I have received several e-mails asking for my take on the statement issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. During the last couple of days I have reflected on their press release and I find it hard to make any in-depth evaluation or come to a conclusion until I see in writing what they are proposing as amendments to the Measure which will allow women to be admitted to the Anglican episcopate.
However I feel that I can write down my thoughts on the press release issued by both archbishops on Sunday 20th June 2010. The press release is divided into 16 numbered paragraphs.
I think all can join the Archbishops in thanking the Revision Committee for their work (Para 1). It is heartening to see the Archbishops agree that for traditionalists there is no good news at all in the end result of that work. Both Archbishops realise that what was produced in the Committee would unchurch many loyal Anglicans who in conscience cannot accept the innovations of admitting women to the Anglican priesthood and episcopate. This is good news to Anglo-Catholics who time and time again have found not only opposition but lack of willingness to understand their honourable position.
It is encouraging that in para 2 the Archbishops reiterate the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution that 'those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the Priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans'.
Para 3 spells out the problem as the Archbishops see it, namely that the major problem for Anglo-Catholics is the one of jurisdiction by those who they cannot receive as bishops, who do not carry the potestas ordinis and therefore offer no sacramental assurance, an assurance which is vital for our salvation. The Archbishops recognise the need for proper provision for Anglo-Catholics and in this statement will indicate their suggestion.
In para 4 and 5 the approaches so far are explained namely that either there is no provision at all or that women diocesan bishops will have their “jurisdiction” curtailed by law to accommodate those who cannot receive this innovation. The archbishops point to a third way almost indicated here as a via media: co-ordinate jurisdiction.
This term is explained in para 6.
It would mean that “the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop – whether male or female – remains intact”. This is a major problem as it implies that people like me have to assent (however remotely) that a female diocesan or suffragan has jurisdiction, which is tantamount for people like me to assent (however remotely) that an ordained women is a priest; she may be an Anglican minister but definitely not a priest as the Faith Catholic holds. This paragraph also says that, “the bishop of the whole area of the diocese would be legally entitled to exercise any episcopal function in any parish of the diocese”. Does it mean that a “Colin Slee-like bishop” can barge his way and trample on any arrangement provided by him and those around him? This needs to be fleshed out when the amendments are presented; otherwise I cannot see how people can accept what is not clearly explained.
In the same paragraph we are told that if a parish requests by "a Letter of Request" to have alternative oversight (who will ordain these alternatives, who will choose them and who are they in communion with are fair questions) the diocesan will the refrain from exercising certain functions. We need to know which functions. As we were told last year in a statement issued by the Revision Committee and clawed back by the same committee some days later, these “nominated (by who) bishops” will have their legal authority (note, not jurisdiction in this case) coming from the Measure itself. As I asked back then so now again: can someone explain to me how this is catholic and biblical? This paragraph also buries within itself the fact that an arrangement will be understood in the light a Code of Practice; the one that will not do!
Like all bishops the nominated one will hold “jurisdiction by the decision of the Church as a whole”, in fact he will not as this jurisdiction is tempered with the words, “as expressed in the Measure”; which might mean as expressed in the Code of Practice as allowed by the local diocesan and the senior staff on a diocese by diocese basis. In fact Anglo-Catholics may be left to the mercy of those who do not understand them and worse to those who do not want to understand them. This also creates second class bishops!
Again (is this Anglican fudge or what?) we are told that, “the diocesan and the nominated bishop would be 'co-ordinaries', and to that extent, their jurisdiction could be described as co-ordinate” How clearer can we be: a women “bishop” has no jurisdiction and no power of orders – we cannot accept that she does in order that we are provided by a male bishop. 1. The Faith is not negotiable; 2. We are not misogynists and this smells of a misogynist solution.
Paragraph 6 concludes by asserting that all sharing of jurisdiction will be contained in the Code of Practice. Does one take as read that the Code of Practice can be changed by General Synod or the House of Bishops whenever they choose so to do? The fig leaf mentioned by Bishop Edwin comes to mind.
In paragraph 7 we are told that if this scheme is received by Synod it will pass very quickly. And in paragraph 8 we are assured that the Archbishops want this to pass very quickly.
Paragraph 9 is dangerous. These amendments, we are told, would not involve any change in the CofE’s understanding of the episcopate. How sad indeed. By admitting women to the episcopate the whole understanding of that high and noble office of service is shattered. The image of Christ and His bride is lost; the bishop as icon of the Incarnate logos is lost; the walking together with the churches of East and West is lost: forever. This is schism if ever schism needs to be proved by example. Anglo-Catholics have an understanding of the episcopate as received by the great churches in these last 2000 years and are not in line with the Donatists of choosing their bishops according to the individual from whom they receive their authority. Authority comes from Christ through the Church in the hands of valid bishops, and women cannot be valid bishops – ever!
Paragraph 10 is written for those who do not have a real understanding of the episcopate and compares the potestas ordinis of the bishop to that of the High Court or the Charity Commission, which is not helpful nor organic to the argument. It mentions overlapping jurisdiction; again this implies that both jurisdictions are valid and in our case they are clearly not. The same applies to paragraph 11 and 12. In 12 however we are told that a diocesan, after consultation with the diocesan synod, has the freedom to amend the scheme – the Colin Slee-like bishop comes to mind.
Paragraph 13 does not take into account that there is a huge difference between what happened in 1992 and what is happening now just as there is a huge difference between the nature of a priest and that of a bishop. Once again our position is not reflected or understood.
Paragraph 14 saddens me as these “small but significant changes”; are there to enable the conscience of the middle ground of General Synod to vote people like me out of the CofE without being honest about it; it provides them the fig leaf behind which to cover the embarrassment and shame that they should feel.
Paragraph 15 is a summary of what the archbishops hope to achieve, reconciling the irreconcilable; whilst paragraph 16 offers this press release to the consideration of General Synod and the prayers of all members of the CofE.
My thoughts: The good news is that the Archbishops speak out at last. That they acknowledge that what is offered by the Revision Committee is not good for us. Not so good are the solutions offered. In fact they may not even be acceptable and just try to force on our conscience what we in the name of the Lord cannot accept. Let us pray as we wait to see the written amendment that the Archbishops seek to offer to General Synod. Whatever you do, do not avert your gaze from Christ.