Traditionalists hope for big-society model, courtesy of St Hilda

29 September 2010

by Ed Thornton

A NEW SOCIETY has been formed to give “some sort of identity” to Catholic clergy and laity who are opposed to women bishops but do not wish to leave the Church of England.

The Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Revd John Ford, said this week that the new Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda would “provide a place within the Church of England where Catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater Churches of the East and West”.

The society, he said, represented “a con­structive initiative on the part of those who cannot accept the innovations proposed in legislation, and who are hurt and frustrated by General Synod’s inability to provide for their theological position”.

The idea emerged last week at a meeting of a “sacred synod” in Westminster, attended by 460 bishops, priests, and deacons. The meeting was called by Anglo-Catholic bishops to discuss concerns about women-bishops legislation and the lack of clarity about provision for those who would not accept it.

Describing the society’s purpose, Bishop Ford said that it “had been worked up in embryo to be offered as an option so that those who could not, in conscience, see a way forward in the Ordinariate would have some sort of identity”. It “is not competing with the Ordinariate”, he said, and it would “not be another club or pressure group”, but “a common life”.

He went on: “As with the Ordinariate, further details about the society and its life will emerge in the coming months.” A group of 12 would be meeting later this month to “work on the theology of the society” and come up with firmer plans for it. “There are a lot of people beginning to wonder what the society might be able to offer,” he said.

The Revd Ivan Aquilina, Vicar of St John the Baptist, Sevenoaks, who attended the sacred synod, said: “So far, what the aims and objectives are is not clear, so, while some are joining it, already others will want to wait and see. . . The society may or may not secure some sort of provision or a stronger code of practice. It may also be an honoured vehicle for those who, for personal or ecclesial reasons, cannot be part of the Catholic family.”

Women and the Church (WATCH) said in a statement that it was “curious, if not paradoxical” that the society should be named after St Hilda, who, “of all people, knew about discipline and loyalty to her Church, with her acceptance of the decision of the Synod of Whitby to follow the Roman rules and not the Celtic way that she had supported”.

WATCH said that the “society model” was “discussed in depth” by the Synod’s revision committee and rejected, because “there was some risk of creating a society that was an even weightier body than a diocese. . . This was because some of the representations made to us seemed to envisage that jurisdiction would in some way be conferred on the society itself and through it to the bishops.”

Press, page 27

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