ACC adopts safe church guidelines, averts discord on sexuality

Anglican Consultative Council meets in Hong Kong for triennial meeting

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spins a ball for a ceremonial dragon during a cultural evening following the closing Eucharist of ACC-17 at St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong.


By Mark Brolly & ACNS

June 4 2019Sydney barrister Garth Blake, SC, has steered the 17th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) towards adoption of a Safe Church Charter and guidelines to prevent sexual abuse of children and young adults.

Mr Blake – who last year was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to the Anglican Church of Australia, particularly to child protection policy and professional standards, and who chairs the Anglican Communion’s Safe Church Commission – said the Council could not enforce the guidelines among the Communion’s 40 provinces, one of which is Australia, but he said the ACC “has a strong moral authority and I believe that with the adoption and support of the Consultative Council, and the reality of the problem, that there will be a strong motivation to implement the guidelines and come back and report how we’re going”.

But the triennial meeting in Hong Kong of the ACC – one of the four Instruments of Unity in the worldwide Communion, and the only one that includes clergy and lay representatives – threatened to end in discord over a motion on human sexuality proposed by a US bishop.

Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury intervened and apologised for the distress caused by his invitations to next year’s Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops – both to those opposed to his invitation to bishops in same-sex relationships and to those opposed by his non-invitation to same-sex spouses.

Melbourne’s Archbishop Philip Freier, the Anglican Primate of Australia, was one of five Australians at ACC-17, as the meeting in Hong Kong was known. The others were Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy of Perth, Archdeacon Arthur Copeman of Newcastle and Mr Blake.

The Revd Heidin Kunoo, Assistant Curate at Holy Trinity Bacchus Marsh, was a youth member.

Mr Blake told the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) that the problem of abuse was worldwide and had damaged the reputation of churches throughout the world.

“It’s a core Gospel value that our churches should be safe and we should ensure that every one of our churches, every one of our family of churches, is a safe place for everyone, but especially children, young people and vulnerable adults,” he said.

The Commission he chaired listened to victims and survivors as it prepared the charter and guidelines.

“It was very confronting hearing the stories of survivors,” Mr Blake said. “In one case, one young woman was rescued from abuse and her rescuer abused her again.

“We heard of the harm that it did and yet there was hope because there was some resilience. They were able to really transcend the experience and not to be a victim but to move on with life and be a survivor and working towards being healthy again.”

Mr Blake said the Commission was preparing resources to help provinces implement the guidelines.

“We’re all on a journey together on this issue of creating a safe church, some further along the way, some barely started, but it’s something we all need to do together.”

Archbishop Welby said member churches of the Communion learned not only from each other’s successes “but from each other’s failures and shames”.

“You cannot have a Church that ill-treats children and vulnerable adults and therefore that report is crucial,” he said. “Much more crucial is the very complicated process of implementing that on the ground.”

The threatened discord on the final full day of this meeting of the ACC, 4 May, was sparked by a draft resolution proposed by Bishop Ed Konieczny of Oklahoma. The motion sought to re-commit the Anglican Communion to the listening process called for in resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, on human sexuality. But its wording proved to be controversial. Some members described it as “ambiguous” and one said it would provide “fodder to GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference, which takes a traditional view on human sexuality)” and cause a “red signal” in some provinces.

The Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo, spoke about the impact of the resolution in his home country. “What happens here has effect there”, he said. “If we pass this, and we are taking it to my country, tomorrow the Church would be closed.”

Bishop Konieczny resisted attempts to alter the wording, expressing concern at the message that would be sent if the ACC rejected his proposal. “We respect you at a distance but you are not welcome,” he said was the message that people would receive.

The meeting paused for prayer before round-table discussions, then broke for an early extended tea-break, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Konieczny, Bishop Joel Waweru of Nairobi and others discussed the draft resolution.

About 45 minutes after the proceedings were suspended, ACC Vice-Chair, Canon Maggie Swinson, announced that the meeting was going into an informal session, at which point Archbishop Welby spoke and made his apology.

In it, he apologised for the distress caused by his invitations to the Lambeth Conference – both to those opposed to his invitation to bishops in same-sex relationships; and to those opposed by his non-invitation to same-sex spouses.

Archbishop Welby asked for an indicative show of hands to test support for an amended motion which, in part, expressed “our concern around invitations to the Lambeth Conference”, he explained.

“That concern comes in two directions. The first is that certain people were invited and the second is that certain people were not invited. And different people are very deeply concerned by both. And that is my fault and my responsibility...

“Where I handled it badly, which I am sure I did, for one group or another, I want to apologise to you because I have not helped the Communion ... I ask your forgiveness where I made mistakes.”

The indicative show of hands showed universal support for the amended motion. Once the meeting resumed in formal session, it passed with 83 votes in favour and none against. There were three abstentions.

The amendment was formally moved by the Bishop Waweru and was accepted by Bishop Konieczny, who told the meeting that “out of respect and love and affection for our Archbishop and out of love and affection for our member churches, and especially for my brothers in the Global South, and for the unity of the church,” he was “willing to accept this amendment from my brother, Joel”.

The amended resolution, as passed by the ACC, read:

The Anglican Consultative Council 

  • Notes with concern the pattern of invitations to the Lambeth Conference 2020 and requests that the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity ensures that a listening process is put in place with supportive and independent facilitation in order to hear the concerns and voices of people especially those who have felt themselves marginalised with regard to sexuality. The Archbishop of Canterbury will also be responsible for compiling all the work done in this area across the Anglican Communion since Lambeth 1998 and reporting to the Standing Committee [of the ACC] and ACC18. 
  • Requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to look at all issues of discrimination across the Anglican Communion and make recommendations to the Standing Committee and to report back to ACC18.”

After the result was announced, Bishop Waweru and Bishop Eraste Bigirimana from Burundi approached Bishop Konieczny and the three embraced. As they did so, ACC members began an impromptu rendition of the Taizé chant Bless The Lord, My Soul after one member began singing it solo.

* In his Presidential Address to the ACC on 28 April, Archbishop Welby contrasted the concerns of Melbourne’s Archbishop Philip Freier with those of Archbishop Allan Migi of Papua New Guinea that arose during a conversation he had with them at the Oceania Regional Primates’ Meeting in Fiji last year.

“Archbishop Philip lives in Melbourne, a very wealthy city on the whole at least relative to much of the world, and Archbishop Allan lives near Port Moresby,” Archbishop Welby said. “It could not be more different. The two spoke of the problems they faced in their Provinces.

“In Australia, Archbishop Philip was concerned about increasing secularisation. In Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Allan spoke of the burning of people accused of witchcraft.

“Sometimes, the issues we face could not be more different, but the beauty of the Communion in service is that it breaks down the barriers that divide us and brings us together to find common solutions. Our diversity is an asset; our common humanity in Jesus Christ a gift.”

Archbishop Welby said the Anglican Communion did not exist for itself but primarily to serve God’s mission in God’s world.

“Every province in the Anglican Communion is both autonomous and interdependent. We know that what one of us does affects us all. We have the autonomous right to make choices province by province, to be present or to be absent, but being interdependent means we should limit that right out of love for one another.”

* The host provinces for the next two ACC meetings were announced during the Hong Kong meeting. West Africa will host ACC-18 in 2022 and ACC-19 will be hosted by the Church of Ireland in 2025.