It seems that the Church of England is soon to become a victim of its own cowardice, if the reports are true – and there is every reason to believe that they are – that the House of Bishops is surreptitiously to change the rules forbidding divorcees, or those married to divorcees, from being considered for the episcopate.

The cowardice arose from the refusal to countenance any process or mechanism for the Church’s consideration of marriage discipline, but instead to leave all to the state. The Roman Catholic canon law tribunals regarding annulments are not without their faults and limitations, but they exist and the Church, to its credit, takes up its responsibilities and has to face the cynicism and mockery of the secular world for doing so.

So too the Orthodox Churches maintain a public process of discernment and judgement on marriage discipline. As do certain Anglican provinces, such as Southern Africa. And, within its limitations, so do the Resolution C parishes of the Church of England, working with the carefully prepared Marriage Statement of the Sacred Synod of 2002.

Only the House of Bishops of the CofE has turned its face against taking up its responsibility for the Sacrament of which its members are the guardians (most recently in 2002 – GS1449). We are soon to suffer the consequences of that lack of courage.

The salami-slicing technique has continued for many years. First the laity were dispensed from any discipline, then the clergy, now finally the guardians themselves. Is it coincidental that this suggestion emerges just at the time when the legislation for women bishops reaches its climax? Was it hoped to slip this final slice through unnoticed when all minds were concentrated elsewhere?

Is it to be the case that the Church of England’s doctrine and practice of the institution and sacrament of Holy Matrimony is to be abandoned, or at least altered, without full discussion within its own Synod? By whose authority can so decisive a step be taken?

By whose authority, and in apparent contradiction to the word of Scripture, has it been decided that divorcees can become bishops while partnered gays cannot?

Did he do it? Did Rowan Williams write to Katharine Jefferts Schori requesting her to withdraw from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion? And did Schori reply with a resounding negative? Naturally neither Primate’s press office will confirm or deny the persistent rumours. But what is certain is that Mrs Schori has recently been on a charm offensive around the Communion, reinforcing ties of solidarity between

The Episcopal Church and sympathetic provinces (most recently the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church). Her visit to Southwark Cathedral, the bastion of all things ‘inclusive’ and ‘modern’, was a defiant sally into enemy territory.

Schoris robust defence of TEC’s stance in her alternative Pentecost Letter has been admired in many quarters. Its barbed

reference to those who ‘continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviours in private’ was a direct and personal attack on a man who is trapped by his office into acting contrary to his conscience. ‘Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard?’ she went on. ‘In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a ‘failure of nerve.’

Ouch! The lady packs a punch. Many will see her comments as a just rebuke to one who, in the case ofJeffrey John (as one wit aptly remarked) laid down his friend for his life.

But more is going on than a struggle between a feisty woman and an indecisive academic. It is a battle for the soul of the Anglican Communion, or for what can be salvaged from the wreckage of it. If Peter Akinola was charged with seeking to set up an alternative Communion in the global south, Mrs Schori is making her bid for the Anglo-Saxon hemisphere and its financial dependents. In this struggle for minds and hearts, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems, is powerless.

With which party will the Church of England side? The debate in York in July will give as clear an indication as we are likely to get. ND