In any conflict, it is the victors who write the history. If, as David Waller suggests (see Lead Story p. 4), the revision committee of the proposed legislation to ordain women as bishops is finding it difficult to come up with a formula which will achieve the required synodical majority, it would be as well to rehearse now – before opponents of the development are blamed for the debacle -how we got where we are.
Though the queue is still forming of those who claim to have written the Act of Synod, its principal author, and the man who secured its passage in the Synod, was John Habgood. So far as one can tell Habgood genuinely believed in the notion of’reception^ and sought, in the Act to give it practical expression. He believed, on the Gamaliel principle, that given a level playing field opposition to the innovation would either thrive or die.
The playing field was not, as almost every indicator made plain, entirely level; but opposition (much to the dismay of many who had voted for the Act) showed little sign of waning. The Church of England was left, for the foreseeable future, with a mixed economy of orders. Habgood was clear about the implications. In an interview with Liz Carnley he Spelled them out:
Liz Carney: So while the two integrities exists, is there any possibility that a woman will be consecrated bishop?
John Habgood: I think that I’m probably out of line here and I’m not in any case in any position to do anything about it, but I would have argued against it.
LC: So, in the end, hasn’t the Act of Synod set a precedent which means that women won’t be able to fulfil their ministry?
JH: There are lots of ways you can fulfill your ministry without being a bishop.
LC: But isn’t this natural justice? If you allow women to be ordained as priests, in the course of events some women could be ordained as bishops: hasn’t this system denied them that right?
JH: Well, perhaps it has, but this is a part of what has to be paid for maintaining the unity of the church.
If blame is to be laid for the predicament in which the Church now finds itself, then the General Synod is the culprit. And if women are not made bishops this time
round – or are made bishops with no adequate provision for opponents – there is a real risk of ecclesial disobedience by one party or the other. Uncanonically ordained women bishops have obtained elsewhere; and the creation of new dioceses and even provinces is not unknown. The recent history of The Episcopal Church is an extended cautionary tale.
In all this the position of opponents, and the agreed policy of Forward in Faith, needs to be clearly restated. We are convinced that a Church which ordains women to the priesthood has, to safeguard its own integrity, to make provision for women bishops. We believe that in order to honour its own solemn undertakings, the Synod must make adequate provision for opponents to live and thrive within the Church of England. The minimum requirement for such is bishops with jurisdiction.
Most English bishops have circulated to their clergy a brief paper by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York about the administration of Holy Communion in the face of a predicted pandemic of Swine Flu.
These recommendations involve a Catholic understanding of the eucharist which many (perhaps most) Anglicans do not share and, in the case of the common cup, raise serious matters of principle. Concerns of hygiene, it is true have led many protestant groups to introduce individual communion cups or glasses; but this has not, for the most part been the practice of the Church of England. The restoration of the cup to the laity, moreover, was one of the significant changes of the Reformation and a matter of sacramental doctrine.
We need not only guidelines about practical matters, but also a clearer rationale for those guidelines. Who has the authority to remove the chalice from the laity, and for what reason? If the Aids scare was not a sufficient justification, why is swine flu considered to be so? And what are the circumstances in which the common cup will be restored?
It is not unduly nice to seek some answers.