Anglican update: an orthodox fight-back

Anglican update: an orthodox fight-back

Fr Christopher Seton

Despite our reputation as a nation of punters, Australia's orthodox Anglo-Catholics had been playing it very safe in the twelve years since 1992.

Afraid of losing, we concentrated on making ourselves a small target, and the ecclesiastical establishment obligingly assisted in this policy, as one by one our parishes were picked off, orthodox ordination candidates were rejected, and the pastoral emergency deepened.

When the General Synod set up a Commission to look into the consecration of women to the episcopate, it occurred to no one that natural justice might dictate that a token member of our constituency really ought to be a member.

In June 2004 the National Council of Forward in Faith Australia (FiFA) decided that the time had come to act rather than continue to react. For once, we would have a go at setting the agenda ourselves. Convinced that the plight of orthodox Anglo-Catholics in Australia would continue to be ignored, FiFA proposed a pastoral rather than a canonical solution. A bishop would be consecrated whose oversight parishes and individuals could claim.

In line with resolutions from FiFA's 2001 National Conference, this pastoral solution would be pursued in alliance with the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC).

Constituted as an electoral college, the June 2004 National Council Meeting put forward the name of FiFA Vice-president Fr David Chislett SSC for consecration as a bishop. Fr Chislett's name had already been approved by the TAC's College of Bishops, with whom FiF, internationally, has a Concordat.

In this we were following the reluctant suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the best solution for achieving alternative Episcopal oversight in the Australian context lay in working something out in conjunction with the TAC.

Initial reactions seemed promising. Fr Chislett received a friendly letter from the then Australian Anglican Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley. A meeting between Frs Robarts and Chislett of FiFA, TAC Primate Archbishop John Hepworth, Archbishop Peter Carnley, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall (Brisbane), and Archbishop- elect of Perth, Roger Herft, took place in a cordial atmosphere on 19 January 2005 in Sydney.

It was there agreed that informal talks should continue, but the Primate saw no need for haste; after all, such talks can fruitfully continue over some decades. Meanwhile, Fr Chislett embarked on a series of lengthy interviews with his Archbishop, Phillip Aspinall (now the new Anglican Primate).

Everything changed with the "Bill to Restrain Certain Consecrations" directed specifically at Fr Chislett and his presumed consecrator, Bishop Ross Davies SSC of The Murray. The Bill passed and became a Provisional Canon. Although legal opinion had it that nothing proposed, including the involvement of the TAC, was currently illegal in terms of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia, this window of opportunity would soon be closed to us.


On 16 February 2005 the Rubicon was crossed when Fr Chislett was consecrated a bishop alongside Fr David Moyer at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, by TAC Primate Hepworth assisted by Anglican Communion Bishops, Maternus Kapinga of Ravuma and Ross Davies of The Murray.

The spin immediately and predictably put on Bishop Chislett's consecration by both Carnley and Aspinall was of sorrow and disappointment that Bishop Chislett had left the ACA and joined the TAC. This continues to be their official line.

In Brisbane, Archbishop Aspinall dusted off a draconian and unique piece of legislation entitled the Benefices Avoidance Canon under which the Ordinary may dismiss an incumbent for anything he considers to be "grave cause", the demands of natural justice notwithstanding.

Under the Canon, Archbishop Aspinall set up a Commission to examine Bishop Chislett's case. When the Commissioners reported on 17 May 2005 they found that Chislett had not acted dishonestly, nor had he contravened the Constitution, Canons Rules or Regulations of the Anglican Church of Australia in the Diocese of Brisbane.

Archbishop Aspinall, however, was able to see his way clear to finding "grave cause" under the Canon for depriving Bishop Chislett of his Incumbency of All Saints' Wickham Terrace. In his Ad Clerum announcing the deprivation, the Archbishop intriguingly notes: "The resolution of the 'pain and sorrow' that [Bp Chislett] described to the Commissioners has yet to be fully addressed, but in my view it will have to be within the structures of this Church, and not outside them. I fully acknowledge that these matters have not yet reached a satisfactory solution, and I am committed to working for a solution that will be for the good of all people who are participating in the debate about the ordination of women".

Of course we await Archbishop Aspinall's plans for addressing our "pain and sorrow" with great interest. In the meantime, FiFA will be one of four interested parties making submission to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference regarding Bishop Chislett. Questions are also being put to Australia's Church Law Commission, by the Appellate Tribunal.

Bishop Chislett was deprived of his Incumbency of All Saints' Wickham Terrace on Tuesday, 24 May. The following Friday the National Council of FiFA, meeting at Kooyong in Melbourne, resolved to put forward two further names of priests for consideration for consecration.

Given Australia's vast distances, three regions of Episcopal oversight would be necessary to adequately minister to our scattered faithful.

We have irrevocably moved beyond reactive, and often negative, responses, due to others writing our agenda. We cannot be certain that we will win, but we have demonstrated that we are no longer afraid to lose, and surely that is something authentically Christian to have done.

Christopher Seton SSC, All Saints Anglican Church, 466 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong, Vic, A Forward in Faith Parish.

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