CANADA: Third and final draft of Anglican Covenant called 'a very significant improvement'

June 10, 2010

The 2010 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has approved a resolution receiving the final text of the proposed Anglican Covenant. It also directs the Council of General Synod, after a period of consultation and study, to recommend whether or not it should be adopted at its next meeting in 2013.

The resolution requests that the faith, worship and ministry committee and the Governance Working Group provide advice on the "theological, ecclesiological, legal and constitutional implications of the decision to adopt or not adopt the covenant."

There could be implications either way and "we need to know what they are," before making a decision, said the Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who introduced this as an amendment to the original resolution.

The covenant has been recommended as a way of healing relationships severely damaged by divisions over human sexuality among member provinces of the Anglican Communion. In a video message last December, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recommended adoption of the covenant by the communion's 38 provinces. He said the covenant is something "that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust."

The diocesan bishop of Ontario, George Bruce, chair of the Covenant Working Group, called the third and final text of the covenant "a very significant improvement" from the original draft.

"It's very clear that the concerns of provinces have been heard," he told synod. He noted that "virtually all of the Canadian concerns have been addressed," among them that the covenant reflect the diversity that exists within the communion and a recognition that "doctrinal developments occur over a period of time." The final text also "clarifies and downplays the role of the Primates Meeting," he said.

Bruce also said that the last section of the covenant, section 4, which has been deemed the most controversial since it spells out what happens when disputes arise, has been revised. "It very clearly states that the covenant cannot overwrite the constitutions and canons of a province" or limit its autonomy or governance, he said, adding that the tone has also changed from being "juridicial" to "relational."

Bruce acknowledged, however, that there are still "areas of ambiguity" in the covenant.

Williams has maintained that the covenant is "not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don't comply." What the covenant does is "simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognizing that they're always going to be there," he said. Opponents of the covenant have argued, among others, that it enforces uniformity within the communion.

The resolution also requests that materials be prepared under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Working Group, to help parishes and dioceses conduct their studies and consultations around the proposed covenant.