The Archbishop of Canterbury this week directly challenged the rebel Anglicans who have launched a breakaway faction within the global communion. In unusually forthright language he accused them of lacking legitimacy, authority and, by implication, integrity.
Breaking his silence over the conservative threat to the unity of the 77-million-strong communion, Williams warned the leaders of the conservative coalition that demolishing existing structures was not the answer to their concerns.
Responding to the creation at the weekend of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca), a global network for millions of Anglicans unhappy with liberal teaching on matters such as homosexuality and women priests, Williams said: “If they [the teachings] are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve.”
The announcement of the new body came at the culmination of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon), a rebel summit in Jerusalem that attracted more than 300 bishops.
Williams said: “Gafcon’s proposals for the way ahead are problematic in all sorts of ways and I urge those who have outlined these to think very carefully about the risks entailed.”
He focused his criticism on the leaders of the new primates council, which is tasked with recruiting existing Anglicans into the network. “A primates council which consists only of a self-selected group from among the primates of the [Anglican] communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all. And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties,” he said.
Church sources said Williams opposed Gafcon because it lacked legitimacy, authority and integrity. There was no information, they said, about who wrote the Gafcon document, how many primates had signed up to it or whether it was legally possible to set up an alternative communion.
One Lambeth Palace official said: “It is ludicrous to say you do not recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury or the see of Canterbury; they are the defining characteristics of Anglicanism. By doing away with the role and the place these people are becoming a Protestant sect.”
His comments came as leading Gafcon figures arrived in London to woo Church of England parishes that are considering opting out of mainstream Anglicanism to join the new network. The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, and the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, were among those addressing an audience of more than 750 clergy and churchwardens at All Souls Church on global Anglicanism and English orthodoxy.
The Gafcon team have declared that they are ignoring historic links with Canterbury, deeming them to be superfluous, and are severing ties with the United States church and the Anglican church in Canada.
They said: “We do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Last week Williams endured a verbal onslaught from bishops in the southern hemisphere, who believe he has not disciplined church leaders in the US and Canada for their progressive stance on gay clergy and same-sex blessings. He has also been called an “historical relic” who cannot accept a post-colonial world.
Williams is said to be concerned about the way post-colonialism is being used as a smokescreen for an abuse of power and position by Gafcon and the ease with which his role and office has been dismissed. —