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Final press conference at the Lambeth Conference

Sunday 3rd August 2008

A press conference with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, held on Sunday August 3rd 2008 and chaired by Phillip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane.

Read a transcript of the press conference below, or click download on the right to listen [24Mb]

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Thank you. Let me echo Archbishop Aspinall's thanks to all of you for your presence throughout and your presence this afternoon. I think that we've emerged at the end of this conference with some quite surprising results. A surprising level of sheer willingness to stay together, a surprising level of agreement about what might be necessary to make that happen so that for all the fact that the details of the Covenant proposals still need a good deal of clarification, nonetheless there is a following wind for that. There's also a wide degree of agreement about the need for moratoria on both sides where divisive actions are concerned. And one thig that came up which was not planned and not really expected was, again, a strong level of support for a more coherent and coordinated attempt to draw together the work of the communion around issues of justice and international development. So in all those way I think there is work to do, we've been trying today and I've tried in my address, to identify some of the processes in the coming months that will take that forward. We've got a number of meetings coming up, a special meeting of the joint standing committee of the Primates and the Consultative Council in November, I'm planning a primates meeting very early in the new year and then there will be the routine meeting of the consultative council in the early summer.

Feeding into all of these will be continuing reflections from the various groups that have been looking at the issues the conference has been discussing and they will be looking at those again in the light of the very detailed responses and perspectives offered by the Indaba groups as represented in the reflections document which was formally presented to the conference and to myself this afternoon and which we will be dedicating in prayer in the service in the cathedral very shortly. I think that, in addition to all that all the formal aspects of the work together, there's been a very, very wide spread desire simply to go on building personal relations even where people may not want to sign up to formal agreements, nonetheless, they have felt that the exchanges they've had have been nourishing, valuable, and a phrase that has occurred in several contexts is that we want the Indaba to continue. We want a process to continue in which there is space to do the sort of thing we have sought to do in these last couple of weeks. So I'm very happy to take questions now.

Q and As

Will the strategy you've outlined be enough to save the Communion from disintegration, and what would happen if there were no agreement?

No agreement over the Covenant for instance? I outlined in my opening Presidential Address that the Covenant was not meant to be a punitive exclusionary device, it was meant to say 'if you want to adopt a more intergral, a more intensified form of mutual responsibility, this is the way to do it'. If that doesn't happen, well that's regrettable, it doesn't mean there's an absolute separation, it means that some levels of relationship won't be entered into and that can still leave open a great many possibilities for cooperation.

Has the conference worked out better or worse than you yourself hoped, and how do you now feel about it?

I feel it's worked out very much as I had hoped and prayed. I think it's not evaded the difficult questions, even if it hasn't answered them in the ways that some people would have liked to answer them. But that doesn't cause me to lose too much sleep because the conference has never been an executive body that can simply make those sorts of quick fix decisions. I've actually been surprised by how much energy has been growing in the Indaba groups to continue the process of encounter, and I feel we've been very well served by our chaplaincy team in providing a climate of prayer and worship. People have said that they've felt the encounters have been serious and prayerful and without too much pressure – I don't think I could have prayed for more really.

Lesbian priests in the US once observed that if I climb out on a cross that's sacrifice, if you put me there that's murder. How can you explain the theological ground for asking LGBT people to sacrifice their vocations and relationships for your benefit, for the unity of the Anglican Communion?

Sacrifice has to be accepted voluntarily, that's true. If it's imposed it's not sacrifice. That's why this remains something about consent, about what people are willing to give for the sake of the communion, and that means of course a judgement about what is worthwhile about the communion. There are those I know, who will not see that of unity of as worth that kind of sacrifice, and that's not a judgement I want to pronounce on from high, I want to sit with people and see what it looks like to them as it evolves. But I think that the sense that there is something about the preservation of the global fellowship which is larger than any of us, has to be a factor in this.

To date the press has been textual, can you release some of the video of your Presidential Addresses?

Frankly I don't see why not.

