Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Byzantine Interim Episcopal Oversight?

Byzantine: excessively complicated, typically involving a great deal of administrative detail.

On BBC Radio Jersey, The Archbishop of Canterbury, meantime, reiterated that the Bishop of Winchester, who he knows, was "a jolly good fellow", while the Dean of Jersey, who he didn't know, was "probably a very nice man". This will form the basis for the terms of reference for a new commission.

That is not exactly the case, but what has been going on has left most people in the dark. Here is the press release from the Archbishop of Canterbury, under the heading "Channel Island Deaneries: Interim Episcopal Oversight":

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Winchester, the Bishop of Dover and each of the Deans of Jersey and Guernsey have today signed an agreement to give effect to the interim oversight arrangements announced in January."

The Archbishop said: "I am delighted that we have found a way forward which engages the full support of everyone concerned, and which will enable the ministry and mission of the Church of England to flourish in the Channel Islands while acknowledging their distinct history.

"It is an important part of the agreement that I am to appoint a Commission to enquire and report to me in detail on the long and complex history of the Islands' relationship to the Church on the mainland, and I look forward to doing so from the secure understanding we have now reached."

But the detailed wording of the agreement, it seems, is not available to the general public, even to churchgoers in the Channel Islands. We do not know precisely what was signed, and if past precedent is anything to go by, we probably will not. This is strange, because I have been told that any agreements would need to be ratified in Jersey's Ecclesiastical Court, which should be open to the public - apparently not!

As Bob Hill remarks on his blog: "We heard that it was a result of discussions between the Bishop and Archbishop but we heard nothing of any consultation with the rank and file members of the Islands' congregation."

The reports also commissioned by Bishop Gladwin and by Dame Heather Steel have not yet been published either. The Church hierarchy seems to be adopting the classic civil service devices of "Yes Minister" of commissioning reports only to bury them later.

It is hardly a model of being open and honest with people. 

And the Canterbury Times has this to say:

"This new announcement will effectively mean each parish in the islands will pay their shares to Canterbury, which will use them to fund the islands' clergy, training, general upkeep, and other costs. A spokesperson for the Diocese said "This will not change how the money is used."

"The Canterbury diocese, a collection of churches overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently has just over 260 parishes, and around 16,000 people regularly attend church services there. The approximately 26 parishes in the islands will nominally remain within the Winchester diocese."

Now what precisely is the difference between Jersey being placed under the "oversight" of Canterbury but "nominally" remaining within Winchester?

My friend James, who is considerably more knowledgeable about these rather esoteric church matters, explained it to me as follows:

"It means exactly what it says. Transferring any area from one diocese to another is not a simple matter: it requires the approval of the full General Synod (and possibly Parliament at Westminster as well), and that is not a fast process (the abolition of three dioceses in Yorkshire and the creation of a single new diocese stretching from Sheffield to County Durham is in progress; it started in 2010-11 and although the Diocese now exists various other tasks will not be completed until 2016). "

"So in this case the Church has said that there has been no transfer, but that oversight has been transferred. Transferring oversight is much easier: there is a raft of legal precedent, mainly following on from the provisions made for flying bishops to act as pastors to those parishes who were not happy to have women in leadership. It does also mean that oversight can be returned to Winchester at a suitable point, and that we would have fair warning of any attempt to make a permanent change."

To explain what is meant by "oversight" then means understanding the model of "flying bishops". These are not bishops who travel a lot by air, but the situation arose from the introduction of women priests into the Church of England.

As Wikipedia explains:

"A Provincial Episcopal Visitor (PEV) (popularly known as a flying bishop) is a Church of England bishop assigned to minister to many of the clergy, laity and parishes who do not in conscience accept the ministry of women priests."

I would presume then that Gavin Ashenden, who is a Gouray, and who has stated that he does not accept the validity of the ordination of women priests, comes under Episcopal oversight of a flying Bishop rather than the Bishop of Winchester, who does. So while Gavin's Bishop was nominally the Bishop of Winchester, oversight (and who he would speak to) would be transferred a flying Bishop. He would still be within a diocese, but oversight might well come from a bishop outside that diocese.

That seems to be the situation here, although it is not about women priests but about other matters. It is not in fact breaking a long term relationship with Winchester since 11th March 1569, because that would require legal complexities which could not easily be resolved by four signatories on a piece of paper. It is only oversight that is transferred.

We can see this clearly if we look at the case of Gouray. There oversight is transferred to a flying bishop because of Dr Gavin Ashenden's views on women priests. But if he goes, and a new Vicar of Gouray is appointed who has no problems with accepting women priests, oversight will revert to the same basis as other Anglican churches.

That is, I think a good example, because despite the origins of the conflict arising from a failure of safeguarding, it has developed largely into clashes between personalities with the Church of England in Jersey and the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin. If Tim Dakin moved to another Diocese or retired, for example, oversight could return to Winchester. The "casus belli" would have gone.

Incidentally, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while being asked some questions about his endorsement of Bishop Tim Dakin, was not asked a question about the letter leaked from the Bishop to the Dean of Jersey:

"in any case in which you take the view that you are required by local law to disobey me, or defy my requests, you may not elect to follow the local law rather than fulfil your duty of obedience to me."

"Whatever the local law may seek to impose on you, you may not agree to follow it where my lawful requirements require you to do otherwise."

This - from a leaked letter, which hid the Bishop's instructions from the public - was not perhaps the actions of a man so "outstanding and wonderful" as the Archbishop made out!

And in the meantime, I look forward to the publication of this agreement, but without much hope.
See also what Bob Hill has to say at:

1 comment:

Mark Forskitt said...

My immediate thought on seeing that headline was what's it got to do with the Greek Orthodox church?