The question of adequate provision for episcopal oversight for Anglo-Catholic members of the Church of England’ wrote a senior spokesperson for Lambeth Palace recently, ‘does of course remain a fundamental challenge. Several models are being talked about, including the Third Province, the personal prelature, and various others; unless adequate and acceptable arrangements are made, then I doubt that any legislation will get very far.’
Quite so. But that statement, unexceptionable in itself, raises a crucial question. Why is the debate about adequate provision being conducted behind closed doors, and without consultation with those for whom it is intended?
There is on the table a proposal, in the form of a Draft Measure, for the establishment of a new Province of the Church of England for those who are unable in conscience to receive or recognize the episcopal ministry of women. The Draft Measure was prepared by a group of lawyers with formidable expertise, none of whom at the start of their deliberations was in any sense committed to the solution at which they unanimously arrived. It would be a tragedy – which would do little to diminish the atmosphere of distrust which already exists between those of differing opinions – were that work simply to be ignored.
The drafting of proposed legislation for the ordination of women bishops would seem now to be in the hands of the House of Bishops. It is therefore wholly apposite to point out to them how ecclesiologically muddled and practically inept was the Measure which they drafted and which was approved in 1992. For each bishop who has expressed pride in the part he played in the preparation of that Measure (and of the Act of Synod which, at the belated insistence of the Ecclesiastical Committee, followed it) there are three who, like the Bishop of Guildford in New Directions last month, acknowledge that it enshrined ‘a degree of ecclesiological nonsense.’
The purpose of any new legislation, surely, is not only to secure the ordination of women to the episcopate but, so far as possible, to eliminate the ‘nonsense’. That was the task to which the lawyers gathered by Forward in Faith applied themselves. They, and we, can expect at the very least the courtesy of a careful and reasoned explanation of how they got it wrong. Such has not thus far been forthcoming.
But more than that. The bishops of Church of England are forthright in their condemnation of the failure of government to consult with and learn from the needs, hopes and aspirations of the many disadvantaged minorities in our society. The cash value of their rhetoric will be apparent now in their willingness to talk with and learn from the minorities, both catholic and evangelical, in their own Church and dioceses.
Let dialogue begin!
Any useful political dialogue begins with a frank statement by both sides involved of what is essential – what, in other words, is non-negotiable. Silence, in this matter, by either party, is detrimental.
One has to say that it is hard, in present circumstances, for those of us opposed to women’s ordination to envisage what, if anything, remains non-negotiable for the proponents. They have already sacrificed Canon A4, the mutual acceptability and interchangeabilty of orders across the Anglican Communion, the hope of reconciliation with Rome and Constantinople, and even of a ‘reconciled common ministry’ with many of the Churches of the Reformation.
If there are still any non-negotiables for proponents, they should state them now – or forever hereafter hold their peace!
On our side we are clear that, faced with women bishops, just four things are non-negotiable.
First: a discrete order of bishops, priests and deacons, such that the bishops of a Church of England ordaining women to the episcopate would thenceforth have no role (corporately or individually) in the transmission of orders.
Second: the right of those bishops to exercise full and uninhibited jurisdiction, including the choice, training and ordination of all ministers.
Third: such a degree of independence from the decisions of the General Synod of the Church of England for the parishes under the care of those bishops, that those decisions would need in every case to be ratified and approved by the bishops in council with their presbyters and laity.
Fourth: freedom of ecumenical manoeuvre, such that those bishops and parishes would not be bound by the ecumenical undertakings and disengagements of the General Synod.
A failure to negotiate and to discuss options would inevitably provoke confrontation and litigation. Forward in Faith would feel obliged to submit any non-negotiated proposals short of a new province to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference, for adjudication as to their adequacy. Groups of clergy might well wish, under European employment legislation (and considering the fulsome assurances given them in the Bonds of Peace document and the Act of Synod), to take action for constructive dismissal. Any provision made would naturally be subject to judicial review.
So let dialogue begin!