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Episcopal: New archbishop of Canterbury has rough ride on road to enthronement
Sun, 15 Dec 2002 14:33:12 -0500
December 13, 2002
Episcopal: New archbishop of Canterbury has rough ride on
road to enthronement
by James Solheim
(ENS) Although it is highly unlikely that the new archbishop of
Canterbury will be martyred, like some of his more famous
predecessors, the road to the office as head of the Church of
England and the worldwide Anglican Communion has been filled
with some pernicious potholes for Rowan
When Williams was formally and legally confirmed
December 2 in London's St. Paul's Cathedral as the 104th
archbishop of Canterbury in an ancient ceremony that had aspects
of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, he was granted the "rights,
dignities, honours, privileges and appurtenances" of the post.
Beginning with the announcement
of his appointment last July, the former archbishop of the
Church in Wales has also been subjected to more than his share
of indignities and even organized efforts to convince him to
resign--a stream of nasty criticism that is likely to continue
right up to his enthronement February 27 in Canterbury
"I pray for God's guidance as I seek to meet this new
challenge--a challenge I face with a sense of inadequacy but
also with hope, with joy and with enthusiasm," he said following
the London ceremony.
The bishops of the Church in Wales sent a message
thanking God for his life and ministry and assuring him that
his qualities of "spirituality, integrity, leadership,
scholarship and humility" would enhance his leadership and serve
as a gift to the whole Anglican Communion.
There is almost universal agreement on the strong qualifications
Williams brings to the challenges he faces--an unusual
combination of humility and intellect, a person who listens
carefully to the opinions of others but is also able to put
forward strong and often convincing arguments of his own. Some
have called him the best theologian in Britain. "More than that,
he has a personal warmth that enables him to deal easily with
people of all backgrounds," said Paul
Vallely, writing in the Independent.
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold greeted
the appointment. "The combination of a keen mind and a
contemplative heart, together with an ability to relate
classical Christian tradition to the needs and struggles of our
world, make him eminently qualified to take up this important
and challenging ministry of service."
Sexuality is the issue?
The conservative evangelical group Reform, however, said that
Williams should resign unless he can affirm "the received
teaching of the church that all its members are to abstain from
sexual relations outside holy matrimony" and "the need for
appropriate discipline" for those who disobey--especially those
seeking ordination. Williams has acknowledged that he ordained
to the priesthood an openly gay man he knew was living in a
relationship. He has also questioned whether celibacy should be
an absolute requirement for gay and lesbian candidates. At the
same time, he wrote to Reform and said that "sexual morality
should not be a defining issue."
He wants the Church of England to take another look at "Issues
in Human Sexuality," the document passed by the church's
House of Bishops that bars non-celibate homosexuals from the
In a letter to the primates of the 38 churches of the
worldwide Anglican Communion shortly after the appointment was
announced, Williams sought to reassure them that he recognized
the resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the majority
view and would not promote his personal views. Yet he pointed
out that the Lambeth resolution also called on the church to
listen to the experience of gays and lesbians.
In a wide-ranging interview with Colin Blakely of the Church
of England Newspaper, Williams said that he was
"saddened that before we had any real conversation face-to-face
certain decisions seem to have been made about what I thought.I
would have liked the opportunity to establish some relationships
before the positions were hardened."
He also said
that the controversies swirling around his appointment
weren't doing the church much good. "For while the people who
have written to me are acting out of a real concern of what is
best for the church and the integrity and orthodoxy of the
church, that is not always the message that comes through."
He also met
with a group of primates and bishops the day after the St.
Paul's ceremony in an effort to clarify his views on sexuality.
While there were reports that the group, a new umbrella
organization called the All
Souls Group, was reassured, they have also signed a
statement that says they "cannot accept the prevailing
individual moral autonomy where every self expression is equally
acceptable and valid, and which often positions itself as self
evident and above challenge or testing."
Members of the group that includes representatives of Reform,
the Church Society and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies,
some of whom have in the past attacked Williams as "a false
teacher." Some evangelical bishops refused to sign because they
perceived the statement as a thinly disguised slam at Williams.
"To call a statement about sex 'Leadership in Society' shows an
obsession with the issue," said Bishop Pete Broadbent of
Willesden. "What about justice and other world issues?"
No honeymoon period
Paul Handley noted in an article
for the Independent days before the ceremony at St.
Paul's, "Because he was always the favoured candidate, and the
appointment process was so leaky, his honeymoon period happened
before the marriage."
There has been considerable speculation about the role
Williams will play on the national scene, especially in light of
his willingness to take stands on public issues. He signed a
statement sent to Downing Street, for example, that said, "It is
deplorable that the world's most powerful nations continue to
regard war and the threat of war as an acceptable instrument of
foreign policy, in violation of the ethos of both the United
Nations and the Christian moral teaching."
Some in the notoriously prickly British press openly welcomed
the archbishop's voice in the public debate. "Guiding the Church
of England into the 21st century will be a demanding task in
itself, but there is a much wider role for a new archbishop who
is bold enough to take it," said an editorial in The Independent
on the eve of the St. Paul's ceremony. It concluded that
"Williams could become an important and distinctive voice in a
troubled country where the range of views, tensions and
conflicts are rarely echoed on the national political stage. His
appointment could not be better timed."
Despite his comments questioning the government's support for
an American offensive against Iraq, Downing Street commented
immediately after the appointment that the prime minister
believed that the new archbishop's wisdom, intellectual stature
and deep spirituality would be invaluable as he sought to lead
the church through complex and challenging times.
A disestablished church?
Williams comes from a church in Wales that was disestablished
in 1920 and he has sent clear signals that he is ready to
reexamine the relationship between the church and state and
consider the possibility of a different shape for a national
church. "The notion of the monarch as supreme governor has
outlived its usefulness," he has said. Yet he recognizes that
any move to disestablish the Church of England will be a long
and delicate one, not sudden but done "by a thousand cuts."
The intense scrutiny is likely to continue and perhaps
intensify. Despite the sniping by those who are disappointed
with his appointment, Williams made it very clear how he views
his role. In his first comments after the announcement, he said
that "the primary job for me remains what it has long been: I
have to go on being a priest and bishop, that is, to celebrate
God and what God has done in Jesus--and to offer in God's name
whatever I can discern of God's perspective on the world around,
something which involves both challenge and comfort."
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.
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