Bishops offer lead to Catholics: Wait and be charitable

by
13 August 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Serious decision: the debate on women bishops at General Synod in York, in July PA

Serious decision: the debate on women bishops at General Synod in York, in July PA

TRADITIONALIST Anglo-Catholic bishops have reached out to a wing of the Church of England that they describe as shocked, bewildered, and disappointed after the General Synod’s vote in July for a statutory code of practice for objectors to the ordination of women as bishops. They are advising like-minded clergy that all may not yet be lost.

But the Manchester Group and the House of Bishops must be “in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation”, insist the Bishops of Bever­ley, Blackburn, Burnley, Chi­chester, Ebbsfleet, Edmonton, Ful­ham, Gib­ral­tar in Europe, Horsham, Ply­mouth, Pontefract, Richborough, and Whitby, and the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle.

Lambeth gave them “a new sense of unity”, they say, writing to the 1400 clergy who signed an open letter to the two Archbishops plead­ing for legal protection for objectors (News, 4 July). The bishops suggest that it is “by no means clear that the House of Laity would support legis­la­tion whose inevitable consequences would be the exclusion of faithful Anglicans from the Church of England”, and they add that patterns of voting should also give the House of Bishops pause for thought.

Leaving the C of E is, the bishops say, “not a necessary conclusion. . . We are being encouraged by friends in other historic Churches to con­tinue to struggle for the Catholic identity of the Church of England.” They de­scribe the House of Bishops’ meetings in October and December, and the General Synod in February 2009 as “critical moments”.

“It is essential that we behave with grace and charity towards everyone,” they say. “Remember, too, that some speeches in the General Synod and reactions since have shown us that there are many people, including bishops, who do not agree with us about women bishops, but do not want to see the marginalisation or ex­clusion of our contribution from the ongoing life of the Church of England.”

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Lambeth had shown that the Anglican Church had substantially changed in its perception of itself and the ecumenical dimension, said the Bishop of Fulham and chairman of Forward in Faith, the Rt Revd John Broadhurst. “That has serious im­plica­tions for lots of people, includ­ing us,” he said on Tuesday.

“As a whole constituency — not just Forward in Faith — we have al­ways made it quite clear that juris­diction is not our top line: it’s our bottom line. There is a kind of naïve stupidity about — that it is a nego­tiating ploy; but it is not. Nothing else will do. That view is shared by all 14 bishops.”

There had been a real sense of shock about the lack of charity at the General Synod, Bishop Broadhurst said. “I don’t think I have ever known an atmosphere like there was in York — a wilful disregard for fellow Chris­tians.” As to whether the situa­tion could be redeemed: “If the bishops show they are willing to deal with it themselves and take it back, it can be redeemed; but I’m not over-optimistic.”

A record of a meeting between clergy members of the US Episcopal diocese of Fort Worth, which has aligned itself to the province of the Southern Cone, and the RC Bishop of Fort Worth, the Most Revd Kevin Vann, came to light this week. The clergy are requesting the necessary guidance for making a proposal to lead the diocese into full communion with Rome.

The clergy say that they have the “unequivocal support” of the Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker. They describe the Archbishop of Can­ter­bury as “incapable of provid­ing decisive leadership”, and declare that “a magisterium is absolutely essential”. They describe the Roman Catholic Church as “the one true Church”, and insist: “The Protestant/ Low Church teachings, the Liberal experiential teachings are just not true [their italics]. The Catholic faith, the Catholic practice, the Catholic teaching — is true.”

The Anglican Church “shares the fatal flaws” of the Episcopal Church, say the clergy, who describe the arrangement with the Southern Cone as temporary. They estimate that 59 clergy are “willing to pursue an active plan” for full communion with the Holy See, and express a belief that the Pope is “sympathetic to our plight”.

They report that at a meeting in Rome in April 2006, they were told by Cardinal Law: “‘What was not pos­sible 20 years ago may be possible to­day.’ And with regard to our moving forward he said, ‘Make me an offer.’”

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Bishop Broadhurst had not seen the document, but said that there was already an Anglican-rite RC group in the United States. “What ARCIC was asking for was unity with Rome and remaining Anglicans,” he said. “The Anglican Church has taken a distinctively Protestant, sectarian move. The question Jack is asking is: can part of the Anglican Com­munion do what the whole Com­munion was going to do?”

The Bishop of Glou­cester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, who moved the Synod motion on women bishops, has set out his reflec­tions on the decision. He de­scribes his “agon­ising” over an amend­ment from the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, which would have kept the possibility alive of the minority transfer of jurisdiction from a female bishop to a male colleague.

When he voted against it, and saw it fall in the House of Bishops by one vote, he said: “I felt I had been ungra­cious. However, since it has emerged that at least two of the bishops op­posed to the ordination of women to the episcopate voted against the amend­ment because it did not pro­vide sufficient assurances, I have felt that I had been right after all.”

Bishop Perham maintains his view that a statutory code of practice can provide what the min­ority needs, and would have more force in law than the present Act of Synod. He does not believe that there was “a determina­tion by the majority to give nothing to the min­ority”: the Synod took “a moderate middle course, following in general the carefully crafted motion from the House of Bishops”.

See Letters

Bishop Perham maintains his view that a statutory code of practice can provide what the min­ority needs, and would have more force in law than the present Act of Synod. He does not believe that there was “a determina­tion by the majority to give nothing to the min­ority”: the Synod took “a moderate middle course, following in general the carefully crafted motion from the House of Bishops”.

See Letters

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