Bishop David Birney arrived in Panama today to report to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting, bringing delegates up to date on the situation of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda. Bishop Birney is the Archbishop of Canterbury's Envoy to Rwanda and has spent recent months visiting the country and its Bishops. Despite continued requests and repeated visits by Church officials to those in exile, these Bishops, fearing reprisals, have refused to respond to the request that they return to their leaderless dioceses.
The ACC passed a clear resolution stating that they "recognise that those sees are now vacant" as the result of the long term absence of the Bishops in question and urged the Church leadership "to set in motion legal procedures to elect Bishops to those four vacant sees". The resolution also calls for a provincial synod to be held to finalise a constitution once the new elections and consecrations have taken place.
Bishop Birney, Canon Andrew Deuchar, the Archbishop's Secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs, and the Secretary General of the ACC, were praised for their commitment and concern for the long term health of the Church in Rwanda. Archbishop Michael Peers and the Anglican Church of Canada were thanked for the help they provided in response to the crisis. Bishop Birney warned the assembly that the Church was in danger of losing its credibility among its own people and with the government of Rwanda, as a result of the continuing crisis in leadership and other internal tensions. Canon Deuchar spoke of the existing situation in Rwanda as "a vicious circle of inactivity" despite actions already taken by the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There were no votes against the resolution but nine people abstained from voting.
As part of this ACC hearing on Rwanda, delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, USA, Nigeria, Mozambique, Sudan and Rwanda shared their views on the matter. The chief concern expressed was how the Church, in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, could be an instrument for justice, reconciliation and peace without resolving its episcopal leadership and constitutional issues.
Bishop Joseph Wasanga of Kenya said, "We must approach the situation with a deep sense of sorrow and repentance. I do believe there is hope for Rwanda". The new ACC Chairman, Bishop Simon Chiwanga of neighbouring Tanzania, called for the Communion also to support the Church in Burundi, facing increasing political tension.
Delegates were urged to give generously to the pastoral work of the Church in Rwanda amongst widows and orphans and to continue to remember the Church and the country in their prayers.
Resolution on Rwanda
Trusting in God's reconciling power, and giving thanks for signs of repentance and spiritual renewal within the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, this Council:
- urges the Anglican Communion to continue its prayer for the people, Government and Church in Rwanda;
- in the quest for peace, we urge the Episcopal Church of Rwanda never to abandon its call to be God's instrument of justice and reconciliation without which no peace in Rwanda can be lasting;
- in the light of steps taken both by the Provincial Synod of EER, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to persuade the Bishops in exile to return to their dioceses, or to resign, and given that these Bishops have not responded to these calls, we recognise that those sees are now vacant, and request the authorities in those dioceses to communicate this to their respective Bishops, and to record this action in their records. [In this respect, we refer to the Diocese of Cyangugu, Kibungo, Shyira and Shyogwe];
- we urge the Church leadership, in consequence, in consultation as necessary with the secular authorities, to set in motion legal procedures to elect Bishops to those four vacant sees; and as soon as possible after these elections and consecrations, to call a Provincial Synod meeting in order to finalise a Provincial Constitution;
- not only do we applaud and support the initiatives which have been taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Secretary-General, and the Archbishop's special envoy to Rwanda, the Right Reverend David Birney, but we offer our continued support and encouragement to them to take such future initiatives as they think necessary, consulting where possible the Primates of the Communion, the ACC Standing Committee, and other representatives of the Communion whose specialist knowledge of the situation may aid the process.