Bishop Andrew Burnham reflects on the difficulty of waiting for General Synod and considers the likely options for the future of Catholic Anglicans
We are at the most difficult stage in the process… Very few are ‘swimming for it’ – going off individually to become Roman Catholics. Most fear there is no future for Anglo-Catholic parishes. Some are content just to get on with it. No one quite knows what to do and the leadership – ‘what leadership?’ some say – is seen as either not doing anything at all or in a helpless tail spin. Meanwhile, in the background, there are rumours about ‘caravans to Rome’ – trekking off as a group – and secret negotiations in incense-filled rooms.
All of this reflects the difficulty of waiting. Expectans expectavi. Waiting on God is the hardest of spiritual tasks: we would rather do anything than sit around doing nothing. But wait we must. The Revision Committee, looking at the women bishops’ legislation, is hard at work, and, since members of the General Synod are entitled to attend, whether or not their own submissions are being discussed, this is not a confidential process. We know, for example, that on 1 June the principal business was to consider the idea of the creation of new dioceses. The Bishop of Burnley spoke for himself and for the Bishops of Blackburn and Winchester. The Catholic Group’s submission was then made by Frs Baker, Benfield, Hould-ing and Killwick. Sarah Finch and Joanna Monckton, lay members of Synod, also made oral submissions, as did Fr Stephen Trott.
Part of the problem of a public process is that whenever a proposal is accepted or dismissed there is the possibility of widespread reaction. So, for example, when the ‘new dioceses’ proposal has been voted on, this will be viewed as a drawback for those who want women bishops without provision for those who disagree, or a defeat for those who cannot survive without new dioceses. Sensibly, the Revision Committee has postponed voting on particular proposals until it has heard several of them.
‘New dioceses’ are, of course, the common sense solution. Several years ago, my driver, very much a member of the general public in these matters, said to me that ‘flying bishops need flying dioceses’. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself is on record as saying that only new dioceses would provide an adequate ecclesiological framework. Any other arrangement, we would say, would lead to the exclusion and marginalization of Anglo-Catholic clergy and, more particularly, of congregations in poor areas.
The uncertainty of the last fifteen years has already led to a dearth of new vocations, the demoralization of many clergy, and the exit of some. It is a shock to find retired clergy who no longer go to church, not to mention the exodus of laity. This is not to blame women clergy – who, of course, are every bit as able as male clergy – but it is noticeable how the average age of newly-ordained clergy goes up and up, and the proportion of those trained on courses and doing the
job on a self-supporting basis becomes larger and larger. This is not a flourishing church. We need clean, non-discriminatory structures for Anglo-Catholics to survive and to grow back to strength. We need a fresh influx of young priests and we need to stop the discrimination against our parishes and the discrimination against St Stephen’s House, which some bishops and DDOs are effectively and myopically blockading.
The paradox, as ever, is that our vocations conferences continue to be well attended and that our work with children and young people is second to none, as the turn out of nearly 600 youngsters at the Ebbsfleet Children and Young People’s Eucharistic Festival this year showed. Where our parishes flourish there is a noticeable balance of men and women, not always found in the Church of England, and of age groups and racial origin.
Though it is too close to call at present, it might be worth considering what would happen if the ‘three dioceses’ proposal went down the drain. We should be left with some rather technical solutions – what have been called ‘the Society solution or ‘mandatory transfer of jurisdiction’. The fact that these cannot easilybe described shows their complexity, and it is not until their detail is revealed that we can judge whether they begin to meet what the Provincial Episcopal Visitors have consistently said was the minimum requirement.
Meanwhile the Manchester Group’s preferred option, the Code of Practice, has to be resisted. It provides no adequate ecclesiological framework, relies on a degree of trust which has already been demon-strably lacking, and, I should say, has an uncomfortable resemblance to apartheid; Christina Rees is right about that. Under the Code of Practice, or indeed if women bishops legislation proceeds without any safeguards for traditionalists, we shall continue to have ‘a pope in every parish’, as various Anglo-Catholic priests continue to pretend that the parish church belongs to a communion it does not belong to.
The Church Times might have been right when, in an editorial a month or two ago, it said that Anglo-Catholics are so good at carrying on regardless that things will continue whether or not provision is made. The real contribution of Anglo-Catholicism, however – without which it is all a game – is the priority it gives to working for the unity of the Church, in obedience to John 17, which we see in the first instance as reunion with the Holy See. This was a stated priority of Anglicans in general, in the ARCIC process. Derailed by unilateral action on the part of the Anglican Communion, it nonetheless remains the priority of Anglo-Catholics, and, if and when this ceases to be possible for us as a group, it becomes a priority for individual bishops, priests, deacons and lay people. Is this where we have got to? We await the report of the Revision Committee and the reaction of General Synod to find out.