Twenty Anglican bishops meeting in Rwanda said yesterday they will not recognize the new Episcopal Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori because of her liberal theology and gender, and asked the U.S. church to appoint a replacement.
Such a shutout of a head of an Anglican province is unprecedented in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which numbers 70-80 million adherents.
“Some of us will not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a primate at the table with us,” said a statement by the bishops from the “global south,” a term coined to represent people of the Third World. “Others will be in impaired communion with her as a representative of the Episcopal Church.
“Since she cannot represent those dioceses and congregations who are abiding by the teaching of the Communion, we propose that another bishop, chosen by these dioceses, be present at the meeting so that we might listen to their voices during our deliberations.”
The next meeting of the world’s 38 Anglican archbishops is slated for February in Tanzania, three months after Bishop Jefferts Schori is consecrated presiding bishop Nov. 4 at the Washington Cathedral.
Because she has come out in favor of homosexual clergy and church-sanctioned same-sex unions, seven Episcopal dioceses have asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for a substitute bishop. The bishops meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, offered their services to meet with the seven dioceses to ensure an alternative is “adequately provided.”
“In some respects, this statement is aimed more at the archbishop of Canterbury than the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Ian Williams, a member of the Episcopal Church’s executive committee. “It somewhat tries to paint him into a corner.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori could not be reached for comment and an Episcopal Church spokeswoman said because the statement was unsigned, it could not be verified which of the 20 Anglican provinces listed assented to it.
At least two indicated on the statement they had sent a representative in place of their bishop. An Anglican official at the meeting — who asked to remain anonymous — said a third prelate, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane of Southern Africa, left early because of an emergency.
“Obviously he was not going to support it,” the official said of the liberal archbishop, “but they were in a Catch-22 and he didn’t leave specific instructions.”
As for the rest of the bishops present: “It was the sweetest spirit at an Anglican meeting that I have been to in years,” he added. “This is history book stuff.”
Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone — Anglican dioceses from several South American countries — released a statement applauding “the spirit of unity” at the gathering.
“It has become tragically obvious to us that the Episcopal Church has departed from Christian teaching and practice,” it said. “Sadly, the institutional structures of the Communion must now catch up with that reality.”