A Sorry State of Affairs

Article excerpt

SORRY REALLY DOES seem to be the hardest word.

In the weeks following the release of the Windsor Report, which bemoaned the sad state of affairs in the Anglican Communion, the church has heard a number of variations on the theme of apology. Or should that be the theme of regret?

A heavily nuanced document, the Windsor Report placated only segments of the church, which had anticipated a bleak future for the Communion--perhaps even dissolution.

Prior to the report's release, "leaked" information anticipated the sanctioning of both the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA), (for consecrating a non-celibate gay man as bishop of New Hampshire), and the Canadian diocese of New Westminster (for approving a same-sex blessing liturgy). This proved to be wishful thinking.

Nor was any recommendation made to take disciplinary action against the bishops and primates of the Global South, who have also caused disruption in the church by overstepping provincial and diocesan boundaries to minister to disaffected Anglicans in North America.

Many observers (media included) inferred from the Windsor Report that apologies were recommended tight across the board.

However, members of the Lambeth Commission (which wrote the report) pointed out the specific wording: "We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own to express regret for the consequences of their actions." [Italics inserted throughout.]

The report also recommends that "the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire and for the consequences which followed."

And again, the wording is significant: that bishops who have authorized public rites of blessing of same-sex unions "in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization."

Two men who have become lightning rods for the current controversy, Michael Ingham, diocesan bishop of New Westminster, and Frank Griswold, presiding bishop (primate) of ECUSA, quickly did what was asked of them: they expressed regret for the consequence of their actions, but not the actions themselves. "It was not our intention to cause dismay, but affirm the relationships of gay and lesbian people," said Bishop Ingham. Similarly, Bishop Griswold added, "We regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans."

The fact that Bishops Ingham and Griswold did not go further than they were asked has infuriated many who live their faith at the conservative end of the spectrum. They did not ask for forgiveness, they did not say they would repent. So, in the end, some ask, what is an "expression of regret" worth?

The question of apologizing for the consequence of one's actions, yet not for the actions themselves, is a tricky one. …