Schism in the Anglican Church of Pakistan (CoP) caused by the election of a diocesan bishop is damaging the global image of the church in Pakistan, as the warring camps continue to stick to their stances over the controversial appointment, sources said.
The Church of Pakistan (CoP) has split deeply since its Lahore Diocese elected its own bishop in January allegedly in violation of the constitution and election rules of the Synod, the premier supervisory body of the CoP. The Synod rejected the election, terming it “unconstitutional and illegal” and refused to accept Reverend Nadeem Kamran as the Bishop of Lahore.
“The confrontational stance of the CoP Synod is ruining the image of the church in Pakistan globally. We were forced to elect our own bishop because the Synod led by Moderator Bishop Azad Marshall delayed the election despite our repeated requests,” Anthony Lamuel, the beleaguered secretary of the CoP Synod and a leading figure in the Lahore Diocese, told Kross Konnection.
Lamuel said that soon after Rev Nadeem’s election, the moderator had written letters to senior Anglican Communion leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and partner organisations of the CoP to intervene in the matter “but they have refused to do so”.
“Bishop Marshall also raised the issue of the Lahore Diocese election at a partners’ consultation in Germany, held earlier in March, but the partners, including the Church of England and parachurch organisations based in Nordic countries, categorically refused to intervene, emphasising that it was an internal matter of the CoP and should be resolved by the Pakistani church leadership,” Lamuel claimed.
Lamuel, who retired last year as general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, was suspended as Secretary of the CoP Synod in December last year on charges ranging from inciting members of a diocese to block the bishop’s election, and provoking clergy of another diocese to cause disturbances in the diocesan affairs, to widening rifts between the Synod and the Diocese of Lahore, and misusing the secretary’s office to influence the election campaign of a particular candidate i.e. Rev Nadeem. The suspension letter also condemned Lamuel for “using derogatory remarks against the Bishops Council, insubordination and non-compliance of decisions taken by the Synod”.
Lamuel has obtained a court injunction against his suspension but has since been at odds with the Synod.
Sharing more details of the partners’ moot in Germany where Bishop Marshall was present in person and Lamuel participated virtually, the diocesan leader claimed that the former had presented an “unimpressive” report regarding the activities of the CoP.
“The activity reports presented by bishops from India and Bangladesh were very impressive. It pains me to say that the Church of Pakistan is not anywhere close to the other churches in South Asia and this internal bickering is tainting its image further in the global church,” he said.
Calling for church unity, Lamuel said the Lahore Diocese had made repeated attempts for reconciliation but the moderator’s condition of holding talks only with elected members of the diocesan executive council was impeding the process.
“If the Synod is really serious in reconciliation, they should nominate their representatives and we will come up with our names for the talks. We do not accept the moderator’s condition that he will solely lead the talks from the Synod side and engage with people of his choice,” he claimed.
CoP Moderator/President Bishop Marshall rejected the claims made by Lamuel.
“It is a matter of fact that the Lahore Diocese conducted an illegal election after backtracking on their commitment to bring the diocesan constitution in conformity with the constitution of the Church of Pakistan after which the Synod would have conducted the election. Mr Lamuel was a signatory to that commitment so how can he keep claiming that the election is legal and in accordance with the constitution?” Marshall told Kross Konnection.
The moderator bishop also denied the impression that the church’s partners/donors were not concerned about the rifts in the church union.
“Our partners are concerned over the manner in which one diocese has digressed from the constitution and conducted an illegal election. Where in the world are retired bishops allowed to consecrate a bishop in absence of any seated bishops and the moderator/president of the Synod? How can the Lahore diocese justify this action even by their own constitution?” he questioned.
In response to a question regarding reconciliation, Bishop Marshall said that he had initiated the offer for conciliation, but had made it clear that the negotiation process will initially be discussed only with the elected diocesan officials.
“Retired bishops and non-elected members should not have a role in the conciliatory talks since it’s them who have created divisions in the church union. I represent the seated bishops of the CoP and will develop consensus on the way forward with the Lahore Diocese after talking to the elected diocesan officials. Formation of the negotiation panels may follow later,” he said.
Bishop Marshall also rejected Lamuel’s insinuation that the CoP’s partner organisations were not ‘impressed’ with the Pakistani church’s activities.
“It is not ethical to share details of confidential meetings, but I feel it’s important to inform my brothers in Christ that the CoP has never before acted so proactively on the challenges facing Christians in Pakistan.
“We have effectively highlighted and advocated on public and government forums for the resolution of sensitive issues such as the forced conversion and marriages of underage Christian girls, misuse of the blasphemy laws, and launched strategic litigations on these issues. These endeavors have been lauded by all our partners, including the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, both in writing and during personal interactions.
“We are also making efforts to unite the Christians on one platform to strengthen the community’s voice in the national mainstream. The CoP’s proactive activities for women and youth development, and promotion of education is also on record. I do not believe in holding cosmetic meetings with government leaders. As shepherds of Christ’s flock, it is our moral and spiritual responsibility to strive for concrete and sustainable solutions to the issues facing our people,” he added.