Traditional Anglican Communion
Office of the Primate – Archbishop John Hepworth
28th September 2010
Cc: Archbishop Falk, Lay Canon Woodman, TAC COB.
I write in reference to the letters that you have published recently concerning the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and its implications. I am also conscious of the various statements that you have published on Diocesan Websites and elsewhere on the same matter.
Since you have published your comments prior to any discussion in College, I am making my response also public.
I have discussed with Archbishop Falk the possibility of action being taken concerning your published statements on unity and your actions in seeking what one of you has described as a “merger” with another Continuing Church in the United States, the Anglican Province of America. I am aware that Bishop Grundorf has publically rejected the Apostolic Constitution, as has Archbishop Haverland.
The power to intervene in disciplinary matters concerning members of the College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion is enunciated in section 6.3 of the Concordat, which each of us is sworn to uphold in the Consecration Oath made by bishops-elect. It specifically enables the College to deal with “any credible allegation of dereliction of consecration vows in the life or teaching of one of its members”.
When William Cardinal Levada wrote to each of us last December stating that the Apostolic Constitution was “the definitive response of the Holy See…to your original request”. The Cardinal went on to note “I am only too aware of the delicate process of discernment that will no doubt be embarked upon by many of our Anglican brothers and sisters, and no less of the many practical issues that will need to be faced”.
The College of Bishops has been committed to seeking unity with the Holy See since the inception of the Traditional Anglican Communion. I accompanied my predecessor, Archbishop Falk, in conversations in the Vatican a short time after the TAC was promulgated. I have been at every meeting of the College, and at every meeting the policy of seeking full, corporate reunion with the Catholic Church has been reinforced. Details of these decisions have been regularly highlighted in the publications of the TAC. I say this because you are the three most recently consecrated bishops of the TAC.
At the Portsmouth meeting of the College in 2007, this policy took a more concrete form in two ways. A formal petition seeking unity in clear terms was unanimously approved, and after several days in which concerns could be raised (but none were) was signed by each bishop on the altar in the midst of the Holy Sacrifice and committed to me and two of our fellow bishops for conveyance to Rome. Secondly, exercising the powers noted in the Concordat that ”the final authority to determine questions of Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order (which authority resides by virtue of the nature of the episcopal office in the College of Bishops)…” the College with equal unanimity stated that “We accept that the most complete and authentic expression and application of the catholic faith in this moment of time is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, which we have signed together with this Letter as attesting to the faith we aspire to teach and hold.” These two matters are binding on members of the College.
The Petition of the TAC also makes a very clear statement about the nature of the Church, which each of you have contradicted in your public statements this year: “We accept that the Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists most perfectly in the churches in communion with the See of Peter, to whom (after the repeated protestation of his love for Jesus) and to whose successors, our Divine Master gave the duty of feeding the lambs and the sheep of his flock.”
With even more significance to your published statements, the Petition also makes very clear the faith of the bishops of the TAC concerning the source of authority in the Church: “We accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which is a ministry of teaching and discerning the faith and a “perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity” and understand this ministry is essential to the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We accept that this ministry, in the words of the late John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, is to “ensure the unity of all the Churches”.
Whatever the doubts and difficulties of a bishop, he is bound to teach the faith received from the Apostles and proclaimed by the Church in every age. It is to the Church that a bishop looks for the source of his teaching, not to his own doubts and fears.
In the three years since the submission of our petition, most of us have made sure that our clergy and people have become familiar with the Catechism. It has been a careful process of teaching and leadership. In the TAC, as in the Catholic Church and the Churches of Holy Orthodoxy, truth is not reached by democratic means. It is not reached by the recreation of some golden moment of history. Our Petition also states that: “We understand that, as bishops separated from communion with the Bishop of Rome, we are among those for whom Jesus prayed before his death “that they may be completely one”, and that we teach and define matters of faith and morals in a way that is, while still under the influence of Divine Grace, of necessity more tenuously connected to the teaching voice of catholic bishops throughout the world.”
Very clearly, you have renounced this understanding of your fellow bishops, and no longer teach with the same voice as them. Equally clearly, you have not taught and led the people committed to your care with that one voice of a united College. Each of us has started from the same position as that which you have confronted. Tragically, I am forced to the conclusion that some have led their people, others have followed them.
May I make some observations about the way forward?
Communion with any other ecclesial body requires the consent of the College of Bishops. Any act of Communion without the consent of the College betrays the College and puts its own unity at peril.
There is no urgent pressure on individuals to join an Ordinariate. Individual discernment and a response in conscience undergird the corporate reunion that is at the heart of Anglicanorum Coetibus. There is no such luxury permitted to bishops, who have the sacred obligation by virtue of their office itself to teach in such a way that clergy and people form a true conscience. A bishop who cannot teach what the College has defined (and what is the universal teaching of the East and the West) has only one option, and that is to stand aside until he can teach in accord with the Church.
The Traditional Anglican Communion is not a Protestant ecclesial body. In a television interview in Canada several years ago, I said that the most difficult thing that each of us would face in the pathway to unity would be shedding ourselves of the question “What do I think?” and instead asking, “What does the Church teach?” We are not a body that allows each member to approach the Scripture alone and discern a private truth. We understand that the Church is a Divine Gift in which God is present to His People – Teaching, Sanctifying and Creating. We partake of Divine Truth – we do not create it.
As you meet with the other American bishops this week, you must know that you have the prayers and the hopes of your Communion around the world bestowed upon you. You carry the dreams and the destiny of Anglican and Catholic people.
Anglicanorum Coetibus is the first mutual attempt to heal the unity fractured between Rome and Canterbury over four centuries ago. You also bear the burden of history.
With my blessing,
John Hepworth, Primate
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