Do you think you will be Archbishop of Canterbury in 2018 and if not, when do you intend to step down?

Do you really expect me to answer that? You have to ask. Can I just say this Lambeth was a task set me being Archbishop of Canterbury, is a task that is set me as long as I believe that it's still the task that God is putting before me, I go on doing it, that's all I can say.

Have you called a Primates' meeting next year to see whether Archbishops Akinola and Orombi, in particular, may turn up? And if they don't turn up what will that mean for the Communion?

haven't called it with any agenda, except to have a Primates' meeting. It's time we had one, we haven't had one this year because the Lambeth Conference is coming up and organisationally and financially it's quite difficult to put on two massive meetings in a year, but it's time we had one, we need one before the ACC – that's the only agenda.

Archbishop, would you like to see the next Lambeth Conference in Africa, and if so which African country?

Another question inviting me to put my neck on the block isn't it, in terms of choosing countries? You have to weigh I think, the obvious emotional force of being in the Mother Church, as its seen by so many, against the symbolic force of being where a great deal of the action is. As you probably know we did consider very seriously the possibility of a bishops and laity Anglican congress or gathering in South Africa half way between the last Lambeth and this, roughly. That proved, again, extremely difficult in financial and logistical terms. I'm very open to looking for larger scale Anglican gatherings in the continent where the majority of Anglicans actually are - I think that's a perfectly proper aspiration. Whether there is also something that, for good or ill, Canterbury still represents for the communion, that is grounding and unifying, I'm not sure I think there probably so I wouldn't want to say goodbye to something of this format.

You mention financial difficulties for one reason the Cape Town conference wasn't held, we've heard reports of financial difficulties at this conference – how will you fill that hole and where will the money come for a Primates' meeting?

Well Primates' meetings are budgeted regularly within the Communion budget, we're looking at various routes to what looks like a shortfall at this stage, we knew that this would be difficult, I don't think I can go into details because I don't have the direct management of that question.

Won't put your head on the block?

Oh it's not a matter of that, it's just that it's not my particular responsibility at the moment although I am rather concerned about it.

The Indaba Reflection text says that the section on unity that affirms Anglican commitment to full visible unity of the Church. Is that still possible with the Roman Catholic Church after what Cardinal Kasper said? Is it going to be an ARCIC III?

ABC: Well we've talked quite a lot about ARCIC III and in my visit to Pope Benedict last year, no the year before, we discussed what the agenda might be for an ARCIC III, I think that our Roman Catholic friends are looking at what emerges from this conference to how that might feed into any planning for ARCIC III. I'm still very hopeful about that and while full visible unity may, from the perspective of the Vatican, look further off than they would like, in the light of some of the decisions made by Anglican provinces, particularly around the ordination of women, I don't think that's a reason for suspending the dialogue or giving up on it.

Yesterday Archbishop Gregory Venables left, did you get him on board for the third moratoria in his last days?

We've had some discussion about this, I don't think I'd want to presume to speak for him in his absence, but it has been discussed with him, and he's discussed it with some of the other Primates involved.

I'd like to go back to the Primates' meeting again if I could you grace, paragraph 151 of the Reflections notes "much discomfort about the role that the Primates' meeting now finds itself exercising" and says that "the Primates should not exercise collectively any more authority than they have in their provinces". I'm having trouble seeing how those reflections drive with your desire to call a new meeting with the Primates as soon as possible?

Well we have regular Primates' meetings, they've been on average I suppose every two years for the last fifteen years or so, occasionally more frequently, just occasionally a little less. Nothing special about convening a Primates' meeting, except that with the consultative council meeting coming up next year, it's quite important the Primates have a chance to discuss some of the possible agenda before that. As to the overall perspective on the Primates' meeting, I've read quite carefully through I think all the reports from yesterday's discussion in the indaba groups, and found some quite mixed messages about the Primates' meeting. In past Lambeth Conferences there's been encouragement for the Primates' meeting to do a bit more, when the Primates do try and do a bit more it's often not very well received, and so we're on a bit of that cycle I suspect. The things to be balanced I guess are, the Primates are in some sense people well equipped to speak for the wholeness of their particular region or local church, at the same time there's a sense that all of our Anglican communities are also synodical bodies in which the senior bishop is not the only voice. So balancing the Primates and the ACC has always been a bit of a juggling act and I guess it will go on being that.

