NEWS STORY: Carey: Bishops’ Ordinations Were Illegal

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

LONDON _ Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, spiritual leader of the world’s 70 million Anglicans, said Thursday (Feb. 17) the irregular ordinations of two Episcopal Church priests in a ceremony last month in Singapore were illegal under church practice and tradition.

In a letter to the primates _ top leaders _ of the Anglican Communion, Carey said while he recognized the two priests as “faithful and committed ministers of the gospel, I have to conclude that I cannot recognize their episcopal ministry until such time as a full rapprochement and reconciliation has taken place between them and the appropriate authorities within the Episcopal Church of the United States.”

The two priests, the Rev. Charles Murphy and the Rev. John Rodgers, were consecrated as bishops in a secret ceremony on Jan. 29 by Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, and Bishop John Rucyahana of Shyira, Rwanda.

Murphy is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawley’s Island, S.C., and Rodgers is dean emeritus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa.

Their consecrations represented the latest move by conservatives to resist developments in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, especially in what they see as the growing toleration of active homosexuals in the ministry.

U.S. church officials, who were both surprised and angered by the January action of Tay and the Rwandan bishops, said they had not seen Carey’s letter and had no immediate comment.

The issue of the irregular ordinations, as well as the ongoing topic of homosexuality and the church, is expected to be high on the agenda of the March 22-29 meeting of Anglican primates _ senior leaders of global regions _ in Portugal.

Tay and Kolini had told Carey they thought their move was “an interim action to provide pastoral assistance and nurture to faithful individuals and congregations” and was not aimed at establishing a “new entity” such as a non-geographical diocese for conservatives in the U.S. church.

But Carey said the consecrations did not accord with the church’s tradition and the principle of the territorial integrity of bishops’ dioceses, a principle that reaches back at least to the fourth century Council of Nicaea.

Respect for diocesan boundaries was reaffirmed by the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998.

In rejecting the consecrations, Carey also said the ordinations were not done in accord with the church constitutions of either the province of Southeast Asia or Rwanda.

“In addition,” Carey wrote the primates, “Anglican polity requires that ordained ministers should be properly authorized to pursue their ministry in the province within which they wish to work and according to the canon law of that province.

“It appears that this is not the intention in this case, and it is doubtful in the present circumstances whether such authorization would be forthcoming.”

Carey said while he did not question the motives of those involved, who said they were acting to guard the church’s faith, nor their perception that the situation in the United States was “serious enough to justify” the action, nevertheless, an understanding of episcopal ministry that apparently let them act unilaterally, without consultation and in secret was “quite foreign to the Anglican tradition.”

He said it is difficult to see how the consecrations could be reconciled with the Anglican understanding of the collegial nature of episcopal ministry, expressed in the Lambeth Conferences held every 10 years.

Carey also sought to reassure conservatives who are “deeply concerned” at the direction in which some parts of the Anglican Communion are moving with regard to homosexuality.

“I understand your fears, your worries and your frustrations,” he wrote, adding: “The (1998) Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality (which rejected homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture while assuring homosexuals they were full members of the church) provided a text around which the vast majority of bishops could unite.”

At the same time, he said, there are in many parts of the Communion “faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves … seeking to engage the church in a challenging reassessment of its teachings on human sexuality, because they have felt excluded from the church for many years.”

He said the “precipitate action” in Singapore has made such dialogue more difficult.


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