canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the Archbishop of this Church.
The canons of the Church of England also recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York as metropolitans of their respective provinces and having metropolitical authority over the bishops of their respective provinces. The ACNA constitution does not recognize the Archbishop and Primate of the ACNA as a metropolitan and having metropolitical authority over the bishops of the ACNA.
While the canons can under the existing provisions of the ACNA constitution require canonical obedience from the clergy of the diocese to the bishop of diocese, they cannot require canonical obedience from the bishops of the Province to the Archbishop of the Province. He is not the metropolitan of the Province and does not have metropolitical authority over the other bishops of the Province. He is the Bishop of one of the Dioceses with a fancy designation and title and some additional duties and responsibilities. He may have pretensions to being a metropolitan, as does the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. However, the ACNA constitution does not accord him the status of metropolitan or grant metropolitical authority to him or recognize metropolitical authority as intrinsic to his office.
Title III.2.6 authorizes the Archbishop to waive upon the application of the sponsoring bishop the prohibition against the admission to holy orders anyone who has divorced and remarried.
In the area of ecclesiastical discipline we find a number of significant departures from Anglican practice not only in North America but also outside of North America. The canons give authorities, duties, functions, and powers to the Archbishop that the canons of other Anglican provinces do not give to the metropolitan of the province. They represent a serious infringement upon the autonomy of the diocese and the historic prerogatives of the bishop of a diocese. The ACNA has in its own way moved in a similar direction as TEC with its controversial changes in its disciplinary canons.
Title IV.3.3 permits the Archbishop to extend the canon of limitations on canonical offenses. Title IV.4. 1 requires that charges made against a bishop should be filed with the Archbishop, his delegate, or the College of Bishops. Title IV.4.2 permits a bishop to demand with the concurrence of two other bishops the investigation of any rumors, reports, and allegations affecting his personal or official character, submitting this demand in writing to the Archbishop, his delegate, or the College of Bishops, and Title IV.4.3 requires the Archbishop to appoint a Board of Inquiry upon receipt of charges against a bishop or the demand for an investigation of rumors, reports, and allegations affecting a bishop. These provisions are loosely adapted from the canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA as adopted through 1976.
Title IV.5.2.3 authorizes the Archbishop to appoint the legal adviser to the court and the prosecutor in the trial of a bishop. Title IV. 5.3.2 authorizes the Archbishop to appoint the members of the Court of Extraordinary Jurisdiction, the legal adviser to the court, and the prosecutor. These provisions and the lack of many basic procedural safeguards raise questions as to whether those tried in ACNA ecclesiastical courts can expect to receive a fair and impartial hearing.
Title IV.8.1. recognizes the long-established prerogative of a bishop of the diocese to pronounce sentence on a priest or deacon convicted in his diocese. It, however, authorizes the Archbishop or another bishop designated by the Archbishop to pronounce sentence in the absence of the bishop of the diocese. In the United States the practice has been for the standing committee of the diocese as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese in the absence of the bishop to ask the bishop of a neighboring diocese to pronounce sentence. Outside the United States similar practices that preserve the autonomy of the diocese and the prerogative of diocesan bishop in the pronouncing of sentence prevail.
Title IV.8.2 rather grandly states:
The College of Bishops, speaking through the Archbishop or his designate, has the sole responsibility and authority to pronounce sentence on a Bishop.
It makes no provision for the pronouncing of sentence if the bishop on whom the sentence is being pronounced is the Archbishop himself. Presumably the Archbishop is expected to pronounce sentence on himself or designate a fellow bishop to pronounce sentence on him. The canons are silent on the matter. The canons also do not require the Archbishop’s designate to be a bishop. The Archbishop could ostensibly appoint his personal secretary, chauffeur, cook, or scullery maid to pronounce sentence. He were in a particularly waggish mood, he could designate his dog.
Title IV.8.4 contains two highly unusual provisions. The bishop of a diocese to terminate or shorten a sentence of suspension of a priest or deacon convicted in his diocese must first seek the advice of the Archbishop and obtain his consent. The Archbishop must, before expressing his opinion on the matter and giving his approval to the change in the sentence, must consult with the Executive Committee. This provision represents a gross infringement upon the autonomy of the diocese and the historic prerogatives of the diocesan bishop. Title IV.8.4 also prohibits the College of Bishops from terminating or shortening the suspension of a bishop without the consent of the Archbishop.
I have reviewed the constitution and canons of a number of provinces in the Anglican Communion. None of the provinces in which the Archbishop is recognized as the metropolitan of the province and as having metropolitical authority over the bishops of the diocese give this kind of authority to the Archbishop, requiring his consent to the College of Bishops’ termination or shortening of the suspension sentence of a bishop. Nor do they recognize the Archbishop to have this authority intrinsic to his office. None of them, I must add, take away the prerogative of a diocesan bishop to terminate or shorten the sentence of suspension of a priest or deacon convicted in his diocese. I have found nothing like these provisions in English ecclesiastical law.
