Is Lambeth preparing to retreat?

Lambeth Palace seen from the other side
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Given the way that the dioceses have voted to date Lambeth Palace has good reason to be concerned and to start making (or, at least, considering) contingency plans.  Under these circumstances all kinds of things are talked about though only a few of them will be considered seriously. Of all the available possibilities only one is likely to happen and that will seldom be the thing you first thought of.

With that large caveat two comments from Concerned Anglican are suggestive:
... I hear from reliable sources that, if the English dioceses vote against, there is now discussion in Lambeth of representing the Covenant in an amended form with an 'adjusted' section 4. This whole thing smacks of a magesterium that the Latin Church would be proud of. and 
I guess that there is quite likely now a disconnect between the 'top' in Lambeth and the working secretariat. RW is seen as increasingly detached and distant and morale is not good.
What I find interesting about the consideration given to re-writing section 4 is that it should be taken seriously in the first place:

  • It implies that the Covenant is a creature of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has the political capacity to revise it at will.
  • Section 4 is the pivot of the operation of the Covenant. To amend it will risk upskittling the whole implementation process. It would surely have to be re-negotiated throughout the Communion.
  • Where would any unilateral revision of the Covenant leave the half-a-dozen provinces who have already signed? (Under §4.1.6 of the Covenant it is already operational for this group.)
  • From the beginning the danger of individual provinces passing an amended text has been recognised. It would lead to the irrational and deliciously Anglican result that all provinces agree to Covenant together, but each on their own terms. (In effect, the Provinces of Ireland and South East Asia have tried to do just this by adding a rider or explanation setting out the terms on which they have signed.)
So, for all these reasons, I can't see a re-writing of section 4 eventuating. 

But I can see continued thrashing through improbabilities until some possible means of saving face, and possibly the Covenant, is found - though it will be in the face of the majority of English dioceses following the constitution of the Church.

On the other hand there is a long way to go yet. Lambeth Palace will also have looked at the aggregate vote and seen just how close it is. Though I have every hope of the Covenant's defeat, no-one can yet be confident about the outcome.

So it's equally likely that open and behind the scenes pressure is being applied to make sure enough of the remaining dioceses vote in favour. The video (my response) is, I guess, just one aspect. I guess too that the relevant Diocesan Bishops have all had phone calls remaining them (in a polite Anglican manner) of their duty. I expect that has been communicated to Diocesan Secretaries in an entirely non-directive way. I anticipate that reliable place-men and women have been sounded out, reminded of where their loyalty lies (without even hinting at it) and, perhaps, enough of them have been well briefed to speak for the Covenant.

Is that too Machiavellian? I probably haven't come close.


  1. This is a very important blog, thank you Concerned Anglican for the 'leak' and NTSS for raising it.

    I imagine that in Lambeth they are all running around like headless chickens and for sure arm-twisting will be taking place at an episcopal level amongst the dioceses that have not yet voted. I don't think many as yet realise just how serious the situation is for Rowan Williams. He has staked a great deal on the Covenant and even told the pope that he still thinks it could go through!

    If it doesn't succeed in England it is dead in the water and at best the Archbishop's authority is damaged and at worst he will need to consider his position.

    It's all so silly but sad as well as a wounded Rowan is not the man we all used to know. He has to understand that we will all (at least many of us) will still love him but that's not a good enough reason for us to vote for a seriously flawed project i.e. the Covenant.

    1. Anonymous15/3/12

      I think things may be a bit closer than we think, in recent synods the votes have gone with the "flavour" of the Diocese - no more shocks like conservative Wakefield and Rochester defeats. Looking at the synods still to vote I think we will get 22+ but the result may be closer than the current score line.

    2. Anonymous - It's not what you have written but the way you have written it - I'm not clear whether you mean 'we will get' 22+ in favour or do you mean 22+ against.

      Could you clarify please?

    3. Anonymous15/3/12

      Oh definitely 22+ against the covenant. To be clear I'm saying that though the last votes seemed to demonstrate a swing against the covenant they may have just represented a hardening of the vote - four dioceses we might loosely describe as progressive voting against the covenant and two conservative dioceses voting for it. If this is what is happening the gap may narrow as there are a number of dioceses I would guess are conservative in nature still to vote. However I think we will still reach 22+ dioceses against the covenant - Brian Lewis (trying not to be anonymous but not knowing how else to get through the comments palaver!)

    4. Brian,

      Thank you for your persistence through the comments palaver.

      I am inclined to agree - there will probably be 22, possibly more, votes against the Covenant. But, and it's a significant caution, there have been stories of dioceses doing everything they can to stack the odds in favour of the Covenant. It seems to me that process is only likely to intensify.

  2. Dear Brian, thank you for your clarification. I'm relieved to hear that you are on the right side as it were for your predictions.

    It's interesting how you describe the dioceses (probably correctly I guess) as progressive 'against' the Covenant and conservative 'for'. Presumably the conservative would be evangelical with an inclination towards being anti-gay and the progressive more inclusive.

    If I were being mischievous I would suggest that the latter i.e. veering towards the inclusive would be more authentically Anglican taken in the broad overview and sweep of history and praxis.

    The irony is that being against the Covenant is more inclusive and more likely in the long run to preserve the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of Provinces in communion with Canterbury and each other, despite their differences. Whereas, the Covenant, if enacted, will seal in division, exclusion and schism for years and years to come, the very opposite of what its proponents claim for it.

  3. Just heard the news that Rowan Williams is off to his alma mater Cambridge.

    That's the end of the Covenant as it was primarily Williams' baby. Now the Canterbury stakes open and they are currently:

    John Sentamu ... loved by the Daily Mail but actually a no-hoper

    Richard Chartres ... ageing with only four years to go but the Establishment will push hard for him as a Donald Coggan like interim

    Graham James of Norwich ... the bishops favourite

    Katharine Schori ... now that would be imaginative but alas impossible as she's not a Commonwealth citizen, although the way Obama and Cameron are 'loving in' perhaps the USA will join?!

    Whatever, we'll all enjoy the next six months enormously what with tributes, speculation and intrigue.

    1. Anonymous16/3/12

      Hmmm might just intensify the conservatives and Rowan devotees determination; it was widely known Rowan would be retiring post the covenant vote in July. The announcement just before the critical votes in the next two Saturdays is surprising but and Archbishop's resignation does take a lot of organising (Palace, Downing Street, York, Church House and in this case Cambridge - how long could they sit on the appointment of their new Master without it leaking etc) it might have been planned months ago. And of course in modern times all ABCs (the last four) have retired about this stage giving their successors around a six year run up to the next Lambeth