Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Panel of Reference & Fort Worth

Background Information

As Episcopal News Service reports, the Diocese of Fort Worth has long been at odds with the Episcopal Church and was the first of seven dioceses to ask for a relationship with an Anglican primate other than Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, who had been elected the day before Iker and the diocese made its request.

Some background on this matter seems warranted, as this issue is very much "back in the news" this week.

We have not posted about the Panel of Reference, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury following the February 2005 primates' meeting in Dromantine in the aftermath of the Windsor Report. The Panel of Reference was charged to consider and report on situations where there is serious dispute involving "parishes which find it impossible in all conscience to accept the direct ministry of their own diocesan bishop or for dioceses in dispute with their provincial authorities." [The complete mandate of the POR is published here, and members of the POR are listed here.]

During the General Convention in Columbus, the day after Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the diocese of Fort Worth lodged an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was forwarded to the Panel of Reference. A June 19, 2006, report from ENS reported on the events of the day:

Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth read a short statement on the floor of the House of Bishops, saying the election of Jefferts Schori prompted him to fax a letter to [Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan] Williams, requesting that the Fort Worth diocese be placed under the oversight of another Anglican leader.

At about the same time, a member of the Forth Worth deputation was recognized at the beginning of the June 19 session of the House of Deputies and she read the following statement:

"The bishop and the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth appeal in good faith to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates of the Anglican Communion and the Panel of Reference for immediate alternative primatial oversight and pastoral care following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. This action is taken as a cooperative member of the Anglican Communion Network in light of the Windsor Report and its recommendations."

Fort Worth's appeal stated that the diocese and its bishop, Jack Iker, "are concerned that the action of the General Convention of ECUSA in passing Canons which makes women's ordination mandatory makes it impossible for the Diocese at some future date to receive confirmation of the election as their bishop of a man who disapproves of the ordination of women to the presbyterate [sic] and/or episcopate." The diocese had put in place a procedure known as the Dallas Plan to provide women access to the ordination process and to provide for parishes that want to call a woman priest.

Considerably more information about the "Dallas Plan" and the Episcopal Church canons and resolutions (dating back to 1997) regarding the ordination of women is available in this story from ENS. The story notes that, after the 1997 General Convention, Iker instituted the plan under which any woman seeking ordination would (after review in Fort Worth) be sent to the Bishop of Dallas; likewise, the Bishop of Dallas would serve as the alternative ecclesiastical authority for any parish wishing to engage the services of a woman as its parish priest.

Archbishop Williams sent the Fort Worth appeal to the Panel of Reference. On January 8, the panel's report was posted on the Anglican Communion Office's website.

The panel's recommendations are that

1. use of the Dallas Plan continue;

2. "it be made clear that it is legitimate for a diocese to ask of candidates for election as bishop that they abide by the particular policy of the diocese in relation to the ministry of women, and that theological views on the ordination or consecration of women should not be a ground on which consent might be withheld by the Province/House of Bishops;"

3. "the Archbishop of Canterbury should discuss with the Presiding Bishop the possibility of the clarification of the ambiguous wording of the 1997 amendment to the relevant canon so as to ensure that the permissive nature of the ordination of women is maintained in any diocese" while underscoring the "apparent intention of the amendment to defend the interests of women candidates for postulancy, candidacy and ordination in a diocese that does not ordain women;" and

4. "the Archbishop of Canterbury continue discussions with the Diocese of Fort Worth and with the Episcopal Church with the aim of securing the place of Fort Worth in the Communion."

This story from Episcopal News Service provides useful background and summarizes the report of the Panel of Reference. It includes the following:

The Anglican Communion's Panel of Reference has recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury discuss with the Presiding Bishop the possibility of clarifying what it called the ambiguous wording of a 1997 amendment to the Episcopal Church's ordination canon "so as to ensure that the permissive nature of the ordination of women is maintained in any diocese."

"At the same time the apparent intention of the amendment to defend the interests of women candidates for postulancy, candidacy and ordination in a diocese that does not ordain women would be underscored," the panel's recommendation said.

The Panel of Reference report seems to assume that the "Dallas Plan" is working and supports its continuation. Many commentators within the Episcopal Church have challenged that conclusion and have noted the extraordinary suggestion that an outside jurisdiction should guide the canons of the Episcopal Church. Certainly, the Episcopal Church has never suggested it should influence the constitutions or canons of any other Anglican province.

As always, Thinking Anglicans is gathering news from a wide variety of sources. Click on this page to get news about the Panel of Reference report, and click back to Thinking Anglicans regularly to stay abreast of all the significant news in the Anglican Communion.

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