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Theology and pastoral practice need further work, Mawer review into Philip North affair concludes

15 September 2017

Recommendations: Sir Philip Mawer

Recommendations: Sir Philip Mawer

THE Church of England needs to revisit the 2014 settlement that gave reassurances to the traditionalist minority at the time of the women-bishops vote, Sir Philip Mawer says in his review of the Sheffield affair.

He proposes the setting up of a review group, with a balanced membership, to distil good practices in the dioceses and provide resources for dioceses, parishes, and theological institutions.

“The process will require leadership and it will take time. If it can be successfully carried out, it may not only help the Church as it engages with other internally divisive issues (notably that of human sexuality) but help model ways of coping with conflict to the wider world.”

Sir Philip writes that he consulted Canon Jeremy Worthen, secretary for ecumenical relations and theology, for his opinion. Canon Worthen remarks: “It is no longer possible to speak in a straightforward way about the Church of England holding ‘full sacramental communion’ within its own life, or with other Churches.”

Thus, Sir Philip argues, the House of Bishops must give its attention to the theological challenges posed to the 2014 settlement by Professor Percy and other theologians. The Faith and Order Group might be involved.

For his part, Sir Philip suggests that the Five Guiding Principles do not rule out the nomination of a diocesan bishop who does not ordain women priests. The concept of the bishop as a “focus of unity” relates to the office, he suggests, rather than the individual; besides which, bishops minister collegially.

And he quotes the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, who argued that, for Evangelicals, “the focus of unity is Christ himself. . . The idea that bishops, in their own persons, need to hold a majority view on everything in order to foster unity has no place in New Testament teaching.”

Sir Philip also believes that more work needs to be done to meet the pastoral challenge when a non-ordaining bishop is nominated to a diocese, as when a woman bishop relates to those male clergy in her diocese who are unable on theological grounds to accept the sacramental validity of her orders.

Sir Philip highlights a number of shortcomings in the Crown Nominations Commission process, which he has recommended to the review group led by Professor Oliver O’Donovan. In particular, he raises “the extent to which the cloak of confidentiality currently surrounding the work of the Commission can be relaxed in order to ensure the degree of preparation for the announcement of a nomination commensurate with the controversy it is likely to arouse”.

He also challenges traditionalists to refrain from giving the Five Guiding Principles “almost totemic significance”, interpreting them in a “quasi-legalistic way”. In addition, with equal rights come equal obligations, he says. “These include the need to speak of each other in terms of regard and affection rather than disdain or condemnation.

“During my conversations with ordained women in Sheffield, I was given examples of language used of them by some male clergy holding traditionalist views which were wholly unacceptable.

“Any use of language by anyone in this debate (whatever position they hold) which is hurtful or demeaning is utterly to be condemned. No toleration of it should be shown by anyone, especially anyone in a position of authority in the Church.”

Finally, he asks that the lessons of Sheffield about better communications and more personal support be learned in order to avoid a similar “lacuna” in future.


Read our full report on what Sir Philip Mawer’s review reveals about the episode here. You can also listen to the Editor, Paul Handley, discuss the implications of the findings on the latest episode of the Church Times Podcast here

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