Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ecclesiastical Discipline in the Anglican Church in North America: Part 6

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Read Part 4 and Part 5.

By Robin G. Jordan

Conclusion.This examination of the disciplinary canons of the Anglican Church in North America is by no means exhaustive. Space did not permit me to address all the provisions of the canons under Title IV, Ecclesiastical Discipline. I do recommend a comparison of those provisions with their equivalent in the Rwandan canons, the Episcopal Church’s canons as revised through 2006, and the PECUSA canons as revised through 1976.

In compiling the disciplinary canons, the Governance Task Force drew heavily on the Rwandan canons, which reflect the influence of the PECUSA canons. They also took ideas and material directly from the PECUA canons as well as the Episcopal Church’s canons. Two things that stand out about their adaptation of the provisions of these three sets of canons. First, they took a cafeteria approach in compiling the canons, largely heaping the tray with provisions from the Rwandan canons, and then adding a spoonful or two of provisions from the TEC and PECUSA canons and even a sprinkle of a provision from the Nigerian canons. They then pieced these provisions together like a patchwork quilt made from odds and ends of fabric. In some instances they used the same wording; in others they altered the wording slightly.

A factor that contributes to the weaknesses and problems of the canons is the minimalism that Archbishop Duncan and other ACNA leaders espouse. This is in part an over-reaction to the elevation of the Episcopal Church’s canons to the status of that church’s final authority in all matters by liberal Episcopal leaders. As I have suggested elsewhere, it may be motivated by a desire for greater freedom of action. It may also be a rationalization of the defects and shortcomings of the canons. The minimalism of the canons is far from their greatest asset as Archbishop Duncan claims. It is one of their most serious deficits. The canons in too many places lack clarity and sufficient detail. Too much has been omitted that should have been included.

The disciplinary canons are not well crafted. Indeed they look thrown together as if the compilers were in a hurry to produce a set of canons for the Provincial Council to approve and the Provincial Assembly to ratify. A number of provisions do not appear to have been given careful thought. A number of provisions appear to have been added because someone wanted these provisions in the canons. They seem out of place, for example, the provisions for the Archbishop to appoint legal advisers and prosecutors and modify or revoke temporary inhibitions.

Second, the Governance Task Force tended to omit the procedural safeguards and other measures intended to protect the rights of the accused, to ensure a fair and impartial hearing, and reduce the possibility of an arbitrary judgment. This is surprising in the light of the way that former Episcopalians were treated in the Episcopal Church. It evidences a conspicuous absence of Anglican concern for due process, just treatment, the rule of law, decency, and old-fashioned fair play, which is a part of its English heritage. This is partially explained by a tendency toward authoritarianism and authoritarian practices in certain quarters of the Anglican Church in North America. The African provinces with their more authoritarian bishops and archbishops are seen in these quarters as a model of an Anglican church worthy of imitation in North America.

The Governance Task Force borrowed practices of the African Church that they liked. If the original PECUSA canonical provision required that the presiding bishop and three to seven other bishops appoint a board of inquiry to investigate rumors and reports affecting a character of a bishop, they adopted the Rwanda version of this provision in which the primate or his designate appoints the board of inquiry, a provision not much different from the Episcopal Church’s version of the provision, which requires the presiding bishop to cause an investigation to be conducted but does not specify how the investigation should be made. They stripped away any checks and balances and safeguards. At the same time they went beyond imitating the African Church. If an African primate nominates the members of an ecclesiastical court and the provincial synod confirms them, they went one step further and gave the archbishop authority to appoint members of an ecclesiastical court without any kind of confirmation process.

While the African churches in their canons vest more authority in their bishops and archbishops than has been the case in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the authority of their bishops and archbishops is also balanced by the authority of synods of clergy and lay representatives at the diocesan and provincial levels. I have examined the canons of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Anglican Church of Rwanda, and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The canons of these churches are generally clearer and more detailed than the canons of the Anglican Church in North America and they include a number of procedural safeguards that are noticeably missing from the latter’s canons.

