By David W. Virtue in Jamaica
A major brouhaha has erupted at the Anglican Consultative Council-14 meeting here in Jamaica over the failure to seat a clerical delegate from the Church of Uganda because he is a product of a cross border intervention into The Episcopal Church USA.
The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council's refusal to seat the Rev. Philip Ashey, a priest of Ruwenzori Diocese in the Church of Uganda, living and working in Atlanta, brought an angry response from Uganda Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi.
In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Orombi said this: "The appointment of delegates to the ACC from a Province is purely an internal matter and is not subject to review by any body within the ACC, including the Joint Standing Committee. That the Joint Standing Committee would assume such authority is a gross violation of our constitutional relationships, not to mention a further tearing of our bonds of affection."
"Our reasons for appointing one of our American priests to represent us as our clergy delegate are our reasons, and are not for the Joint Standing Committee to question. Section 4(e) does not give the Joint Standing Committee or the ACC the right to interfere in the appointing body's determination of the "qualification" of a delegate. For the Joint Standing Committee to assume this power is nothing short of an imperialistic and colonial decision that violates the integrity of the Church of Uganda."
The Church of Uganda is entitled to three delegates - a Bishop, a priest, and layperson.
In an e-mail dated 24th April, The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, first wrote the Ugandan Archbishop, saying, "I'm grateful for the nomination of Rev. Philip Ashey as ACC Delegate...and I look forward to welcoming him to ACC."
The Joint Standing Committee, meeting on 1st May, countermanded Kearon's welcome saying the ACC had exceeded the limits of its authority and reversed Canon Kearon's decision of 24th April, saying that Ashey was not "qualified" to serve as a delegate, citing section 4(e) of the Constitution of the ACC. Their reason? Father Ashey is an American who was received into the Church of Uganda in 2005.
When asked why he didn't send a Ugandan priest to represent the Church of Uganda, Archbishop Orombi replied, "We had a last minute vacancy for our clergy delegate and couldn't organize travel and visas for one of our Ugandan clergy to go. When we learned that our priest, Rev. Philip Ashey could go to Jamaica, we asked him to represent us."
Orombi continued, "The appointment of Rev. Philip Ashey to fill a vacancy at the last minute provides the Church of Uganda with a strong voice of a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Ruwenzori. It is also a voice for the almost 100,000 orthodox Anglicans in North America who have been persecuted by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, who will not be represented by their delegations to ACC-14, and who will not otherwise have voice or seat at the table of the ACC. It is important for the Communion to be reminded that there is a serious tear in the fabric of our communion; all is not well and there continues to be an urgent need to address the ongoing crisis before us."
At a press conference today, Kearon weaved around a series of questions thrown at him about the legality of this action. At one point, he said the ACC said delegates could pick their own members. Now in 2009, he is saying that member churches are not free to pick their members, even if the delegate is eligible under the rules laid down by the ACC.
When asked about a perceived change of policy, Canon Kearon stated that he had not been present in 1999. The situation now is that the Ugandan church has sent a delegate who is not qualified.
A lively discussion then took place over the definition of "qualified". There is no definition for what "qualified" would be in the ACC constitution, nor is there any definition of who would adjudicate who was qualified. In the light of such a gap, the Joint Standing Committee had determined that it was the body that would make such decisions.
Canon Kearon stated that Ashey was not qualified as his membership of the Church of Uganda is a result of a cross-border intervention by the Church of Uganda in the United States, a practice that hasbeen consistently disapproved of by the instruments of communion since 2004.
However, it was then drawn to Canon Kearon's attention that another infringement of the requirements of the instruments of communion was the continuance of the lawsuits against orthodox churches in North America by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. The cessation of these lawsuits was a requirement of the Dar-es-Salaam Primates Meeting in 2007 as part of the compliance required of TEC and the ACoC with the Windsor Report; thus a condition for the re-entry of TEC and ACoC delegates to the Councils of the Communion (they had been asked to withdraw from ACC 13 at Nottingham, but attended as visitors).
How was it that TEC and ACoC who had not complied with a requirement of the instruments of communion had been readmitted, but Uganda who was not complying with the embargo on cross-border jurisdiction had its selected delegate barred?
Kearon replied that Uganda as a province had not been barred, only its delegate who was a product of cross-border intervention.
Where is the fairness and even handedness in all this?
TEC and ACoC are in constant breach of Lambeth 1.10. By the secretary general's own admission at the Saturday press conference, they both in some cases, had continued to authorize same-sex blessings in defiance of the moratorium. The truth is they have not complied with the Primates' call from Dar-es-Salaam to desist from lawsuits, but instead have increased in the numbers of them. Yet, they are readmitted to full membership.
The Church of Uganda exercises its sovereign right to appoint a priest under its oversight from among orthodox clergy in the USA who wish to abide by the Communion's teaching and practice, but is denied that right on the grounds of the priest being unqualified according to criteria not specified in the ACC constitution, (as a product of a breach of the communion's requests), and according to the decision of a body which is not given the authority to determine membership of provincial delegations either in the constitution of the ACC or in the tradition of the ACC ( according to the practice of Canon John Petersen in the case of Mark Dyer).
It is clear to this reporter that the ACC leadership is making up the rules as they go along.
The unseating of Ashey is linked with the decision to be made about who can adhere to the Covenant. Those who have consistently defied the Communion for the last five years are in a position to lobby and vote to exclude provisions in the Ridley Draft Covenant whereby other entities (dioceses in TEC or ACNA) can sign up to the Covenant while TEC itself wants to spend 5 years considering the question.
They are also allowed to retake their seats in order to engage in such lobbying while in defiance of requests of the communion about abandoning lawsuits, while those who have defied the request on cross border jurisdiction (to become a dead letter when ACNA is formed in six weeks time), are denied the right to exercise their own choice of who their delegate at the meeting is.
It is apparent that those who depart from the teaching and practice of the Communion in faith and morals are given a pass while those who have adhered to the teaching and practice of the Communion in faith and morals are being penalized. This very week the former will try to prevent the latter from being able to even adhere to the Covenant process.