Catholic Anglicans unequivocally reject General Synod’s authority to change the Orders of Christ’s Church: they are simply not in the Synod’s gift. This is a fundamental element of the Church of England’s selfunderstanding and self-definition: we believe ourselves to be, not an autonomous sect but, a true, if flawed part of the Catholic Church.
Just as the holy Scriptures do not belong to us, to change as we might think fit, neither do the Orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. We cannot simply alter them to accord with our
changing perceptions of the roles of women and men. Orders are Christ’s gift to the whole of his Church. It may be possible to consider whether the Church as a whole has the power to alter its Orders – though Pope John Paul II emphatically thought not. What is crystal clear is that the General Synod of the Church of England, whatever it says or does, however it conducts its debate, for however long and in whatever conditions, has not and will never have the authority to alter the Orders of the Church.
But while we cannot allow Synod the authority, Catholic Anglicans have nevertheless generally accepted that General Synod is capable of doing so. It may not have the authority, but it does have the competence. It may now be time to reconsider this common concession.
In July 2005, Synod passed a resolution to proceed towards women bishops and set up a group to make the appropriate arrangements. The group’s report was favourably received and debated in February 2006. Come July 2006, and all had come to nothing. If the evidence of the speeches is to be believed, this was because the Bishop of Norwich had discovered a terrible flaw in the TEA proposals, the so-called ‘re-ordination’ problem.
Summarized on paper, all this looks rather comic; a merry game of blind alleys and fresh initiatives. But viewed more soberly we must judge it as evidence of undeniable incompetence. No one knew what traditionalists actually required, for the simple reason that they had not asked. The salient points only emerged after the ‘solution’ had been crafted and, in principle, accepted. What had received overwhelming Synodical approbation was then swept ignominiously under the carpet. Poor Christopher Hill!
The process has now started again. But the question remains: does the General Synod, which lacks the authority, even have the competence to make the change? Synod, as we know and often bewail, is closely modelled on Westminster. So, even if its grasp of theology is sometimes seems shaky, one would expect it to be competent to deal with parliamentary-style legislation. Not so. Take but one recent example We shall be saying more about the Clergy Discipline Measure in coming issues, but it is clear, even at this early stage of its implementation, that it a complete, utter and unworkable mess. Small wonder that there is quiet crisis and silent panic in the hierarchy at present. We wish the bishops and church lawyers better success in their deliberations over women bishops. For everyone’s sake a solution must be found; further drift is not an option.
The furore which followed Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture was a startling sign of the times. All reasonable people will have been alarmed at the alacrity with which Muslims (and not merely those usually categorized as ‘extremists’) take offence and express it in bellicose language and deeds of violence. The attempted assassination of Benedict’s predecessor and friend came poignantly to mind. We were also reminded that the West has problems dealing and communicating with Islam which go far beyond reaction to a few comments in an academic lecture on Faith and Reason. Muslims, it seems, are antagonistic to almost everything which characterises modern Western society. They reject out of hand the Western privatisation of religion and the resulting apartheid of the sacred and the secular. They can neither understand nor tolerate the doctrinaire egalitarianism which refuses to accept differing roles for male and female. They view patriarchy, not as a ‘sin’, but as the natural and inevitable ordering of human society. Muslims, moreover, have a developed sense of sin, and do not use it as a loose metaphor for the politically incorrect. They are advocates of punishment rather than therapy.
In opposing all these things the Vatican ought, logically to be seen as an ally, not an enemy of Islam. And yet the bizarre mythologisation of the crusades as a Western attempt to exterminate Muslim culture forbids the alliance. Mehmet Ali Agca made his attempt on the life of John Paul II as the ‘leader of the crusade’. And countless of his co-religionists obviously agree with him.
It looks as though the Catholic Church is destined for some time to come to be the punch-bag both of doctrinaire Western liberals and Muslim extremists. That is the price she must pay for keeping Christian humanism alive and well in a world which, for opposing reasons, appears to have rejected it. The Church’s unwavering witness to the doctrine of the Incarnation, which both Western liberals and faithful Islamists attack as absurd, is her prime gift to a troubled and divided world