Ronald Crane explains why a Code of Practice offers a solution to a non-existent problem
It was, I think, John Habgood who coined the idea that we in Forward in Faith do not want bishops who have ordained women to the priesthood because we believe them to be ‘tainted’ by their actions. This doctrine of taint has been denied by many over the years. Many column inches in this journal, and others, have been devoted to explaining our problem with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood – let alone their consecration as bishops. However, the notion that we believe in this offensive doctrine of ‘taint’ persists.
The ultimate proof of this is the Measure proposed by General Synod to proceed to the consecration of women as bishops whilst providing a Code of Practice (voluntary or statuary) for those of us who, in conscience, cannot accept the innovation. This proposal was voted for, I am assured, by many, because of its generosity’ towards people like us.
There we have it. A solution to a problem we do not have. If all we care about is having a male priest and a male bishop, then a Code of Practice would be fine. But the problem is not, and never has been, about mere gender.
Introduction of doubt
Prior to 1992, all the priests in the Church of England were, in theory at least, interchangeable and part of one college of priests around one bishop common to all. After 11 November 1992, this was not the case. No longer were the priests of a diocese interchangeable, because people had been admitted to their college about whose orders there is doubt. This meant that the unity of that college was fractured.
The Church recognized this by providing options A and B whereby parishes could opt out of having priests about whose orders there was doubt, and then went a stage further by providing the Act of Synod and the PEVs to look after such parishes. Yet the bishops who did the deed are still bishops, and priests who operate with the women priests are still priests. That we chose not to operate with either is about the fractured unity of the Church, not about the gender of those who have caused the fracture nor about the supposed ‘taint’ of those who do operate with them.
The problem is that we seek sacramental security. With women priests and with women bishops this sacramental security is absent. Doubt enters the very order whose purpose is to provide security. This will be the case because not every part of the Church has the innovation. The orders are not the property of the Church of England, or even of the Anglican Communion, to change and play with at will. We received them from the Universal Church, and the reformers of the sixteenth century were at pains to preserve them. Once the Apostolic Succession is broken, it can never be mended again.
The position has been bad enough with women priests causing a fracture in the college of priests; when we have women bishops, the position will be impossible. How can traditional priests make the oath of canonical obedience to a bishop about whose orders there is grave doubt, or to one who has admitted such to the order of bishops?
When one starts to work out the status of men ordained or consecrated by women bishops, the mind boggles at the complexity. Therefore, it matters little whether the Code of Practice is voluntary or statuary. As long as the provision made for us requires us to take that oath to bishops whose orders are in doubt, it will not work simply because we cannot do it.
Conscience is a precious thing. If provision is made for our conscience, then the only arbiter of just what our conscience will stand is – us. It is distasteful in the extreme to be told, by those who have caused the problem in the first place, just what our conscience will stand and what it will not stand.
Those of us in this position need the three diocese options as a basic minimum; really, it is a new province that is required. The fact remains. The solution currently suggested is an answer to a problem we do not have.