Last month a Church newspaper accepted an advertisement from GRAS (Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod). Its content produced outraged responses from many and varied quarters and we are happy to reproduce the full text on Page 4 for the benefit of our readers. As an exercise in nostalgia it, no doubt, revived for the feminist lobby that sense of belligerent solidarity so deeply enjoyed before 1992 and so much missed since. As an exercise in political abuse it was a cheap shot. As a campaigning piece it has probably backfired. But make no mistake this shabby attempt at character assassination is not simply the product of an insignificant hard line group. Indeed, crudely put as it is, it substantially represents the thinking of a significant number of those who have risen to high office on the back of the 1993 legislation and who covertly support GRAS.
A distressingly high proportion of orthodox believers have had to endure life in dioceses where their obedience to Holy Scripture and the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church has seen them treated, in consequence, as second-class citizens. They have been judged to be moral equivalents of supporters of apartheid, misogynists and obscurantists. Their priests have regularly, ruthlessly and deliberately been barred from senior office and their parishes targetted.
We are also pleased to publish a piece by the former Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood. As the highest placed and most respected liberal leader in the Church of England in his day Dr Habgood was responsible for piloting the Act through General Synod and inaugurating the proposed period of reception. In generously responding to our request to set the current controversy against the background and intentions of the Act Dr Habgood’s piece allows us to judge for ourselves the relative success or failure of the legislation in enabling a just and harmonious co-existence. In comparing his hopes with the mindset of GRAS and the practices of its episcopal supporters and the deepening determination of orthodox opponents we can begin to assess if future co-existence is best served by more of the same or a mutually beneficial provincial settlement.
A Catholic in favour of abortion is not a Catholic. That is the Pope’s view and it is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Senator John Kerry, the likely Democratic hope for the White House and a pro-abortion Catholic, is the oxymoron incarnate. He may feel that he can ignore the Pope and run with the tide of comfortable middle American opinion on this one. After all, if the propaganda of the last 30 years is to be believed it is only right-wing loonies and fundamentalist bigots who object to ‘a woman’s right to chose’. However, in the light of a recent survey Senator Kerry’s focus groups may decide he needs, after all, to be a better Catholic.
The Centre for the Advancement of Women (CAW) has just released the findings of its latest poll. To its great discomfort it reveals that 51% of all US women now want a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or mortal danger to the mother. Even among white, liberal career women 42% thought the same and a further 21% wanted serious restrictions to apply. CAW’s chief Faye Wattleton (former head of Planned Parenthood, the leading birth control and abortion organization in America) said the results were ‘alarming news’ and ‘pretty devastating for pro-choice advocates like myself’. Ms Wattleton, Senator Kerry et al should not be so surprised. Thirty years on there are a huge number of women who have to live with the guilt and the unspeakable regret of a ‘lost’ child. When in their young lives their crisis of unwanted pregnancy was offered an ‘easy’ solution they often, perhaps understandably, confused what is legal with what is morally right. Now as mothers, aunts, grandmas they know for certain that the purveyors of abortion told them lies with terrible consequences. The dignity of women is never enhanced by the denial of the human rights of their children. More and more women are coming to understand, thank God, that it is the Catholic faith that told the truth and can alone, in Christ, begin to heal the wounds of their hearts.
The projected defection to Rome of Dr Edward Norman will have sent shivers down the spine in many an episcopal palace. With the publication of the Rochester Report and the drafting of the legislation to admit women to the episcopate, is the Church of England in for another debilitating run of resignations?
Norman, it should be noted, is not an obvious Roman fellow-traveller. Nor is the ordination of women (which he now opposes, but once supported) the major issue. Norman is concerned about a lack of authority.
Readers of this paper will be inclined to link the two. We have always maintained that the Church of England had no authority to ordain women. Orders are a gift of God to the Universal Church, not the possession of a part of it. But that is, with regard to the CofE, only part of the story. It is one thing for a province of the Church universal to take such a step and quite another to enact legislation which leaves the question of the validity and acceptability of orders to the parochial church council. The Anglican disease is easy to diagnose: it is the tendency to devolve decision-making to ever smaller bodies and groups in default of agreement at the centre.
The cure is not so apparent: for who can gainsay the appeal to democracy? New Westminster has every democratic right to sanction gay marriages. New Hampshire has every right to appoint as its bishop a gay non-celibate divorcee. Doctrine by democratic vote makes a nonsense both of catholicity and the claim to revelation. On such principles the centre cannot hold. ‘I don’t think it’s a church’ says Dr Norman, ‘it’s more of a religious society.’
Forward in Faith International, including representatives of FiF North America, FiF Australia, Credo Cymru and FiF Scotland recently met with the Archbishop of Canterbury for a cordial frank and productive meeting. The men from Chatham House will let us say no more!