Primates Meeting - Press briefing on 16 Feb 2007

Accompanied by the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, Primate of the West Indies.

Archbishop Aspinall
It’s good to be with you again to give you a brief update on today’s proceedings; as I anticipated with you last evening, we spent the morning today considering further the Primates’ responses to The Episcopal Church’s reactions to the Windsor Report and the Dromantine requests from the Primate.

Unfortunately I’m not in a position to tell you much about that because it hasn’t reached definite conclusions yet; certainly we moved from the intense listening mode I described on the first day into much more of a discussion, exchange of views, debate, so there was free and frank exchange of views and certainly some areas of concern and tension. It would be wrong to give an impression that it’s all sooth sailing; there are real tensions for us still to work through and hopefully there’ll be more to report on that tomorrow, as those discussions mature.

We then moved on; the second major thing we tackled today was to receive the report from the Covenant Design Group, and Archbishop Drexel is the chair of that group and has been intimately associated with its work, so he may wish to speak and you may wish to ask Archbishop Drexel some questions about the work of the covenant design group.

Let me say that Joint Standing Committee considered the report of the Covenant Design Group earlier in the week and the Joint Standing Committee resolved in these terms:

  ‘The Joint Standing Committee informs the Primates meeting that it wishes to commend the work of the Covenant Design Group for further study and reflection in the Anglican Communion.’

So the Primates today received with deep thanks the report from the Covenant Design Group which includes a draft covenant. Discussion, comment, suggestions for clarifying and improving the text have been made both by the Joint Standing Committee and by the Primates themselves; the Primates have requested the archbishop of Canterbury to prepare on behalf of the Primates a letter commending the report and the draft covenant to the provinces for study and response. The Primates noted an urgent need to translate the report and the covenant into a number of together languages so that it can be considered by the whole Communion and that needs to happen as a matter of urgency.

The kind of time-line we’re looking at: the covenant design group is hoping for initial responses from around the Communion over the next twelve months, with a view to a revised version of the covenant going to the Lambeth Conference in 2008. It’s anticipated that the Lambeth Conference itself will revise the covenant further and that that further revision will then be submitted to the churches of the Communion for final adoption or ratification following the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

The Primates also considered with some care the public release of the report and the draft covenant and the decision they came to was that they believe they have an obligation to share the document with the bishops of the Communion prior to its public release and arrangements are being made for that to happen electronically over the next couple of days, so the hope is that when we provide you with the communiqué on Monday, we will also provide you with the covenant design group’s report and the draft covenant. You may wish to pursue that further with me and with Archbishop Drexel in a few minutes.

The third major task we tackled today was to consider the report from the Panel of reference; and we had Archbishop Peter Carnley with us, the former Primate of Australia and Chair of the Panel of Reference; a number of difficulties in the operation of the Panel were pointed out to the Primates and chief among them are these three.

First, the sheer effort that is required to establish the facts in a case when large volumes of written material are produced by all sorts of people involved in a particular matter. Second, sometimes there are constraints around the Panel of reference’s work caused by the fact that legal actions are underway which impinge on the Panel’s work and the cases it’s considering; and third, just the purely human problems of getting timely responses from a large number of people who are distant from each other.

So we had an account of those difficulties that the Panel has experienced; the very blunt question was asked among the Primates about whether the outcomes achieved are proportionate to the work carried out by the Panel; that question was faced squarely and while there’s no definitive answer reached yet, it was pointed out by a number of participants in the discussion that there really has to be a will for reconciliation in these circumstances in order for the work of the Panel to be effective. We also considered how the Church should respond if at all to public criticism of reports issued by the Panel; such reports not always being factually correct; those reports can tend to undermine confidence in the Panel. Again those questions require further reflection and the Archbishop of Canterbury will take them up with members of the Panel themselves and with other advisers.

The final thing today we dealt with, which we’ve just come from, was a session dealing with the listening process, Canon Phil Groves joined the Primates to describe the work he’s been doing since his appointment following Dromantine; he’s been making contacts around the Communion and compiling reports of what different churches around the Communion are doing in relation to listening to gay and lesbian people and he’s also done some theoretical work research on listening processes.

He reported to the Primates that there’s an increasing awareness among the churches of the Communion of gay and lesbian people and the issues they face; he emphasised that, for the listening process to be effective, there needs to be established safe ground for homosexual people in order for them to feel safe and to share their experience with the church; and that in some of the listening processes that have been attempted, it has not been always possible to establish such safe ground so that homosexual people feel safe sharing their experiences.

Canon Groves outlined preliminary proposals for the kind of approach being considered for the Lambeth Conference; he is working on developing high quality materials which will deal with the experience of homosexual people; what science can tell us about homosexuality, the legal and cultural contexts around the Communion, reflection on bible and tradition in those specific contexts as well as training materials to develop skills in listening and facilitating listening.

So that’s very much a progress report to update Primates on where that listening process is up to. So they’re the matters that have taken our time and attention today.

Archbishop Drexel, do you wish to say anything in a preliminary way about the covenant and the design group’s work?

Archbishop Drexel

Good evening; I was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to serve as Chairman of the Covenant Design Group and we had our first meeting in Nassau early in January and as a result of that meeting we were able to prepare a report and to produce a draft covenant for the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The overall purpose of the covenant – the draft covenant is to provide the Anglican Communion with a mechanism for mutual accountability and holding one another together. We believe that when the covenant is finally approved we will have a means of holding each other in check and also dealing with difficult situations that may arise from time to time. Unfortunately the Anglican Communion has no central legal authority and we have really no means of holding one another in check other than through mutual admonition and meeting and talking, so we’re trying to make some progress as a global community to establish this mutual accountability and the building up of one another in Christ.

It’s not possible for me to discuss the details of what we’ve proposed until Monday evening when it is publicly released, but what I can say is that we have produced what we consider to be a statement of classical Anglicanism, given our history, and our background we are producing something that has merit and power for the Anglican Community. It is not one size fits all’, so it wouldn’t apply to all Christian denominations, it is designed specifically to deal with the Anglican Communion in the sets of circumstances that prevail in our church.

We believe that we have been faithful to our tradition and that we have produced a very comprehensive report. I think that both groups that have discussed the report – both the Joint Standing Committee and the Primates themselves – both groups were surprised at the progress that we were able to make; that in a relatively short period –we met for four days – and in that short period of time we were able to produced a full report and to produce a full draft, and so both groups expressed appreciation for the work and gave us reason to believe that in the final analysis the overall recommendations will be well-received. I think more than that I can’t say.