A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By E. Kim Byham
What is Alternative Primatial Oversight?
Alternative Primatial Oversight (ALPO) is a term invented by members of the Anglican Communion Network to provide a mechanism for them to leave the Episcopal Church. The Dioceses of Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Central Florida, and Springfield have requested it. The Diocese of Dallas has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a direct primatial relationship with him.
Are there any precedents for ALPO?
While the term is new, the concept of dioceses leaving the Episcopal Church is not. Three new provinces of the Anglican Communion have been formed in recent years out of dioceses of the Episcopal Church: the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, la Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, and la Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America. More relevant, however, are the three individual dioceses which have left the Episcopal Church since 1967: Cuba, Puerto Rico and Liberia. Liberia is the simplest case - it joined the Church of the Province of West Africa, in which it was geographically located, in 1980. Puerto Rico (now back in the Episcopal Church) and Cuba (which considered but rejected rejoining in 2003) are more likely precedents for ALPO. During its sojourn out of the Episcopal Church (1979-2003), Puerto Rico was "extra-provincial." This was often described as "extra-provincial to Province IX" of the Episcopal Church, but this was misleading and implied it was part of the Episcopal Church but not directly related to any of its provinces. Indeed, it was not part of the Episcopal Church during that period, but it still had primatial oversight by the Presiding Bishop who delegated oversight to Province IX. Cuba since 1967 has a more complicated version of primatial oversight consisting of a Metropolitan Council (a council that serves the role of a primate) consisting of the primates of the West Indies, Canada, and the Episcopal Church (again delegated to Province IX). As was the case for Puerto Rico, when Cuba received alternative primatial oversight, it ceased to be part of the Episcopal Church.
It is important to note that in all the cases sighted above, the dioceses leaving the Episcopal Church were given permission to do so by the General Convention.
Why was ALPO requested?
This is the key question. Had the seven dioceses simply stated their intention to leave the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop would have declared the sees vacant and appointed interim bishops to preside in those dioceses. Similarly, the congregations and individuals remaining committed to the Episcopal Church would have met to elect a new Standing Committee and other officers and set up processes for electing new bishops.
Instead, by asking for ALPO, the seven dioceses have frozen the ground on which they sit. The Presiding Bishop cannot declare the sees vacant nor can the loyal Episcopalians meet to elect new representatives.
The Canons of the Episcopal Church make explicit what has long been Catholic tradition: "It is hereby declared as the judgment of this Church that no two Bishops of Churches in communion with each other should exercise jurisdiction in the same place; except as may be defined by a concordat adopted jointly by the competent authority of each of the said Churches, after consultation with the appropriate inter-Anglican body." [Canon 11, Section 4] While this is being ignored even as I write by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), it is not something that the Episcopal Church would violate by sending in new bishops for the ALPO dioceses. They know that and, while encouraging others to ignore our canons and Lambeth resolutions to the same effect, they will use Episcopal Church canons to protect their own diocesan offices and property.
Is ALPO similar to DEPO?
The only similarity between ALPO and DEPO is the word "oversight." DEPO contains two words that make it wholly different from ALPO: "Delegated," which implies that there is an entity with superior jurisdiction which is delegating and can withdraw such delegation; and "Pastoral," which implies that such oversight is limited to pastoral issues. In seeking direct primatial oversight from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Diocese of Dallas stated that it would be for "mission, pastoral support and accountability," implying that unlike a parish under DEPO which remains part of its diocese, the Diocese of Dallas sees ALPO as meaning it would no longer be accountable to the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church and presumably to the Constitution and Canons of our Church.
Can it be granted without approval of General Convention?
No, it would be wholly unprecedented and presumptively null and void.
Can the ABC grant ALPO?
The dioceses requesting ALPO have applied to both the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the Primates Meeting (two of the "Instruments of Communion"). Neither would have the right to unilaterally assign dioceses of the Episcopal Church to other provinces - or create a new one -without the consent of the Episcopal Church..
It appears, however, that those requesting ALPO are hoping that the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Primates Meeting will ostensibly grant them ALPO notwithstanding the lack of authorization by General Convention and that will give them cover that they can use in court and in the court of public opinion to retain their property.
Are they asking to be in another province?
Yes. Although a bit late in this discussion, please be careful not to confuse a province of the Episcopal Church (of which there are nine) and a province of the Anglican Communion (of which there are 38). ALPO calls for the latter, not the former. Do not be fooled by the word "oversight." As indicated above, these dioceses seek to be accountable to a primate other than the Presiding Bishop and presumptively to no longer be responsible for upholding the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
What are the downsides to ALPO for those seeking it?
I suspect they are legion and I welcome additional thoughts. One that comes to mind is that if these dioceses manage to create a lifeboat for themselves so they can keep their property - and even that of the loyal parishes in their dioceses - they may undercut the arguments of dissenting parishes in non-ALPO dioceses, particularly in states where they are located.
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