13 March 2011

Primates Committed

The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. There is much to celebrate in that letter. But he has also mentioned a few curious things in commenting on the recent Primates’ Meeting and the proposed Anglican Covenant.

First, the Archbishop noted that the various Primates have “different legal and canonical roles.” That is, “some have a good deal of individual authority; others have their powers very closely limited by their own canons.” And so, “it would therefore be difficult if the Meeting collectively gave powers to Primates that were greater than their own canons allowed them individually, as was noted at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.”

This is interesting in light of the statement that the Primates who met at Dublin are “committed to the Covenant process.”

So, what exactly does the Archbishop mean by “committed to the Covenant Process”? Does he mean that the Primates are committed to a thorough study of the proposed Covenant and an eventual vote, based on informed opinion, as to whether to adopt the Covenant or otherwise? Or does he mean to imply that the Primates are committed to trying to ensure that the Covenant is adopted by their Churches?

Given that at least some Primates are constrained by the canons that govern them, the latter seems impossible unless the canons in question allow such a position. But otherwise the statement seems rather optimistic.

Interestingly, the Archbishop also indicated that “the unanimous judgment of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a ‘supreme court’, with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust.”

Of course, the Archbishop himself knows that the proposed Covenant, the process of which (whatever that means) is committed to by the Primates, will in fact turn the Meeting into a kind of “supreme court” with “canonical powers”.

Which raises the question: to what, exactly, are the Primates committed?

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