The canons of the Anglican Church of Kenya and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) as the Anglican churches of former British colonies show the influence of English common law and jurisprudence, including a respect for due process and the rule of law, as well as that of traditional African society. At every level of traditional African society community leaders from the paramount chieftain to the village headman have a council whom they consult. The paramount chieftain’s council is composed of lesser chieftains and other dignitaries. The village headman’s council is made up of village elders. Traditional African society also has its unwritten laws and traditions that are binding upon the paramount chieftains and lesser chieftains as they are binding upon the rest of society.

The disciplinary canons set up institutions that display very little regard for the rights of the accused at best. They establish few time frames. They do not put any limits on how long an investigation may be conducted into an allegation or report of an offence or offences against a deacon, presbyter, or bishop. They do not guarantee the accused a speedy trial. They return the Anglican Church in North America to the days when the accused was locked in the cellar of the bishop’s palace to await interrogation and trial at the bishop’s leisure.

Rather than delineating the specific procedures that the bishop, the canonical investigator, the board of inquiry, or the ecclesiastical court must follow at a particular stage in the disciplinary process, the canons leave the development of these procedures to their discretion but without specifically indicating that they may exercise their discretion in developing such procedures. The canons deny those facing disciplinary proceedings with the procedural safeguards provided by procedures that are adequate, suitable, equitable, unambiguous, and well defined. Instead they create a system for the administration of ecclesiastical discipline that appears to be highly susceptible to unfair practices and arbitrariness.

The disciplinary canons also show an equal disregard for the rights of the victim. They contain no special provisions for handling allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation. They do nothing to create a safe environment for children in the Anglican Church in North America. The omission of any special provisions for such allegations suggests an attitude of denial on the part of the Governance Task Force relating to the possibility of child sexual abuse and exploitation occurring in the ACNA. Such an attitude is not only naïve but also dangerous and irresponsible, putting children at high risk from sexual predators in the ACNA. The canons also contain no special provisions for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

The disciplinary canons establish no province-wide uniform standards for disciplinary proceedings for deacons and presbyters. Clergy transferring from one judicatory or sub-provincial jurisdiction to another can expect to encounter differences in the disciplinary proceedings between these sub-divisions of the ACNA. In some of these sub-divisions they may not enjoy the rights and procedural safeguards that they enjoy in others. The same observation is applicable to laity moving from one ACNA sub-division to another. In hearing appeals from the ecclesiastical courts of the sub-divisions of the ACNA the Provincial Tribunal will be faced with not only a bewildering assortment of rules and procedures but also as many interpretations of the constitution and canons as sub-divisions of the ACNA, making its task more complicated, and increasing the likelihood of an unsatisfactory judgment.

As noted in the introduction to this article, the disciplinary canons seek to arrogate to the Archbishop powers that extend beyond the duties and responsibilities that may be assigned to him by canon. They try to give him metropolitical jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters in the province, which is not his under the provisions of the constitution of the Anglican Church in North America. As a general rule where a primate or archbishop of an Anglican province is a metropolitan who has throughout the province at all times metropolitical jurisdiction, as a superintendent of all ecclesiastical matters in a province, it is so stipulated in the instruments of governance (i.e. constitution, and canons) of the province. If it was desired that the archbishop and primate of the ACNA should be the metropolitan of the province, the Governance Task Force should have included provisions in the constitution and canons stating that he is the metropolitan of the province and has the rights and duties of a metropolitan. The Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly should have then been given an opportunity to decide whether they wanted the archbishop and primate of the ACNA to be the metropolitan of the province and exercise metropolitical authority. The Governance Task Force, however, did not incorporate such provisions into the constitution and canons. They added an amendment to Article IX of the constitution stating, “The Archbishop … carries out such other duties and responsibilities as may be provided by canon” when representatives of CANA drew to their attention that they were in the canons arrogating powers to the Archbishop that the constitution did not give him.

