John Hunwicke on the importance of Canon A4

Canon A4, without any distinction of gender, says that all those ordained ‘ought to be accounted, both by themselves and others, to be truly bishops, priests, or deacons.’ Is A4 still in operation? It must be. It was passed synodically, approved by the law officers of the Crown and by Parliament, and promulgated by the Crown. But as we all know, management connives at the notion that it need not be enforced because of an Act of Synod ‘Bond of Unity.’

This comfortable fiction has no legal basis. It is a friendly, accommodation designed to enable us, however untidily, to live together without bothering too much about all those silly old laws. The older among you will remember how much fuss there was a few decades ago about the importance of revising Canon Law so that the clergy really could be expected to obey it. No matter.

Anomaly upon anomaly

The problem is that in a generation or so a majority of those officiating in the Provinces of Canterbury and York will not have Catholic priestly orders. There will be the women priests, the women bishops and those of each gender ordained by them, and pretty certainly Methodist ministers licensed to officiate amongst us by virtue of ‘Son of Covenant.’ Can we really be expected to continue living with the joke that because A4 is said, on no authority, to be somehow mysteriously suspended, all is well and totally kosher in this best of all possible Anglican worlds?

Even if we were, is it seriously to be supposed that all the people the validity of whose priestly ministry we deny, plus their supporters, will tolerate, within an ecclesial body in which they are in a great majority, the continued existence of…us? Indeed, is it fair to expect them to do so? So: 1) management apparently wants to keep us in the Provinces of Canterbury and York; 2) Canon A4 applies in the Provinces of Canterbury and York; 3) what are they going to do about Canon A4?

This is why a solution allowing a distinct, guaranteed, ecclesial identity set in law is not, as some of the more kindly and sympathetic of our adversaries assume, just a bargaining ploy. It really is our bottom line. That is why our Lawyers’ Group could come up with no alternative to the Additional Province Draft Measure which they crafted. If the Ruling Tendency believes that it can do better, perhaps it would like to have a go at drafting and offering to us a revision of the present Code of Canon Law, starting with the repeal of A4, and moving on to the amendment of each and every other canon which is based on the assumption, tacit or otherwise, that we all accept each other’s orders. Is this really so much simpler than the Draft Measure produced by Dr Hanson and his merry men?

This is no bargaining ploy

I repeat, this is not rhetoric and it is not a bargaining ploy. It is the bottom line. If we do not get what we need, we will have to be very busy on Day One of the New Dispensation. I hope that the first thing the clergy among us do will be to meet synodically and together solemnly sign a formal corporate repudiation of our submission to the Code of Canon Law and the rest of the body of Ecclesiastical Law as it now stands in the Provinces of Canterbury and York. This act will logically take priority even over the question of to which bishops, in the post-revolutionary situation, our solemn obligations of canonical obedience will be deemed to have been transferred. And – I do not know how to put this more plainly in the English language – this is not a negotiating ploy.

As the House of Bishops continues to make its decisions without consulting us, the question which we must continually put to them, till they are sick of hearing it and the more decent among them realize that they are going to have to find an answer, is: ‘What are you going to do about Canon A4?’