21 February 2011

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It has recently been reported that the Revd Dr Julian Linnell is part of the Evangelism and Church Growth Initiative (ECGI) of the Anglican Communion. Evidently Dr Linnell is part of the schismatic Anglican Church of North America, which is not part of the Anglican Communion. Presumably Dr Linnell has some compelling qualifications that make him a particularly valuable member of this group. The difficulty is that, according to credible sources, Dr Linnell, whatever his qualities, is a cleric who was “granted release from licensed ministry” in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Episcopal Church - part of the Anglican Communion) and who took up ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican Church of North America - not part of the Anglican Communion).

This episode raises a serious question about the proposed Anglican Covenant. The proposed Covenant requires each signatory Church “to respect the constitutional autonomy of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion....” (Section 3.2.2) This would suggest that the Covenant requires each Church to respect the various constitutional and canonical processes of each Church with respect to the regulation of the ministrations of its own clergy, for example. So, if a cleric in one Church is found guilty in an ecclesiastical trial of heresy, the other Churches would need to respect that decision. If said cleric were deposed, then he or she would be ineligible to serve further as a cleric, and that sentence would necessarily, under the proposed Covenant, need to be respected by all the other Churches of the Anglican Communion. Someone who departs a Church of the Anglican Communion to take up a position in a Church which is not part of the Anglican Communion ceases to be himself or herself a member of the Anglican Communion. If the reports are correct, then this is the case with Dr Linnell. (To avoid any doubt, I am not here accusing Dr Linnell of heresy. I am taking on face value the validity of reports that he is part of a group which has departed from the Anglican Communion.)

The question then arises, aside from Dr Linnell’s appointment being an apparent slap in the face of the Episcopal Church, how is it that the Anglican Communion Office decides to appoint a schismatic to an official body of the Anglican Communion without clearly stating that he is not an Anglican? It may be that the Communion Office is in the habit of appointing ecumenical advisors or partners to various committees, task groups and other official bodies of the Anglican Communion, and there is nothing wrong with that. Ordinarily such a person would be identified as such an ecumenical guest. It may be that Dr Linnell's particular expertise is such that he is uniquely qualified to be part of this particular group, and there is nothing wrong with that, either, in principle. But to appoint a member of a schismatic Church, particularly one which is embroiled in the very controversy which has given rise to the proposed Covenant, and which is involved in ongoing lawsuits against a member Church of the Anglican Communion, is to say the least a questionable action. It raises the question as to whether this appointment, or one like it, is in any way compatible with the proposed Covenant.

The trouble is that the proposed Covenant contains in it no requirement that the Anglican Communion Office act in accordance with the Covenant. The signatory Churches, not the Anglican Communion Office or, for that matter, the Instruments of Communion, are bound to “respect the constitutional autonomy of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion.” And a question may be raised pursuant to the proposed Covenant only with respect to “the compatibility of a covenanting Church with the Covenant” (section 4.2.3) and not with respect to the offices of the Communion itself. There is, in short, no form of check or balance to ensure that the actions of the Anglican Communion Office or the Instruments of Communion themselves respect either the letter or the spirit of the proposed Communion.

This absence of regulation of the very servants of the Communion allows them to act arbitrarily and with impunity. If they are unregulated and thus in effect unaccountable under the very framework that they themselves are so vigorously promoting, then there is a serious flaw in the framework. It is yet another reason to reject the proposed Covenant.


  1. There is, in short, no form of check or balance to ensure that the actions of the Anglican Communion Office or the Instruments of Communion themselves respect either the letter or the spirit of the proposed Communion.

    An excellent catch, Alan. And the Archbishop of Canterbury wants to rush this daft covenant through to adoption. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has the human heart conceived of the confusion and controversy that will result from the adoption of the covenant.

  2. Thanks, Grandmère.

    I knew there was no mechanism for an appeal of a decision under the proposed Covenant, but it was only this incident that caused me to ask about its application to the various organs of the Communion. I suppose a question could be raised about the meaning of the Covenant, pursuant to section 4.2.3, but there is no process in the rest of section 4.2 to address this sort of question. The process is really about questions regarding the conduct of Churches.


Comments are welcome, but moderated. Please use a name, any name or alias, or your comment will be deleted. I welcome constructive criticisms, profusive praise, and intelligent interjections. Abusive, nasty or libellous comments will be ruthlessly deleted. Hey, it's my blog and I get to be as arbitrary as I want!