From the Bishop of Fort Worth      

 Diocese of Fort Worth Response to the
Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference


We welcome the report and recommendations of the Panel of Reference in response to the appeal submitted by the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. We are deeply grateful to Archbishop Peter Carnley and the members of the Panel for their hard work and thoroughgoing investigation of our appeal during the past year, and we are especially gratified and encouraged by their affirmation and endorsement of the Dallas Plan (described in paragraph #7 of the report) as an adequate response to the canons of The Episcopal Church on the ordination and placement of clergy. We are gratified that our conscientious position has been vindicated by this impartial, international body of church leaders.

Since the publication of the Eames Commission report on women in the episcopate (1988), we have embraced its principle of “an open process of reception” for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. This principle maintains that eventually the whole catholic church may either accept or reject the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate as a legitimate development in the apostolic ministry (see Eames Commission report, paragraph 44). This is a long, spiritual process that may take several generations ultimately to decide. 

The Dallas Plan was implemented as a means of responding positively and pastorally to women in this diocese who feel called to the priesthood and want to test their vocation, as well as to any parish in the diocese that may wish to call a woman to serve in a priestly capacity.  But in 1997 the General Convention attempted to shorten the process by passing amendments to the canons on the ordination of women, making the practice mandatory rather than permissive.  This had the effect of marginalizing our bishop and diocese (and others like us in the Episcopal Church) and outlawing the theological position we maintain.  In our appeal to the Panel, we expressed our concern for the future of our diocese when the time comes to elect a new bishop.

The Panel has affirmed the principle of “an open process of reception” as articulated by the Eames Commission and affirmed by successive Lambeth Conferences, and it has called into question the attempt by The Episcopal Church to bring premature closure to this discernment process by adopting mandatory canons on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate.

An open process of reception requires that each side be treated with charity and respect, and that time and space be provided for this matter to be resolved in the life of the catholic church as a whole.  The Dallas Plan has worked well for over a decade, and in the Panel’s estimation “has cared positively for those who do not share the majority diocesan view.“

In addition we note the following points in the Panel’s report:

  • “…no diocese or parish should be compelled to accept the ministry of word or sacrament from an ordained woman” (#17a) and “non-acceptance of the ordination of women is a recognized theological position” (#13);  and similarly, “provision has to be made to meet the conscientious objection to ministry by women.’ (#17a)
  •  Any diocese holding this theological position “ought to be able to find a place within ECUSA without a sense of isolation or victimization.” (#14)
  • “No diocese should be compelled to elect a bishop who agrees with the ordination of women.” (#16)
  • ”…theological views on the ordination or consecration of women should not be a ground on which consent [to the election of a bishop] might be withheld.” (#17b)
  • “…the Archbishop of Canterbury should discuss with the Presiding Bishop the possibility of the clarification of the ambiguous wording of the 1997 amendment to the relevant canon so as to ensure that the permissive nature of the ordination of women is maintained in any diocese.” (#17c)
  • Discussions should continue “with the aim of securing the place of Fort Worth in the Communion.” (#17d)

We regard the report as a very important document, deserving the attention and appreciation not only of this diocese and Province, but of all parishes and dioceses within the entire Anglican Communion. We hope that it will usher in a new period of patient discernment, both in prayer and in study, concerning a question that sadly has tended to be the occasion for enmity, rather than unity in accord with the will of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

January 8, 2007