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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

The Primacy Dispute. — (Nelson Evening Mail, February 14.)

page 6

The Primacy Dispute.

(Nelson Evening Mail, February 14.)

It has not been been without considerable hesitation that we have decided to reprint a couple of articles from the Christchurch Press on the Primacy dispute, but believing that many of our readers, other than the members of the Church, of which Bishop Suter is the head in this diocese, take an interest in the matter, we think it well to let them know how shamefully he is being maligned on account of the action he has taken in the direction of upholding the laws of the General Synod, which is the governing body of his Church. Before proceeding to read our remarks thereon we ask those under whose notice they may come to be good enough to peruse the articles in question, which will be found on another page, Presuming that this request has been complied with, we will now go on to show how utterly unfair and unreasonable are the comments passed upon his conduct, We do not propose to enter into all the details of what the Press rightly calls the "disgraceful dispute" about the Primacy, but we cannot stand quietly by and see an estimable gentleman, a true-hearted Christian, and a hard working and popular dignitary of the Church thus grossly calumniated, and will therefore in as few words as possible put the matter in its true light. What is it then that this "vain," "obstinate." "grasping," "self-opinionated," "masquerading," prelate—we have merely culled a few of the choicest epithets from our hysterical contemporary's vocabulary—what is it he has done to bring all this storm of abuse and vituperation on his devoted head? The story we think can be very briefly, told. In February, 1889, the General Synod met, the Primate (Bishop Harper) intimated his intention of resigning, and the Synod thereupon proceeded to elect his successor. This was in direct opposition to its own laws, the Canons providing that such election should only take place when a vacancy had occurred—which it had not—and that in the interregnum the senior Bishop should he the acting Primate. The mistake was not wilfully made, since none of the members of the Synod appear to have noticed it, but for all that, it was made Upon Bishop Suter returning to his diocese in March his attention was called to the irregularity by Mr. Albert Pitt, the Chancellor of the Diocese, but at that time the Bishop paid little attention to it. In the month of August, the Canons, which had been printed in Dunedin, were circulated among the members of the synod. Then the Bishop saw, as everybody else must see who reads them, for they are so plain that they cannot be misunderstood, that a very grave error, which might lead to future complications, had been made. The Primate had not yet carried out his expressed intention of resigning, and Bishop Miter, anticipating that he might do so, wrote informing him of the irregularity that had been pointed out to him by Mr Pitt, and showing the very difficult position in which he (Bishop Suter) would be placed upon receiving his resignation, and begging him to consider the position. He added:—

"I deeply regret that any such difficulties should have arisen, because my motives are in danger of being-misunderstood, but I should never forgive myself if, from fear of being misunderstood, I allowed what, as far as I know, was contrary to the laws, to be done with my acquiescence. I have by Mr Pitt's advice made similar communications to the other Bishops."

In September the Primate sent in his resignation to Bishop Suter, who there upon decided to refer the question to the Standing Commission for their decision thereon, and-again in accordance with the Canons which provide that two parties interested must unite in submitting a case to the Commission—he obtained the consent of Bishop Harper, the late Primate, to join with him in doing so. Some of our readers may want to know what the Standing Commission had to do with the matter, and what was their right to interfere even upon being invited to do so. We will quote Title C Canon IV. Section 9 for their information:—"All doubts which may arise in the interpretation of any Canon or Statute already passed or hereafter to be passed by the General Synod or by any Diocesan Synod, shall be submitted for final decision to the Standing Commission and to no other Tribunal whatever. "That is plain enough. That doubts had arisen was admitted by Bishop Harper, as shown by the fact of his agreeing to prepare a case in conjunction with Bishop Suter for submission to the only Tribunal which the General Synod recognised. Bishop Suter communicated to the other Bishops what he and the late Primate were doing, and in the reply he received from the Bishop of Wellington were the following words:— page 7

"I yesterday received your letter enclosing an opinion on its subject matter by Mr Pitt together with a copy of the Bishop of Christchurch's resignation of the Primacy. As you say you are 'prepared to state a case for the Standing Commission,' I write to say that I agree with you that it is very desirable that this should be done 'without delay.'"