Your Grace, in the penultimate paragraph of your Presidential Address you talk of helping to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document. Could you help us understand the nuances there between Reflections and suggestions in what becomes the agenda?

Well the Reflections document is just that, it represents the distillation of what the indaba groups have been saying, and saying they would like to happen. In the nature of the case with a very diffuse amount of material it's quite hard to pin that down to five points. What I tried to do in the Presidential Address is to say: It seems to me we've got the makings of a consensus around moratoria, it seems to me we've got the makings of a consensus around covenant, it seems to me we've got the makings of a consensus around better coordination for relief and development work - that's quite a bit to be going on with. And there's also quite a strong groundswell for really back to the question over here a few minutes ago, about looking at how the instruments of communion work and interrelate which nobody is terribly happy about at the moment and we all know needs work.

Can you talk a little bit more about the pastoral forum, we only heard about it two weeks ago and now it's going to be constituted. Does it have powers ascribed to it? Do the provinces have to say yes to it?

What I said in the Presidential Address was that I'm looking for some specific proposals because we haven't got them yet. And I want those ideally within quite a short time frame. I think the attempt to shape this was something to do with the fact that nobody was very happy with some new strictly canonicalstructure but that there was a sense that something in the Dar es Salaam Primates' Communiqué about how external support might be factored into a local church like the Episcopal Church is something worth pursuing, so it's putting a bit of flesh on that.

You say in your Presidential Address that the covenanted future has the potential to make us more of a Church. Is this answering the Catholic question about ecclesiology and is this suggesting that communion itself is moving more towards being A Church.

I think the answer would have to be yes from where I stand. I hope that a little bit more mutual responsibility and accountability, a bit more willingness to walk in step, will make us more like a Church. Not a centralised body with enforced conformity, but that willing acceptance of moving together. More of a Church in a sense that, that structure as I again said in the Presidential Address represents a bit of a challenge to the tendency for local Churches to get trapped in their local context. I think that's a danger, I think that the Catholic ideal if you like, the global ideal, is one of the ways in which we push back against those temptations.

I was hoping you could help me understand a little better the following section from your address, talking about a moratorium on interventions and same-sex blessings, and you say "Such interventions often apply that nothing within a province, no provision made or pastoral care offered."

Yes I'd very happily comment on that, I think that for another province to provide that kind of pastoral and supposedly canonical oversight for a minority group is in effect to say "It's no use negotiating with the local body, nothing they come up with is going to be adequate, and you can't trust them as it were to safeguard the essence of Christian Orthodoxy here". I'm not saying that's stated by everybody who's involved in the interventions but you hear it from time to time, and I've seen it written and I've had it in correspondence from time to time. And I'm simply saying that's not something any Christian should say lightly of any other.

What happens if the North American Churches do not abide by the moratoria?

I think if the North American Churches don't accept the need for moratoria, then to say the least, we are no further forward. The idea of a covenant which includes as many of them as possible becomes more fragile and that means that as a Communion we continue to be in grave peril.

You said earlier that you couldn't distil the reflections to five points, but for the people in the pews, they may not want to read forty three pages – how would you summarise what happened at Lambeth to people who might say "What was it all about?"

I'd say that the process of the Lambeth Conference rested on a particular assumption - the assumption that Bishops needed to speak to each other in a safe place and were capable of doing it respectfully and prayerfully, first thing. Second thing is, coming out of that, the Communion, the Anglican Communion needed to know how deep the commitment was on people's part to staying together. I think we've got a bit of an answer to that. Third, I think the communion needed to know what forms of action and witness were still possibl,e credible for it, even in its current rather wobbly state and I think something around the March of Witness, something around a few other things that have come up has helped to answer that. I think that might be where I'd begin to talk about the document.

