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Is the female of the species born to purple?

09 July 2008

Along with Synod, Peter Forster considers the topic of the hour

Women as Bishops
James Rigney, editor

Mowbray £14.99 (978-0-567-03224-9)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

THIS IS a revised and expanded version of the papers delivered at an Affirming Catholicism symposium in 2006, together with the important response made by the Bishops of Salisbury and Durham to Cardinal Kasper’s address to the Bishops of the Church of England in the same year. The various submissions by Affirming Catholicism to recent working parties on women in the episcopate are also usefully included.

The underlying theological case for the ordination of women as bishops is largely assumed. The book addresses the questions whether the Church of England should proceed now to this development; and, if so, what provisions should be made for those who, to one degree or another, do not wish to receive the sacramental ministry of women bishops. A simple Measure, with an advisory code of practice is strongly preferred.

The case for advancing without delay is seen to rest on two considerations. First, previous Lambeth Conferences have already given a green light to ordaining women to the episcopate, subject only to decisions of local provinces. This means that a decision by the Church of England has no insurmountable wider implications. The Bishops put this sharply: “We must not for a moment collude with the impression that the Church of England occupies a position analogous to the Vatican, and that the Lambeth Conference is merely an expensive piece of window-dressing.”

Second, to Cardinal Kasper’s challenge that the real decision facing the Church of England is whether it considers itself to be Catholic or Protestant, the authors here make a fundamentally Protestant choice. For example, in a stimulating contribution Mark Chapman presents the modern Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic conceptions of episcopacy as being far removed from those of the Anglican Reformation.

He asserts that the Tractarian claim that the Church of England had, through its bishops, an essential continuity with the Early Church is a “myth”. It has certainly been a powerful myth.

John Wijngaards, the only Roman Catholic contributor, impatiently accuses his own Church of being rigid, masculine, and patriarchal. He likens it to the Soviet Union before the collapse of Communism, when no self-respecting economist agreed with the official line.

One way or another, the issue comes back to the visceral question of the relation of the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church. To the present reviewer, this deepens the mystery of why ARCIC has never produced a statement on the ordination of women; and why so much of the current debate on the subject can seem beset with a certain superficiality, and, occasionally, with intolerance.

Dr Peter Forster is the Bishop of Chester.

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