Thus it will be seen that neither the late Primate nor the Primate (illegally) elect offered the slightest objection to the course Bishop Suter proposed to adopt bat, on the contrary, that they both encouraged him in following it. The case was duly submitted to the Standing Commission, presided over by the Bishop of Auckland, and including among its members two lawyers of high standing, one of them being Sir Frederick Whitaker, In due course their decision was made Known. It was as follows:—

"1. That there was no vacancy in the office of Primate in February, 1889, when the General Synod elected the Bishop of Wellington.

2. That a Primate cannot be elected by anticipation of a vacancy in the office.

3. That on the resignation of the late Primate (the Bishop of Christchurch) in September, the senior Bishop by Consecration (the Bishop of Nelson) became Primate to hold office until the General Synod shall make other provision in that behalf. Bishop Suter has therefore been declared Primate."

Now, we desire to call attention to a letter recently addressed to the Press by the Very Rev. H. Jacobs, Dean of Christchurch, an extract from which appeared in our Saturday's issue. To day we will content ourselves with giving the following quotation: "The Church's only resource, I think, is to turn to the Bishop of Wellington and say, 'To you we look, under God for deliverance from our terrible embarrassment. We implore you to take the decided step of convening a special session. If your Lordship is known to be ready to take this J action if called upon to do so, we doubt not that two at least of our Right Reverend Prelates will come forward to make the request.' "When our readers have contrasted these words with a letter addressed to Bishop Suter immediately after the decision of the Commission was published, they will know what to think of Dean Jacobs' consistency, and the full extent of the reliability that is to be placed upon his opinion and advice. In a letter addressed to "The Most Reverend the Lord Bishop of Nelson, Primate," he enclosed certain documents relating the the election of Archdeacon Julius as Bishop of Christchurch by the Synod of that Diocese, and mentioned the day when he should like the consecration to take place, and then there occur these words which are deserving of special attention:—"It is a matter of congratulation to us all that the suspense in the matter of the Primacy is ended, and the question settled for the present." Then, after again referring to the papers: Will your Lordship kindly let me know your views and wishes in the matter,"

Has Dean Jacobs been loyal to his acknowledged head since writing these lines? Has he endeavoured to shelter him from the storm of abuse, the calamities, and misrepresentations to which he has been subjected? Has he done all in his power to uphold the decision of the Tribunal appointed by the General Synod to adjudicate on the occasion of such a difficulty arising as that which has been magnified and tensified by those whose business it was to reduce and remove it? Has he sought to show that he was honest and earnest when he said that it was a matter of congratulation to us all that the suspense in the matter of the Primacy is ended)" In fine, has he sought to set his recognised Primate right with those who have concocted and circulated, and those who must have been influenced by, the gross falsehoods that have been told about him? We leave the answer to Dean Jacobs' conscience, and the columns of the Press.

We think that we have very clearly shown by a relation of the facts of the case that up to the time of the publication of the decision of the Standing Commission the Bishop of Nelson had not been guilty of any impropriety, and the question will naturally be asked, "But what has he done since?" To this we reply—absolutely nothing except to endeavour to the utmost of his power to facilitate the necessary arrangements for the confirmation of the appointment, and the consecration, of Archdeacon Julius as Bishop of Christchurch, thereby giving the lie to the scandalous imputation to which publicity is given in one of the articles we reprint to-day that he has been actuated by "a desire to [unclear: impele] the acceptance of office by Archdeacon Julius, fearing that his reputation for vigour, eloquence, and well directed zeal would soon cast his own into the shade." We repeat the assertion that Bishop Suter has, with this solitary exception, done absolutely nothing But, it may be asked, if he has not been actively obstructive, has he not been so passively? Has he not refused to call the Synod together in order that they might settle the dispute? We know that in many instances this has page 8 not only been asked, but it has been asserted that such is the case. To this, how ever, we give an absolute denial. Bishop Suter has never refused to summon the Synod. As a matter of fact he has no power to convene it until asked by two Bishops, and such a request he has never received.

