What is the problem? Way back in 1995, it took no more than half an hour for the Synod of the Province of Southern Africa, under the encouragement of Abp Desmond Tutu, to pass the resolution providing for women bishops. It noted that women bishops followed logically from the ordination of women priests; it was all so easy and obvious and straightforward. Fifteen years later, and where are these Southern African women bishops? There are none.
Is this the only province to have voted in favour and then done nothing further? Far from it. Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Sudan are in a similar position of having voted for the principle and then demurred when it comes to putting it into practice.
Is this lack of courage a foreign problem? Far from it. The Church of Ireland outdoes even Southern Africa, for it voted in favour of women bishops as far back as 1990, and yet still they have not managed to come up even with a candidate, let alone a successful candidate.
The Church of Scotland voted in favour of women bishops in 2003. This is a tiny province, which has made no provision for traditionalists, and yet the world had to wait six years before they could find their first woman candidate, to See of Glasgow in January. She failed to be chosen.
It will surely happen one day, and there are still four provinces – thanks to a Canadian import to New Zealand – with at least one serving woman bishop. All the same, 21 years after the first, it is a shamefully slow progress.
They claim to be in the overwhelming majority; they claim to be following the trajectory of Scripture; they claim to have history on their side; they claim the support of secular society; they claim it is a justice issue; they even claim to have tradition in their corner; yet still they are fearful.
What is the problem? It is all too easy to mock, and it is hard not to be exasperated by the apparent cowardice. But it remains a problem, and a problem for us all.
It is as though the propaganda cannot fully translate into real conviction. It suggests that for all the bluster, too many are not entirely convinced of the truth of this innovation they champion, that too many still remain unpersuaded that it is indeed the will of God.
A battle of church politics – which it certainly is, and which the majority could win any time it chose to do so – does not seem to equate with the search for truth in the heart. The public battle does not translate into the private world. There is a loss of nerve, that no number of excuses can hide. And the whole Church suffers from it.
The lack of confidence among members of the majority makes it more not less difficult to arrive at a proper accommodation. If the Church of England is to find a way forward in this course of action to which it has committed itself, it is essential that the majority gains some backbone.
Any future for the Church of England, and for Anglo-Catholics within it, has always depended on a majority that is neither particularly Anglican nor recognizably Catholic. It may be theologically telling that they have no confidence in their own convictions, but unless they are to give up completely, it is more important that they pluck up courage, and do something. We have repeated the words of Jesus many times, but they remain relevant, ‘what thou doest, do quickly.’
General Synod meets this month.
The year which will see the canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman is also a year of decision for many Anglo-Catholics who must make their own measured response to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. What has Newman to say to our current predicament? What can modern-day Anglo-Catholics learn from his journey of faith?
There is a sense in which Newman (‘the Father of the Second Vatican Council’) offers an exemplum of Anglican patrimony in the service of the wider Church. During the coming months NEW DIRECTIONS will be printing excerpts from his writings – both as an Anglican and as a Roman Catholic – seeking to illumine the paths we take. Lead, kindly light… ND