by Desmond Tillyer
from Signs of the Times No. 47 - Oct 2012

At a time of tension and decision on the issues of the ordination of women to the episcopate and the place of sexual minorities in the life of the Church, together with the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, it is time that the Church looked again at the hidden impact of this booklet, published by Church House Publishing in the year 2000.

Its origins are slightly obscure. The exact author remains enigmatic. The Introduction is opaque. However, it emerges from the Faith and Order Advisory Group at the request of the House of Bishops. The chairman of FOAG at the time was John Hind, then Bishop in Europe and since recently the retired Bishop of Chichester,  an Anglo-Catholic not known for his liberal and inclusive views.

The context of the booklet is the then recent appointment of George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury. It appears that some in the House of Bishops felt that the new Primate needed to be supported and his confidence built up to compensate for his lack of episcopal experience and that the concept of collegiality would be the way to achieve this. In the event, the booklet did not pursue the line of promoting the concept of collegiality as a means of serving the Church, but as a means of serving the koinonia, that is,  the fellowship of the Church, a much narrower concept, focused on the unity of the Church. As the booklet itself acknowledges the concept of collegiality was not one with a traditional place in Anglican ecclesiastical polity and was therefore likely to be seen as innovative.

The wider ecumenical context is of course Vatican II. All such documents published since the Second Vatican Council have inevitably been deeply influenced by that Council. One of that Council's intentions was to flatten the pyramid model of Church authority with the infallible Pope at the top and descending grades of Christian responsibility, each dependent to and beholden upon the layers above it, and replace it with a conciliar model, akin to the late medieval aspirations of the Conciliar Movement, in which the Pope acts as the focus of the Church's teaching and unity with all members of the Church playing their part in discernment, articulation and reception.

This was in fact a deliberate attempt to reform the practice of infallibility,  universal jurisdiction and autocracy. This devolved authority with its concentric rings indicating mutual accountability was repeatedly promulgated by the late medieval Ecumenical Councils, restricting the power and authority of the Papacy which in turn always broke free of conciliar constraints and returned to its old, corrupt ways. This is what has happened to Vatican II. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have undermined and ruined the Council's intentions and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Council was rightly called a wake not a feast by Professor Hans Kung. We are back to the bad old days of absolutism and autocracy and the requirement of blind obedience.

It is into this development that this booklet made its contribution through FOAG. Whoever the author(s) is/are, what was produced is a romanising, reactionary version of collegiality. True, there are quotes from ARCIC etc, for form sake, but what we have is neat papal gin, without much, if any, Anglican tonic. What I mean is that the conciliar model of Anglican polity has been subverted by the erection of a pyramid of authority to which the author wishes to add juridical power at the top. What is proposed is a structure in which authority and power, if changes are made, flow from the top downwards. Obedience is the attitude required from each level by the ones above. Gradually as the booklet develops, there emerges this pyramid model very clearly. At the top is the Archbishop of Canterbury, presiding over the rest of the Primates, then there are the Primates presiding over their provincial Bishops, then the diocesan Bishops of each Province presiding over their presbyters and deacons, and finally the laity being presided over by everyone else. Tying all of this together is the requirement of obedience at each level to the levels above and although the author does make reference to the need for mutual accountability, he is quite explicit about what obedience means but is totally unable to indicate how higher levels are accountable to the lower levels , let alone to be held to account.

Perhaps George Carey, coming from a different tradition, did not understand the implications of the booklet, or that if he did it was unpalatable to him. Conservative Evangelicals tend to look to Moses, Ezra and Nehemiah for their leadership models, apparently unaware that all three emerge from within the autocratic, totalitarian and authoritarian cultures of the empires of Egypt and Babylon. However, Rowan Williams has the theological background and the Roman ecclesiology to see precisely what a gift the author of the booklet had left him. If he wanted to be the "Anglican Pope", then here is the way to achieve it. Collegiality at the service of koinonia means unity at any price (the Papal position), against diversity as the sign of the Spirit animating the Body of Christ. And that price is being paid not by the House of Bishops but by women and sexual minorities and by a general loss of religious freedom.

It may be that such a desire was unconscious, but given the evidence, this is doubtful. If the House of Bishops has agreed to be bound by this booklet, then Rowan Williams achieved a "coup d'église" against traditional Anglican ecclesiastical polity. The way the draft legislation approved by General Synod on the ordination of women to the episcopate has been three times undermined by the House of Bishops, under the leadership of the two archbishops, is a novel approach by the House of Bishops to the General Synod. Furthermore, the ignoring of the support of forty-two out of forty-four diocesan synods for that draft legislation has been scandalous. Also, it certainly must have influenced the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant. We need to note that when the literature on the Anglican Covenant was issued by the General Synod Standing Committee, for the first time a major piece of legislation was sent down to the diocesan synods with a one sided exposition in favour of the Covenant and no contrary ones. Unity has come to mean uniformity and therefore censorship. Thank goodness the retired bishops, John Saxbee and Peter Selby, spearheaded the contrary view and diocesan synods rejected it. I believe that it was the failure of the dioceses to accept the Anglican Covenant which precipitated Rowan's decision to retire early. His plan to become "Anglican Pope" has failed and his successor must restore Anglican ecclesiastical polity to the Church if there is to be any resolution of the issues which divide us. The first step on this return to Anglicanism is for the new archbishop to jettison this pernicious booklet and return to a vision of collegiality based on mutual respect, accountability and communication, focused on the bishop in synod as the model that best reflects the pattern of collegiality in the early Church.

As an Anglo-Catholic, inspired by the vision of collegiality at Vatican II, I hope that our fellow Roman Catholic liberals, also inspired by the same vision, will take heed how easily it can be corrupted when divorced from service to the Church as a whole, not simply its koinonia.


The Revd Prebendary Desmond Tillyer, now retired, is a former incumbent of St Peter, Eaton Square, London.