Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Is This "News" Right Now?

Reporter Jonathan Wynne-Jones of the London Telegraph has published a story which hints that His Grace, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, "is understood" to have told certain unnamed "friends" that he may be "ready" to resign his post "next year" -- specifically, not before the "Queen's Jubilee in June [2012]."

And just why is this "story" worthy of publication at this particular moment in September of 2011?

Has Dr. Williams tendered his resignation? No.

Has Dr. Williams announced that he will tender his resignation? No.

Has anyone in the Church of England or Her Majesty's Government called for Dr. Williams to resign? Again, no.

Is Mr. Wynne-Jones quoting any source who has actually spoken to Dr. Williams about this subject? Once more -- no.

Why, then, should this story be newsworthy at this time?

An unattributed story -- nay, let us call it what it is: a rumour (to use the official UK spelling) -- to the effect that a high official plans to step down, which is reported in the news media some nine months before the stepping down is allegedly to take place, has one and only one purpose: to undermine the authority of the given official, and to tend to turn him into what Americans know as a "lame duck."

The story -- sorry, rumour -- is the kind that can only gain in credibility to the extent that it is not promptly and vigorously refuted, i.e., denied by the official himself. Which is why such a rumour is floated on a Saturday, just before the Sunday papers come out in the U.K. -- such timing virtually guarantees that there can be no official response for at least 36 to 48 hours, which is plenty of time for the version to get "legs" of its own.

A moment's reflection, however, should suffice to show that the rumour carries within it the seeds of its own disavowal. Let everyone who hears it first ask himself/herself these simple questions:

If the rumour were true, what difference would it make to the Anglican Communion if Dr. Williams were to resign next July, or were to resign right now?

Are there any Primates' Meetings scheduled before next July? No.

Is the Lambeth Conference supposed to convene before next July? Certainly not -- the next Lambeth Conference will not take place for at least seven years.

Well, what about the Anglican Consultative Council? It does not convene until November 2012, in New Zealand.

And before that? Well, the "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion" meets in May 2012 to plan for ACC-15, but the Standing Committee is not exactly constituted currently as a body where the Archbishop of Canterbury can make any difference.

All right, so we have determined that waiting until July 2012 for the other shoe to drop will make not the slightest of differences to the well-planned-out life of the Anglican Communion. Everything in it will go forward exactly as scheduled, whether we have ++Rowan or --Rowan.

But what about the life of the Church of England?

Ah, now we might be getting somewhere . . . For the story drops this tantalizing clue to its motivation:
Sources close to the archbishop say he will leave after the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next June and having seen the Church finally pass legislation to allow women to become bishops.
At the site of the General Synod of the Church of England, one may read the following about the proposed legislation to allow it to ordain women bishops, which is currently under consideration by the several dioceses:
If a majority of Diocesan Synods approve the draft legislation, it will return to the General Synod (probably in February 2012) for Final Drafting. The Final Approval stage, at which two-thirds majorities are required in each House, could be reached in July 2012. If approved, the legislation would then go to Parliament for consideration by the Ecclesiastical Committee and each House of Parliament.
But such a scenario could be achieved only if, as we say again here in America, "the sun is shining and the birds are all singing in the trees." In September 2011, when this story surfaces, it is certainly probable, but not entirely certain, that a majority of the Church of England's 44 dioceses will approve the proposed legislation by the November 14 deadline. And if they do, the legislation would then return to General Synod for Final Drafting in February 2012, after which (assuming a Final Draft emerges) it could (depending on what passes in February) be put to a vote no earlier than -- July 2012.

In other words, the best-case scenario would come to pass, if it comes to pass, right about when His Grace is supposed to be "announcing" his resignation. Hmm -- in that event, more bothersome questions then surface:

1. If the Archbishop of Canterbury is instrumental in getting a Final Draft to pass Synod next July, why would he resign his post before seeing the legislation through Parliament? After all, by resigning he would be giving up his seat in the House of Lords -- and he would miss out on the opportunity to lead the consecration of the Church of England's first woman bishop. It is hardly the mark of a crusader to exit the scene before Jerusalem is glimpsed.

2. And if Synod does not achieve the two-thirds vote in both Houses to pass the Final Draft in July 2012, wouldn't a resignation immediately afterward appear only as a weak, symbolic protest? ("Symbolic", because the measure could not return to Synod for at least another year. The resignation could not, therefore, cause any sentiments for the legislation's immediate reconsideration.) Dr. Williams does not strike me as being one to engage in weak symbolic protests.

I'm afraid the story as published lacks, shall we say, a certain internal consistency. But that does not mean that one cannot derive a motive for its instigation. One has to ask the question: if the effect of the rumour, particularly if it is not immediately and convincingly denied, is to turn the Archbishop into a lame duck, who would benefit from such a weakening at this particular point in time? Or, to put the question into traditional, concise Latin, cui bono?

Ah, now we are talking. For it would not be the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, or her enablers at ECUSA and in the Communion as a whole, who would specifically benefit: they have already seen to the irreparable loss of Dr. Williams' authority overseas and in the Instruments of Communion, by simply defying his every request up till now for restraint. Once again, therefore, by the process of elimination, it must be in the interests of a certain group within the Church of England itself to plant such a story at this time.

And who would be more motivated to do so than the group pushing the legislation which is to come before Synod next February? For let's face it: for the purposes of that group, ++Rowan is now simply in the way. Regarded as having made commitments to the Anglo-Catholics to ensure that they will not abandoned to the vicissitudes of a mere code of practice, which could be disregarded with impunity, the Archbishop has made his role in the passage of the eventual legislation rather awkward, since he has to be seen (at least publicly) to be dragging his feet while he is (supposedly) strongly for it. What better way, therefore, to minimize any potential slowdown from his dragging his feet than by making him lame between now and next July?

This may be only speculation on my part, but it is as good as anyone else's at this point, given that all anyone has to go on is an unattributed rumour at third hand. Some bloggers, with more of an agenda to advance, will undoubtedly take the occasion to say more -- but no more than what an obituary could say on this date, were that the news with which we were dealing. For this Anglican Curmudgeon, it is far too soon to dismiss what remains of the influence that could yet be wielded by a willing Archbishop of Canterbury -- especially (and if only) he determined to put to rest such a pernicious rumour. Until there is more to deal with than just vapor and guesses, therefore, I will say only: "that's my take, and I'm sticking with it."


  1. Curmudgeon, I will only slightly disagree after having seen the ABC make a virtual art form of weak symbolic protests.

  2. I think it's fair to say that Rowan Williams' reign as ABC has been probably the most tumultuous across the AC for a long time. How much of it is his own making is a matter for debate. Others have had major CofE problems, but I can't think of others with so much AC strife.

    He may just have been letting off some steam about the pressures of the job, which someone happened to hear and duly leaked to the press. The ACO and House of Bishops leaks like a sieve. Remember how Rowan Williams' own candidacy as ABC was leaked in spite of the supposedly top secret process? I wouldn't read too much into this until there is a firm story from close sources.

  3. Perhaps the "rumour" was started as a way to see who's names come up for a replacement? Kind of like a trial balloon.