In appealing to the Tribunal constituted by the General Synod, for their judgment on a certain action of that body, the Bishop made a bold and a manful and against an attempt to ignore the Canons laid down by the Synod for its own guidance, and showed a commendable determination that, for his own part at least, he would not allow it to go forth that the New Zealand branch of the Church of England was an utterly lawless body, which made laws one day only to break them the next. By their action the Bishops and others who have striven hard to show that the Church's laws need not be obeyed except when they suit those who are supposed to be bound by them, have done an irreparable injury to the Church; they have struck it a blow under which it will stagger for many years to come, if, indeed, it ever recovers its previous firm footing, and for the mischief they have wrought they have endeavored to lay all the blame on him who would not acquiesce in their illegal actions. With the example that has been set by some of the Bishops and Clergy before their eyes, it is scarcely to be expected that the Laity will conform to anything like Church discipline, except when it pleases them to do so. Naturally enough they will ask, "If our prelate and priests acknowledge no law, why should we?" Bishop Suter alone appears to have foreseen this inevitable effect of the Synod setting its own laws at defiance, and because he would not be a party to bringing about that result he has been vilified and calumniated in the most shameful manner, and has had the most unworthy motives imputed to him. As the Press says—"As the Primate is really nothing more in this colony than the titular head of the Bishops and the Chairman of the General Synod, it is not of much consequence which of the Bishops is Primate," and yet it accuses a man of the highest character, than whom, by the Laity at least no Bishop in New Zealand is more honoured and respected, of acting in a manner nothing short of scandalous" in order to obtain this empty honour. Our contemporary says, "We tell His Lordship, that outside his own Diocese, public opinion is dead against him" This we take leave to doubt. Many correspondents in various parts of New Zealand, some of them men of excellent reputation and of high standing in the legal profession, have heartily upheld Bishop Suter in the action he has taken. And we add to this that in many places where public opinion may be dead against him now, it is because the real facts are not known; because he has been scandalously misrepresented. It would be well if some of those who are not ashamed to c st stones at Bishop Suter, were to remember that there is another and very powerful order in the Church besides the Bishops and Clergy, and we make bold to say that when the Laity understand the true position of affairs, as they will one of these days, there will be an expression of "intense indignation," not with Bishop Suter, but with those who have for the last few weeks been so busily engaged in hounding him down. Ay, we undertake to pay that even in Christchurch itself, where the mud has been most actively and persistently stirred, if it could be so arranged that Bishop Suter could address a meeting of the Lay members of the Church, there would be a revulsion of feeling that would astonish and make exceedingly uncomfortable some of the mischievous wire pullers whose delight it has been to bring a grate scandal upon the Church they pretend to love.

We have a few words to say in conclusion. The Press "deeply regrets that the closing days of Bishop Harper's episcopacy should have been embittered by this unseemly dispute and we are glad to bear testimony to the fact that he is to be acquitted of all blame in the matter". We, too, are sorry for the venerable Bishop, to know whom is to revere and respect him, but we sympathise far more deeply with Bishop Suter, who has been so disgracefully treated. And, moreover, we cannot acquit Bishop Harper of all blame in the matter. It was to the error he first made in not resigning prior to the meeting of the Synod that the difficulty was primarily due; it is to his refusal to "consider the position," as advised by the Bishop of Nelson, who warned him of the difficulties looming in the near future that the "very disgraceful dispute" which has arisen is owing. Of course he could not foresee all that was going to happen, but the outlook was sufficiently serious to cause him to pause, and at least to consult his brother Bishops before resigning the Primacy. Whatever may be said of some of the other Bishops, he at least is devoted to the service of the Church of which he has for so many years been the honoured head in New Zealand, and we feel sure that it must bitterly grieve him now that he did not pay more attention to the warning conveyed to him in Bishop Suter's letter.