The debate about the ordination and consecration of women has given rise over the years to a number of apparently simple statements that may, on closer examination, seem less obvious than they at first appear. One has only to think of the assertion that justice and equality demand the innovation or that to deny ordination to women seems to deny them redemption.
The currently fashionable assertion is that there can be no diminution of the authority of a future woman bishop: that if women are to be consecrated as bishops, it must be fully and properly and not as second class bishops. They must not, so to speak, be neutered by having to give up some of their ministry under the provisions of a Measure guaranteeing care for traditionalists.
A bishop is a shepherd. That responsibility means that he guides and guards, nourishes and nurtures his flock, alike in its belief and in its manner of life. He guides its pilgrimage and guards it from deviation. He feeds it from Scripture and Tradition and equips it to withstand the counter-attractions and lures of world, flesh and devil. In all this he makes the Good Shepherd’s ministry real in his diocese and, if not as a matter of pastoral principle then certainly as a matter of actual practice, is especially the Shepherd of the shepherds, the pastor of his clergy.
The Clergy Discipline Measure exists to regulate the response to complaints to bishops about their clergy. Before its full weight is invoked, such complaints are investigated to be sure that they are not frivolous and efforts are made to settle a dispute without the stress, discord and expense of a court hearing. If such proves to be necessary, the bishop is brought to a fork in the exercise of his ministry. Where he has been involved pastorally in the case before
it comes to a formal head, he has—the Measure leaves him no option—to resign his role in the juridical process. If he is to dispense justice, the Measure is clear that he cannot have been involved in the matters under judgement. If, on the other hand, the pastoral role of caring for a priest or of seeking reconciliation between opposing parties has earlier been taken by, say, an archdeacon, then the bishop has—again the Measure leaves them no option—to resign the possibility of exercising personal pastoral care of the accused. The Measure once again assumes that roles that might be thought to conflict must be separated.
The Clergy Discipline Measure clearly has something to say to the insistence that women bishops must be spared compulsory transfer or even, “co-ordinate”, sharing—as opposed to mere delegation—of their ordinary jurisdiction. That transfer would parallel the self-denial that a pastorally active bishop has to exercise if a case under the Discipline Measure were to come to a trial, for both relate to a situation in which juridical power is surrendered. Reflection suggests that there is also a parallel in everyday reality between a woman bishop who had to provide alternative episcopal oversight and the bishop who had to eschew pastoral contact with one of his clergy, who was undergoing trial.
Yet, in a sense it does not really matter whether the parallel is exact on one level or two. For the underlying point is not which facet of episcopal ministry would be affected by a Measure that guarantees acceptable episcopal oversight to those of our Integrity. It is rather that the Clergy Discipline Measure has already demonstrated the Church of England’s belief that it is possible to divide episcopal ministry. The days of the omni-competent successor of the Apostles whom we meet in St Ignatius and met until recently in the dioceses of the Church of England are apparently past. The Clergy Discipline Measure marks a sea-change in our understanding of how episcopacy is exercised.
If women are consecrated as bishops—as we all know they will be—they will be as subject to that Measure as are all other bishops. They will implicitly already have accepted the C of E’s line that bishops who are in a crude sense not completely episcopal can nevertheless truly be Bishops. Why, then, should the majority seek to shelter behind what turns out to be a slogan not an argument as a justification for refusing a traditionalist minority what it alone knows it needs by Measure and not by an as yet unwritten Code of Practice? I hate to have to wonder it, but is it that some protagonists of consecrating women really don’t want Traditionalists to retain an honoured position within the Church of their Baptism?
Canon T. O. Mendel SSC ND