Church of Uganda nominee denied participation in Anglican Consultative Council

Former Episcopal priest's status questioned
May 3, 2009

A former Episcopal Church priest accepted into the Church of Uganda in 2005 has not been allowed to participate in the May 2-12 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Councilhere because his relationship with the East African province is "a result of a cross provincial intervention."

"The instruments of communion have each in different ways stated that Anglicans should not exercise ministry in another jurisdiction without the permission of the bishop in that place," the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion secretary general, said at a May 4 news briefing. "That's meant that interventions that have recently developed in North America have never been recognized by the instruments of communion. The Joint Standing Committee therefore felt that it was not possible to recognize an American priest resident and ministering in the United States as a duly qualified representative of an African province."

Philip Ashey lives in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as chief operating officer of the conservative American Anglican Council. After he applied for press accreditation for the ACC meeting, the Church of Uganda nominated him as its clerical representative.

In December 2005, Diocese of Virginia Bishop Peter Lee and the Virginia Standing Committee decided that certain actions and statements of Ashey's constituted a renunciation of his Episcopal Church orders. Ashey had led the Episcopal congregation in South Riding, Virginia.

He told ENS May 4 that he was "immediately" given canonical residency by Bishop Benezeri Kisemb of the Ugandan Diocese of Ruwenzori. It is not uncommon for priests under the authority of one bishop to minister in another diocese of that province, but the permission of both bishops is required.

An exchange of letters between Kearon and Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi sought to clarify Ashey's status.

On April 29, Kearon wrote to Orombi expressing concern that "a person not resident in the Province of Uganda should be asked to represent your province."

Orombi's response to Kearon on April 30 said that Ashey "is a priest in good standing of Ruwenzori Diocese" and noted that he had relinquished his press credentials.

Kearon responded the same day saying that the ACC/Primates Joint Standing Committee had discussed the matter at length and concluded that Ashey's "current status means that we cannot regard him as a 'qualified' member according to Section 4(e) of the current [ACC] constitution.

"We are content for him to resume his press accreditation, if he so wishes," Kearon added.

In a May 4 press release the Church of Uganda has challenged the decision as "unconstitutional," saying that the Joint Standing Committee has "exceeded the limits of their authority." That email included attachments of the correspondence between Kearon and Orombi.

Kearon told reporters later that day that the ACC's constitution calls for provinces to appoint "qualified persons" to represent provinces, but that the constitution is silent on the matter of which communion body rules on qualifications. "In the absence of that statement, the Joint Standing Committee has that right," he said. "That's the legal advice we've been given."

"If they did not have that authority, what other body would?" he asked. "There has to be a body that does."

Orombi had appealed to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on May 2, suggesting that "the appointment of delegates to the ACC from a province is purely an internal matter and is not subject to review by any body within the ACC, including the Joint Standing Committee."

Orombi has been a member of the Joint Standing Committee since February 2007 but has never attended any of its meetings.

In his letter to Williams, Orombi described Ashey as "a voice for the almost 100,000 orthodox Anglicans in North America who have been persecuted by TEC [the Episcopal Church] and the Anglican Church of Canada, who will not be represented by their delegations to ACC-14, and who will not otherwise have voice or seat at the table of the ACC."

The Church of Uganda is represented at the ACC by lay delegate Jolly Babirukamu. The episcopal delegate, Bishop Elia Paul Luzinda Kizito of the Diocese of Mukono, is unable to attend.

-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service and the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is ENS national correspondent.