The Covenant pages -
The Covenant text repeatedly denies any subordination of provincial autonomy to a
central authority: 'Such mutual commitment does not represent submission
to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction' (§4.1.3). Nevertheless critics argue
that it does indeed centralise authority and power.
Section 4 and relational consequences
Because the text denies any centralisation of power it does not propose
to intervene in the internal affairs of provinces. The 'relational consequences'
the Standing Committee would recommend would only consist of excluding
provinces from some or all of the Communion's international structures.
This may seem unimportant. However the fundamental aim of
the Covenant, according to its supporters, is that it will provide a means to
resolve conflict. When we ask by what methods
it will achieve this aim, it turns out that, apart from making one last attempt
to negotiate a settlement, its only method is this threat to exclude.
Exclusion would create a two-tier Communion. Provinces
which sign the Covenant and accept Standing Committee recommendations will be
eligible for membership of international structures. Provinces which sign but
dissent from a recommendation may not be eligible. The situation regarding
provinces which decline to sign is not discussed in the text. Currently most
Covenant supporters say they are still hoping all provinces will sign, though
comments that 'Although not signing does not mean automatic exclusion there may develop
some institutional expression of two levels of commitment to life in communion.'
This seems most likely; in effect non-signatories would be treated much the
same as dissenting signatories. (Otherwise the central authorities would have
to include non-signatories while at the same time excluding signatories who
dissent from a recommendation.)
This creation of a two-tier Communion is a feature recognised by the Covenant's supporters, such as the
Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as its opponents. Some supporters welcome it
as a way to draw a clear line between the North American provinces and others. Others believe there is a
strong chance that all provinces will sign the Covenant and accept Standing
Committee recommendations, in which case there would be no 'second tier'
churches. Nevertheless, even if this were the outcome, it is clear that power would
have shifted; the provinces would retain control over their internal affairs,
but a central authority would have new powers to promote obedient provinces and
demote dissenting ones.
Sections 1-3 and the nature of Anglicanism
Although the Covenant text denies any subordination of provincial autonomy, it contains
texts which suggest otherwise. §4.1.2 states that
In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in
the preceding sections [Sections 1-3] a statement of faith, mission and
interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the
doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It
recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican
Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches.
Thus Sections 1-3 would become 'foundational for the life
of the Anglican Communion.' The Communion has never before had any such
foundational document. By assenting to this statement, churches would in effect
be affirming that Anglicanism is what the Covenant says it is.
This is not how most current proponents of the Covenant
intend it to be interpreted. However, if the Covenant comes into force their
intentions will no longer be relevant. What will count will be how the text is
interpreted by those who make use of its provisions, and if conflicting
interpretations lead to litigation (as seems almost certain), the authoritative
interpretations will be established by courts, not by the Covenant's current proponents.
Precedents abound. Especially in the USA, campaigners have
been encouraging parishes to declare that they cannot in all conscience accept
the ministry of their bishop, simply because of the bishops's tolerant views on
same-sex partnerships. There is little reason to suppose that such campaigns
would fail to use the new powers the Covenant would give them. Furthermore
§3.2.5 would give them the benefit
of the doubt by putting the onus on churches 'to act with diligence, care and
caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its
intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion'. This
clause puts the onus on churches to avoid doing anything to which the litigious
might object. Even the fear of Standing Committee recommendations, let alone
their imposition, would curtail freedom of action.
Although the Covenant's main concern is with churches at a
provincial level, it would inevitably affect churches at a more local level
too. Once the Standing Committee has decreed that a particular action is
'incompatible with the Covenant' it will not be sufficient for a province to
abstain from it. If a diocese or parish performs the forbidden act the
leadership of the province will inevitably get sucked into the debate.
Provinces will therefore find themselves obliged to monitor the activities of
its dioceses and parishes more closely, and warn against potentially
controversial actions. Inevitably decision-making will accrue to the centre.
The Covenant pages -