However the Governance Task Force has construed this amendment, it does not stipulate that that the primate and archbishop of the ACNA is a metropolitan and has the rights and duties of a metropolitan. Any assignment of “duties and responsibilities” to the archbishop that implies that the archbishop has metropolitical jurisdiction throughout the ACNA and superintendency of all ecclesiastical matters of the province is a misapplication of this provision and a violation of the constitution.

This problem can be corrected by the simple expedient of amending the constitution and canons to give the primate and archbishop the title, duties, and rights of a metropolitan of the province but the Governance Task Force, which includes the senior bishops of the ACNA, is loath to do that. One of the reasons is that the Anglican Mission is a missionary jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and that Anglican Mission Chairman, Bishop Chuck Murphy, is the primatial vicar of the primate, archbishop, and metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. He acts as the primate of Rwanda’s deputy or agent in North America. He is the “presiding ecclesiastical authority” of the Anglican Mission in the absence of the primate of Rwanda, and. In concert, with the council of missionary bishops, governs all spiritual, pastoral, and ecclesiastical matters of the Anglican Mission. Giving Archbishop Duncan the title, rights, and duties of a metropolitan of the ACNA would put Murphy in the position of having two “bosses.” One is in a distant African province and the other would be much closer to home. I leave my readers to work out the implications for themselves.

The Anglican Church in North America does not need a metropolitan to have an effective judicial system that treats everyone fairly and protects the rights of both the accused and the victim. What it does need is a clear and detailed set of disciplinary canons that embody the North American Anglican Church’s heritage of due process, just treatment, the rule of law, decency, and old-fashioned fair play. It needs to preserve these values and to pass them onto to posterity.

The disciplinary canons of the Anglican Church in North America need a major overhaul. They should been overhauled nine months ago before they were adopted and ratified. It still is not too late to set things right.

I published the original article in 2010. Two years later nothing has been done to remedy the problems in the ACNA canons identified in this article.


Jim said...

Hi Robin,

I wonder if you have any suggestion for a one-page or two at most document that identifies the constituent members of ACNA, and gives a brief over view of their social and theological views? I ask because I read you as a concerned critic, and I am as you know somewhat removed from them.


Fr. Chris Larimer said...


What you've done is a valuable service. I hope you are passing it along to the right people. I happen to be friends with the Archbishop's canon for legal matters. If you have this typed up in Word or something - perhaps condensed - I'd be happy to pass it along.

Robin G. Jordan said...


I am sending you a copy of the original article. The file is Word and includes the original HTML for publication online. I altered the HTML when I republished the article as a six-part article series. Otherwise, the contents should be same. I have not had an opportunity to condense the article, which I am planning to do at a future date. Right now I am putting together a series of articles appraising the model ACNA diocesan governing documents. I have identified a number of problems in these documents which I think need to be drawn to the attention of groupings of congregations drafting a constitution and canons as a step in the diocese or diocese-in-formation recognition process, as well as the attention of dioceses that used the model ACNA diocesan governing documents in drafting their own constitution and canons. Since the copies of the model ACNA diocesan constitution and canons that I obtained are in "read-only" PDF format, I must transcribe the text to a Word document rather than copy or cut and paste it. This is a problem that I have also encountered with the amendments to the ACNA constitution and canons posted on the ACNA website.

Robin G. Jordan said...


You have my Yahoo email address don't you? Send me your current email address and I will send you something along the lines you requested.

Jim said...

Robin, same one you have I think, It is public on my blog and such so I am somewhat careless about public use. ;-) The advantage of poverty is I have nothing for thieves to take!


Father Chip said...


Looking for a virtual copy of the Anglican Church of Nigeria canons...can you help?

Robin G. Jordan said...


I have sent you files containing the governing documents of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

shepherds said...

This is a very good job you have done. I am a student at the Archbishop Vining College of Theology Akure. Kindly forward the files containing the governing documents of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to me also. I am presently working on this as a term paper. My address Iam Olumuyiwa Adeniyi Ogunbanjo .Thanks