Our opponents will doubtless have been hoping that the appointment of a former Chief Nurse as Bishop of Crediton would tempt us to joke about terminal pastoral care or reprise Kenneth Williams’ role in Carry On Matron. We are sorry to disappoint. Dame Sarah Mullally is a woman of ability, has had a distinguished public service career, has had fourteen years of ordained ministry (six as a team rector), and is still only 53. Those who believe women can be bishops will understandably rejoice.
Her appointment does, however, have wider significance – unrelated to her identity or even her sex. Its ultimate cause is Bishop John Ford’s departure from Plymouth (to which her predecessor was translated). There is now definitively no traditional Catholic bishop in the Exeter Diocese, and in the entire Southern Province none living west of Reading or north of St Albans. The Bishop of Ebbsfleet must now attempt – no longer just temporarily – to provide episcopal oversight for 150 parishes in twelve dioceses (and isolated Catholics in a thirteenth). The Bishop of Birmingham has a suffragan to help him look after 144 non-‘C’ parishes in one very compact diocese. The resulting question about ‘equal treatment…in relation to resource issues’ (House of Bishops’ Declaration, para. 15) must now be addressed.
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The Bishop of Horsham’s decision that he will now receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests is, as he recognized, a cause of pain, especially to those who looked to him for leadership and support. That not one of the 1,500 people reached by the Bishop of Wakefield’s statement on The Society’s Facebook page posted a disobliging comment is an indication of our movement’s maturity and confidence.
Bishop Mark’s change of heart means that there is no traditional Catholic suffragan in any diocese of the Canterbury Province whose see is not reserved for a traditional Catholic. If there are no traditional Catholics in ‘mainstream’ suffragan sees, the degree of internal separation within the Church of England will be greater. In a sense the Church of England will have created the ‘third province’ by default. Is this really what they want?
Apart from the archbishops, only three diocesans who ordained women priests have ever appointed a suffragan who didn’t. Two of those so appointed (John Ford and Tony Robinson) are the only traditional Catholics ever to succeed a bishop who ordained women.
Traditional Catholics are a minority everywhere, so appointing one will always be to appoint someone with whom the majority in the diocese disagree. This should be easiest where the minority is largest. No ‘Ebbsfleet’ diocese has more ‘C’ parishes than Exeter, so if not Exeter, then where? At the time of writing, one traditionally Catholic suffragan see is still vacant, whose episcopal area has a larger proportion of traditional Catholic clergy (at least 40%) than any other episcopal area in the Church of England. All eyes are now on Edmonton.
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Both Dame Sarah’s appointment and Chichester’s disappointment were announced in the second week of June. That week’s third significant announcement – the appointment of William Nye as Secretary General of the Archbishop’s Council and the General Synod – is one that we can welcome unreservedly. Given the prevailing culture, some feared that the Archbishops’ Council might go for a businessman with entrepreneurial, ‘change management’, PR or even ‘sales and marketing’ experience. Instead we shall have what we have had in Sir Derek Pattinson, Sir Philip Mawer and William Fittall – a career civil servant.
The Church House ‘civil service’ tradition is important for our church’s health. As Catholic Group members will testify, the Synod’s secretariat consistently displays a professional impartiality that in some churches is the exception not the rule. Civil servants are unafraid to speak truth to power – albeit behind the scenes, and with respect. Their influence holds powerful men – and women – to compliance with rules, and encourages fair treatment of minorities.
Mr Nye has been a churchwarden for ten years, has had nine years in the Home Office and Cabinet Office, with responsibility for finance and counter-terrorism, and has headed the courtiers of Clarence House. It is difficult to conceive of a better preparation for his new role in the corridors of Westminster, Lambeth and Bishopthorpe.