Anglican Perspectives

What was Justin Welby thinking?

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (TEC), will receive an honorary degree from Oxford University. The award — announced last week (Feb. 6) — will be presented on June 25 in the presence of some of the world’s top scholars and fellow religious leaders.


“This award, richly deserved, affirms Bishop Katharine’s remarkable gifts of intellect and compassion, which she has dedicated to the service of Christ,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.


Institutions like Oxford are certainly free to honor anyone whom they wish.  I have no argument with that.


But how can the Archbishop of Canterbury offer such fulsome praise for Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts Schori who, in defiance of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998), has accelerated the unilateral innovations of same-sex blessings and consecrations of same-sex partnered clergy as bishops that have brought terrible division to the Anglican Communion?  How can Justin Welby say with any ecclesial integrity that she has “remarkable gifts of intellect dedicated to the service of Christ”  when the unilateral innovations she has championed have destroyed that deeper spiritual unity in Christ for which Anglicans pray—that spiritual unity which is the highest good of the Anglican Communion and the very basis for its mission?


How can Justin Welby ascribe “remarkable intellectual gifts dedicated to the service of Christ” to a leader who has been challenged time and again over the last ten years by the Windsor Process itself, who has ignored the moratoria begged of her and TEC, and whose acceleration of those innovations was the very cause for the response of the Anglican Churches in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere in the majority Global South which offered pastoral care and covering to those Episcopalians, now Anglicans, who would not submit to her innovations as a matter of conscience and fidelity to Biblical teaching and Lambeth Resolution 1.10?


Is such conduct really an expression of remarkable intellect in the service of Christ?


What possessed Justin Welby to say that Jefferts Schori “richly deserves” an honorary award for her “remarkable gift of compassion which she has dedicated to the service of Christ,” in the face of the following facts:


  • On February 17, 2011, The American Anglican Council published a documented report of how Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC had violated the very text of its canons, due process and natural justice to inhibit and depose (at that time) 12 bishops and 404 deacons and priests.  Since then, the estimate of total inhibitions and depositions of bishops, priests and deacons has risen to 700.  This represents the largest exercise of penal discipline by any Presiding Bishop in the history of the TEC—and perhaps in the history of any Church in the Anglican Communion.
  • In one notable case, Bishop Jefferts Schori deposed Bishop Henry Scriven of the Church of England!  In another notable case, her “compassion” led her to inhibit retired Bishop Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy) on April 2, 2008.  On April 4, his son died, leaving the grieving father and bishop unable to conduct his son’s funeral rites.
  • Through her Chancellor, Bishop Jefferts Schori authorized and continues to authorize litigation against volunteer vestry (parish council) members and other volunteer leaders in church property cases. Although volunteers do not hold title to the property of the departing congregations, we documented at least 48 instances (as of the date of our report) where such volunteer vestry members have been sued by TEC or the diocese—in some cases, seeking the personal assets of these volunteers for monetary punitive damages in excess of the value of the property at issue. Such claims represent a position by Episcopal bishops and attorneys that a volunteer vestry member‘s vote to leave TEC is oppressive and malicious illegal behavior that justifies the forfeiture of a volunteer‘s personal assets. In addition to suffering the intentional infliction of emotional distress at the possibility of losing their personal assets, volunteer vestry members and other leaders have suffered damages by the mere filing of such claims including difficulty in refinancing their homes, difficulty in obtaining security clearances for new jobs, and prejudice to their credit reports.
  • When “Christian compassion” might have moved Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC to accept the Primates call for a moratorium on litigation at their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose instead to accelerate the litigation.  In 2009 when TEC cut staff and program by 30%, it increased the line items in the budget for litigation. We documented at least 56 complaints filed by TEC and its Dioceses against individual churches, clergy and volunteer vestry members.  Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori led a delegation of bishops to Lambeth 2008 who demonstrated reckless indifference to the truth by telling other Anglican bishops in their “indaba groups” that TEC was being sued by local churches—when precisely the opposite was true. The Episcopal Church has continued to stonewall every request for an accounting of the funds it has expended on such litigation, and conservative estimates based on public records indicate that the cost is already in excess of $30 million.


Really-Is this “compassion dedicated to the service of Christ?”


Is it possible that the Archbishop of Canterbury is unaware of these facts? I think not; these facts have been available to him for quite some time. We have reason to believe that others have shared these facts with him directly and personally. As a leader committed to reconciliation, he must know that it is essential to know the facts on all sides of any dispute.


Some have suggested that The Archbishop of Canterbury did not write this nor did he see it.  Yet it has been reported that a spokesman from Lambeth Palace confirmed that “the press release was issued with the full knowledge and endorsement of the Archbishop.”  If true, this is devastating news for those who believe that Justin Welby could never ignore the facts along with the not-so-gentle rebuke he received last week from the Primates of Uganda and Kenya in response to the letter he and the Archbishop of York sent out about “homophobia.”


If it is true that Justin Welby fully endorsed this press release, as politically incompetent, offensive and insensitive to the facts as his congratulations may seem, then it appears that our only option is to believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury deliberately made the decision to congratulate Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori as he did.  It will appear to many Anglicans who have been distressed by Bishop Schori’s leadership and the unilateral innovations she has championed that have deeply torn the fabric of the Communion that Justin Welby’s understanding of “gifts of Christian intellect and compassion” run in one direction only—in favor of those innovations.  Unless, of course, he chooses to retract and revise the statement.


But his silence is deafening.


Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.

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