Another gross infringement of diocesan autonomy and diocesan episcopal prerogative is found in Title IV.9.1. The Archbishop or his designate may modify or revoke a diocesan bishop’s temporary inhibition of a priest or deacon in his diocese. I have come across no provision like it in the constitutions and canons of the provinces that I have reviewed. Nor have I found any provision like it in English ecclesiastical law.
I am struck by the similarity between these provisions and the provisions in the revisions of the TEC disciplinary canons that enable the Presiding Bishop to pursue charges against a priest or deacon after the bishop of the diocese has decided not to pursue these charges.
The appointment of a Dean of the Province, an office for which the ACNA constitution and canons make no provision draws attention to growing problem within the ACNA. There is an element in the ACNA leadership that is seeking to arrogate authorities and powers to the Archbishop that the constitution and canons do not give him and which they do not recognize as intrinsic to his office. This element appears to include Archbishop Robert Duncan himself.
Under the provisions of the constitution the Provincial Council is recognized as the governing body of the Province and is empowered to make canons including canons for “the proper administration of the Province.” These canons are subject to the ratification of the Provincial Assembly before they become binding upon the Province and its sub-divisions. But it is a real stretch of the provisions of the constitution to interpret them as giving the Provincial Council authority to authorizing the Archbishop to create the office of Dean of Province and to appoint his friend ANiC Bishop Don Harvey to that office. Under the provisions of the constitution as they are presently written the Provincial Council does not have the authority to make such an authorization. The Archbishop does not have the authority to create such an office or to appoint someone to it.
What the Provincial Council should have done was make a canon creating the office of Dean and prescribing the method by which the Dean would be appointed, the qualifications for the office, the term of office, and the duties and powers of the Dean. The Provincial Assembly should have then been convened and the proposed canons submitted to that body for its ratification. If the Archbishop was so overworked that he needed an assistant right away, a bishop for special missions could have been elected by the College of Bishops as his assistant after the requisite consultation with the Executive Committee under the existing provisions of the canons.
Title I.1.5 authorizes the Provincial Council to appoint a deputy chairman, a chancellor, a secretary, a treasurer, a registrar, and such other officers of the Church “as it deems necessary.” However, it does not authorize the Provincial Council to delegate to the Archbishop the power to create an office or to appoint someone to it. The creation of the office of the Dean of the Province and the appointment of Bishop Harvey to that office goes well beyond the scope of “such organizational decisions as may facilitate the work of the Church,” mentioned in Title I.1.1.
The Dean of the Province, however, is not simply an assistant to the Archbishop of the Province. He assumes the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop in the case of his incapacity, prolonged absence, suspension, removal, resignation or death, until the Archbishop recovers, returns, is exonerated, or replaced. In almost all the provinces, the constitutions of which I have examined, and I have examined a number of them, the provisions establishing the office of the Dean of the Province are found in the constitution since that is how important the office is. The creation of this office should have involved an amendment to the constitution.
It is the little regard that the ACNA leadership has shown toward the provisions of the ACNA constitution and canons that has led me to suggest that with the adoption and ratification of the constitution and canons they were interested only in obtaining a mandate to govern the ACNA. I will grant that it is unfair to tar everybody with the same brush. At the same time I will draw attention to the fact that I know of only one case where an ACNA leader objected to developments within the ACNA and the article reporting his objections quickly disappeared from the Internet. The same ACNA leader has since that time been reported as voicing unqualified support of the decisions of his fellow leaders.
If any other ACNA leaders have raised objections or expressed concerns, they have gone unreported. Rarely does the public receive a glimpse of what is happening behind the cloak of secrecy that shrouds the councils of the ACNA.
While ACNA secretiveness may be attributed to past experiences with TEC and a reluctance to show one’s hand, it has outlived its usefulness. A secretive organization does not generate public confidence or trust and its secretiveness will in the long run harm it in ways that would have been avoided if it had been more open and transparent.
As can be seen from this article and the preceding two articles, the Anglican Church in North America needs to undertake major reforms in the areas of the episcopate and the primacy. In future articles in this series I will be examining other areas of the ACNA in which major reforms are needed. I personally would think much more highly of the present ACNA leaders if they acknowledged the need for reform and took credible, concrete steps to introduce reform.
I fear, however, that the organizational culture that has developed within the ACNA does not encourage the recognition and admission of problem areas or the development and implementation of corrective measures. It may take a major shake-up within the ACNA to cause the new church to face its shortcomings instead of denying them and to doing something about them instead of lashing out against those who draw attention to them.
I for one strongly believe that North America needs a dynamic new Anglican province to replace the spiritually and morally bankrupt Anglican Church of Canada and Episcopal Church. I am not convinced, however, that the ACNA, in its present form, qualifies for the job.