You mentioned that at the end of your Presidential Address that you will try and bring in the GAFCON bishops, and I was just wondering if you had any ideas of how you were going to do that.

I think on the back of the Reflections document and the Presidential Address I'll need to write a pastoral letter to go around the communion and because contact and exchange continues with many, many people who were at GAFCON including some of those who are also here. I think I'd want to know first of all: What do you think of this? How far does this go to meeting concerns? How far does this provide a basis for co-operation? And tease that out a bit in the months ahead.

A number of dates suggested for the completion of the covenant process range from 3 years to 6 years to 2015 in one report. What's your own indication of most likely timeframe?

Can I distinguish two things; one is some sort of finalising of the text that people will be signing up to or otherwise – and I hope that that can be done within the next 12 months because all the meetings coming up are oriented towards that. Now the different question is how soon one can expect 'buy-in' from the provinces. And that depends on the fact that all the Anglican provinces have different rhythms of provincial meeting. So whereas the General Synod of the Church of England meets 2 or 3 times a year, there are provinces where Synods meet once every 3 years. So ideally one would hope for a round-up by, I suppose, 2012/2013 but that's because of the rhythms of meetings – I don't think one can short circuit this as some would like to, but I think it's important –all the more important therefore to have a clearer short term time table so that we can say: well that at least is the text we want to see.

On the issue of same-sex blessings is it your sense that it is good enough, far enough, for Churches to go to say they won't legitimise public rights of blessing – or is it your sense that Anglicans need to go further to prevent the sorts of blessings we've seen in the Church of England and elsewhere in recent weeks.

One of the problems around this is that people in different parts of the world clearly define 'public' and 'rights' and 'blessing' in rather different ways. I'd refer I think to what I said in the address this afternoon. As soon as there is a liturgical form it gives the impression: this has the Church's stamp on it. As soon as that happens I think you've moved to another level of apparent commitment, and that I think is nowhere near where the Anglican Communion generally is. In the meeting of Primates at Gramado in Brazil some years ago, the phrase 'A variety of pastoral response' was used as an attempt to recognise that there were places where private prayers were said and, although there's a lot of unease about that, there wasn't quite the same strength of feeling about that as about public liturgies. But again 'pastoral response' has been interpreted very differently and there are those in the USA who would say: 'Well, pastoral response means rights of blessing', and I'm not very happy about that.

Question about moratoria and 'gracious restraint' and time limits

The indaba groups had a lot of discussion about whether moratorium should have a time limit on it, most do. I think frankly it is very difficult to come to a common mind on this at present and, I think a phrase used by the Primates 'unless until a wider consensus emerges' is about as specific as it's got in the past so I don't think we're much further forward than that at the moment.

Archbishop, two of the three moratoria refer to actions that have happened mostly and exclusively in the Episcopal Church the lady from integrity posed a question about why lesbian and gay Christians were being sacrificed and that point has also been made by Susan Russell – are you putting a squeeze on the American Church to get into line?

I'm saying that some of the practices of certain dioceses in the American church continues to put our relations as a communion under strain and that some problems won't be resolved while those practices continue. I might just add perhaps a note here that one complication in discussing all this is the assumption readily made that the blessing of a same sex union, and or the ordination of someone in the act of same-sex relationship is simply a matter of human rights. I'm not saying that is claimed by people within the Church, but you hear that from time to time, you hear it in the secular press and that's an assumption that I can't accept because I think the issue about what conditions a Church lays down for the blessings of unions have to be shaped by its own thinking, its own praying. Now, there's perfectly serious theological reflection on this in some areas – I'm not saying there isn't - but I don't want to short-circuit that argument by saying it's just a matter of rights. Therefore to say that the rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people as people in society is not what we're disagreeing about - I hope and pray anyway.

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