The most remarkable casualty of the liberal agenda, as it has tobogganed down the slippery slope from women deacons to gay bishops, has been the unity and catholicity of the church. From provincial autonomy to diocesan autonomy was a short step. But the journey has engendered another doctrine equally strange to Anglican ecclesiology: monarchical episcopacy.
Just as bishops were allegedly discovering their collegiality, they have felt obliged to assert their autocracy. In Southern California two parishes have recently withdrawn from their diocese. In a pastoral letter commanded to be read out in all his churches the Bishops of Los Angeles has recently written:
‘As a church, we seek, whenever possible, to allow autonomy in decision-making to individual dioceses. Each bishop in every diocese has authority over the life and work of that diocese, its congregations and clergy. The bishop’s ministry is based in our belief that in any given place, there is one bishop, who continues the work of the holy
apostles and is the chief priest, pastor and teacher in that diocese. Priests exercise their ministry on behalf of their bishop and only under the bishop’s authority. No bishop outside the diocese has the jurisdiction to oversee ministry within that geographical diocese.’
In any other context, of course, such a statement would be an unexceptionable summary of catholic teaching. But the context is the appointment of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, which (like the ordination of women to the priesthood) is an action which the universal church has never sanctioned and has roundly condemned.
Bishops are not authorized to do what the church does not. Rather, they exist to continue, in the contemporary milieu, the faith as they have received it. They are to work, in this onerous task, in collegial co-operation with their fellow bishops and with their own college of priests. Their credibility and authority rests on the diligent discharge of that obligation.
The Bishop of Los Angeles would be well-advised to study the oath of allegiance to the Kings of Aragon and the Counts of Catalunya current in the fourteenth century:
‘We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws – but if not, not.’