27/11/2011


Alan Perry points out in passing that nothing in the proposed Anglican Covenant is defined.

The implication of this is, that if it is ever passed, there will be immediate pressure from all sides to work out what the signatories have actually signed up for. Lawyers (and Alan's a lawyer) will set to work with forensic relish.

Consequently, rapidly, there will be 'expositions', 'explanations', 'clarifications' of the Covenant. On current practice it is unlikely that much of this will be made public. These documents will effectively change the reading of the Covenant and guide its implementation.

I suggest that the priorities will be:
  • To clarify the procedures implicit or explicit in the Covenant. (A legal and bureaucratic process.)
  • To monitor and record the procedures and their results. (A largely bureaucratic process.)
  • To relate the development and consequences of Covenant procedures to non-signatory members of the Anglican Communion. (A primarily political process.)  
  • To relate the Covenant procedures to the Instruments of Communion, not least to clarify the legal position of the Anglican Consultative Council in relation to decisions made under Covenant rules. (A legal and political process.)  
Taken together these will amount to a slow revolution in the Anglican Communion undertaken by the Anglican Communion Office with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Norman Doe has contributed systematically to the Covenant
  • The procedures to implement and monitor the Covenant procedures will effectively become a new set of constitutional laws - canons - governing Communion relations.
  • The Communion will be reshaped: the difference of treatment of those inside and those outside the Covenant process will not lead to a two-speed Communion (except, possibly, in a transitional phase). Either all will eventually sign the Covenant or, more likely in my view, the Communion will split apart.  (This is setting aside the possibility that some bodies could sign the Covenant despite not being members of the ACC.)
  • Over time the ACC will be destroyed or assimilated. This is because it is the only Anglican international body currently with a legal constitution and therefore clashes between ACC and Covenant processes cannot simply be finessed away.
  • The record of consultative processes, and especially their results, will eventually lead to a single statement of the doctrine of the Anglican Communion. When an issue has been decided under the Covenant process no Province could subsequently act independently on that issue without risking eviction. As issues accumulate to the centre haphazardly, as decisions in one area have implications in others, and as anomalies proliferate there will be growing pressure to codify the whole. Doctrinal case law will become doctrinal statute law. 
You might have thought that these matters should have been thought through first. After all, signatories should have some idea of the consequences of signing.

But it's a matter of the politics of the possible.

When more detailed procedures were set out as an Appendix the the St Andrews draft of the Covenant they caused an outcry that threatened to derail the Covenant process. Therefore those pushing the Covenant decided to retreat into generalisations in order to get agreement first and set out the detail afterwards.   (My 2-page flow chart of the procedure - pdf)

Can you imagine a company or country working this way and surviving very long?

In practice, and if the Covenant is ever passed, the Anglican Communion Office and their lawyers will first go back to the earlier work on the St Andrew's Draft. I make this prediction with great confidence - after all, where else would you start?

That is to say: a procedure that very few people liked, which threatened to stop adoption when it was made public, will in fact (with further amendments and refinements) be the initial basis of Covenant procedures.

As my mother used to say, it'll end in tears.

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