Women bishops, the revision committee, and Rome: the debate continues

16 December 2009


From the Revd Hugh Lee and 24 others

Sir, — The women-bishops revision committee have an important and serious task in producing revised draft legislation for the General Synod to consider. When the Synod sent the draft legislation to the revision committee in February 2009, it was made explicit that they were to report back by February 2010, and we urge them to do every­thing possible to complete their work in time for this coming meet­ing of the Synod.

Even if they have not completed all their work, it is essential that they bring to the Synod in February a progress report explaining why they have been unable to draft revised legislation in time, especially as they have already produced two tantalis­ing press releases.

Moreover, it is imperative that this stage of the legislative process is completed in July 2010, as otherwise it will be seriously delayed by the procedural ramifications of the start of the new General Synod later in the year. Yet further delay would continue to be damaging to the mission of the Church, as well as to the health of the Church, for all concerned.

Hugh Lee, Christina Rees, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, Maureen Allchin, Christine Allsopp, Gill Ambrose, Susan Atkin, Gill Calver, Kevin Carey, Brian Chave, Paul Collier, Margaret Condick, Cynthia Dowdle, Meg Gilley, Kathryn Fitzsimons, Tim Hind, Maureen Hobbs, Douglas Holt, Vera Hunt, Nicholas Kerr, Helen L. Leathard, Andrew Nunn, Anna Thomas-Betts, Katie Tupling, Martin Webster

General Synod members
c/o 12 Walton Street
Oxford OX1 2HG

From the Revd Rachel E. Harrison

Sir, — I found the article last week (Features) written by the Revd Stephen Trott concerning Anglicanorum Coetibus a very accessible summary of a murky situation — murky because of the unknown aspects of the proposal.

It will be quite obvious that, as a female priest, I would not wish to consider the invitation of the Pope. I still hope, however, to understand something of what is on offer for those male colleagues for whom there is a great temptation to look elsewhere for their spiritual home. I also hope that those men who accept the invitation will be wholly honest about their reasoning.

It seems to me that there are two groups who may well look to the Roman Catholic Church with inter­est. There are clearly men who have great difficulty with working alongside ordained women and could not in conscience accept the ministrations of a female bishop. Then there is a further group who, for whatever reason, accepted Anglican orders, but would have preferred to be Roman Catholic all along.

For those who found some of the doctrines or the practice of Roman Catholicism unacceptable and so turned to Anglicanism, there is now a different route into Rome. By all means, let them be men of con­science and integrity; but please will they not blame the women if there were other reasons for their choosing the Anglican way. An Anglican priest has been quoted as saying that to go to Rome “would be like going home”. Maybe it was only his wife and children who prevented that happy reunion in the first place.

The Revd Stephen Trott spoke of the cost to some of the prospect of leaving people and buildings behind if they were to leave the Church of England, which I perfectly under­stand. Nevertheless, if individuals believe themselves more closely aligned to the doctrine and author­ity of the Roman Catholic Church, then that is where they need to be, irrespective of the “women issue”. Over the years many have had to make that same difficult choice, not least of all Cardinal Newman.

I know that I differ from many of my female colleagues when I say that I carry an enormous burden of guilt for the fact that my ordination has caused so much distress and upset to individuals. I cannot and would not, however, want to deny my real belief that God has called me to be a priest in his Church; and I refuse to feel guilty for those men who feel a greater allegiance to the Roman see than to the Archbishop of Canter­bury.

The Vicarage, 10 Allendale Tee
New Marske, Redcar TS11 8HN

From Cllr David Lindsay

Sir, — I attended the Advent Procession at St Chad’s College, Durham, by kind invitation of the College Officers and Fellows. The old place is on very good form. But the word on the Anglo-Catholic street is that the Ordinariate proposal is ridiculous.

Just as the worst liturgical abuses on my own side of the Tiber are mostly in London or its orbit, and are dying out even there, so the most exotic aspects of Forward in Faith are mostly in London or its orbit, and are dying out even there. There is a more than happy medium to be struck by clergy who come over, having used the modern Roman rite tastefully, reverently, and sensibly for decades, in many cases all their lives.

Parishes the length and breadth of the land are crying out for such priests. Should the men who could meet that need revert to, or adopt for the first time, the full English Missal flora and fauna of 1950s Anglo-Papalism? That is as absurd to them as it is to me.

The provision for the Latin Rite ordination of married convert clergy goes all the way back to Pius XII. As for being aimed at the Traditional Anglican Communion, again the views of the Anglo-Catholic mainstream are in line with those of many of the rest of us. If that body really is active in 66 countries, then in which 66 countries, exactly? If it really does have hundreds of thousands of faithful, then who are they, and where are they?

This whole thing may be playing well in London, at Oxford, and on the South Coast. But, in all parts north (and, no doubt, west), it is being dismissed as an irrelevance and an absurdity. All in all, Sunday evening was heartening stuff — “If

I were going to become a Roman Catholic, then I would just get on and do it,” and, even better, “If you are going to do it, then you should do it properly, and become part of a normal Roman diocese and parish.”


13 Foxhills Crescent, Lanchester
Durham DH7 0PW

From Mr Malcolm Dixon

Sir, — Some of the more excitable Anglo-Catholic clergy have been blogging effusively about the prospect of taking themselves, together with their congregations and even their buildings, into the Church of Rome. Apart from the issues of doctrine and implied invalidity of their existing orders, there is another important issue.

All Anglican incumbents will, as a pre-condition of their institution, have sworn solemn oaths of allegiance to the Queen and of canonical obedience to their diocesan bishop. These clergy have always said that they cannot “in conscience” accept the ministry of women priests or bishops. How could they “in conscience” attempt to persuade their flocks to secede to another denomination, while they remain bound by these oaths?

26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington, Kent BR6 9PA

From the Revd Simon Tillotson

Sir, — You kindly gave prominence to a letter (23 October) that I wrote asking for a spirit of charity in the General Synod in the debate about women in the episcopate.

Since then, I have received letters arguing in favour of a code of prac­tice. They state that this would be built on a spirit of trust and mutual respect rather than on restricting the limit of a female bishop in legal statute, which, it is argued, would mean that the Church sanctioned discrimination against women bishops in a more forceful way.

A code of practice sounds perfectly acceptable to me: it chimes with my own beliefs and personality. The point I was making is that conservative Evangelicals and the Catholic Group do have a problem with it, for all the reasons they have given, which I will not rehearse now.

The nub of the matter is that as Christians we need to take a broader and more generous view. The bus is ready to move, and I am definitely on it, delighted and excited. Those who still stand in the bus shelter, unable to board for matters of conscience (not bigotry, I believe), are now being dictated to that they should accept the terms that the bus passengers are setting. These seem perfectly acceptable to the bus passengers, but not to those left on the pavement, who are the ones to be chiefly affected by them.

Meanwhile, another bus is approaching with a Continental appearance and a willingness to ditch all sorts of traditions in order to attract the waiting passengers.

This matter is about Christian love, not ideological purity based on the notion of mutual trust. Our decision in February will not persuade such parishes to change their minds, but needs to show Christ’s love to two groups who make up a significant part of the Church of England. Showing love is our primary duty as Christians.

May I beg my fellow friends in Synod to put flexibility and compromise first on this occasion. I will certainly enjoy the bus ride more if we do.

The Vicarage, Church Street
Whitstable CT5 1PG

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