Is there any spectacle more absurd than that of the Church of England’s remaining Anglo-Catholics desperately attempting to negotiate “special arrangements” which will allow them in good conscience to remain within the Church of England once that body’s General Synod finally authorises women bishops?
Firstly, there is the prior question of women priests. Anglo-Catholics are already members of a Church which ordains these ambiguous beings. Are they priests, or aren’t they? (For the moment, put to one side the question of whether or not anyone in the C of E is a validly ordained priest.) If you believe they’re not, you are already yourself in an ambiguous condition, since you are a member of a Church which has arrogated to itself the power to ordain them, a power which even the Pope (like the Orthodox) denies that he possesses. You are a member, that is to say, of a Church which has already finally divorced itself from any possibility of reunion with the Universal Church of which it has thus far claimed to be a part. So, what kind of a Catholic does that make you? It is a question you must already have asked yourself; and to that problem there is now only one solution: the ordinariate. The existing arrangements for “flying bishops” were a temporary measure, which allowed a constituency of non-jurors to gather itself in preparation for secession: those temporary arrangements are no longer necessary and have now therefore morally lapsed.
But if you accept that women may be priests, that those women already ordained as such by the Church of England are validly ordained (and I actually heard a member of the Catholic group in Synod actually saying on the radio that he did accept them as priests, but that he didn’t want them to become bishops), then what are you on about? If a woman is a priest, then she is eligible to be a bishop. If she’s not, she isn’t. Either way, you are a member of a Church in which there are now hundreds of women priests: and whether you put yourself in a ghetto which doesn’t accept them or not, you are still in full communion with them (and don’t give me that stuff about “impaired communion”: you are in full communion with your own bishops (flying or not), who are themselves in full communion with the male bishops who ordained all these women, so you are in full communion with them: get used to it, or leave.
Expecting special arrangements (the issue which comes before the Synod today) that will allow you to imagine yourself on to some kind of fantasy island untroubled by women bishops as well as women priests is ludicrous. You only have to see the case put to see how ludicrous it is. Here, for instance, is the Rt Rev John Hind, Bishop of Chichester (who has said that women bishops are now inevitable):
Bishop Hind said: “I think the issue facing the Church of England at the moment isn’t whether there will be women bishops or not – which I think everyone accepts is the will of most of the dioceses – the issue is whether the Church of England wants to retain its historic comprehensiveness and generosity and space for dissent.
“Everybody understands that women bishops are coming into the Church of England, the only question is, is there going to be a space in the Church of England for those who, on theological grounds and ecumenical grounds, cannot accept that development.”
This is all very puzzling: for only last year, Bishop Hind was saying that he would join the ordinariate (which he warmly welcomed) if the C of E went ahead with women bishops:
“This is a remarkable new step from the Vatican,” he said [of the ordinariate] . “At long last there are some choices for Catholics in the Church of England. I’d be happy to be reordained into the Catholic Church.”
While the bishop stressed that this would depend on his previous ministry being recognised, he said that the divisions in the Anglican Communion could make it impossible to stay.
“How [he continued] can the Church exist if bishops are not in full communion with each other?” (My emphasis)
The fact is that it can’t: not for you, at any rate, or for anyone else who isn’t prepared fully to accept that Church’s ordained ministry: for, if you don’t accept its ministry, you don’t accept its sacraments. And if you don’t accept its sacraments, you don’t accept the entire foundation on which it has been so shakily constructed.
The fact is that there is now a real alternative: in your own words, bishop, “at long last there are some choices for Catholics in the Church of England”. I now confidently hope that you will make the only real choice left; a good time, perhaps, would be July – for that is when the General Synod will at last vote through the measure enabling women bishops. When that happens, you will know that the die is cast: and it will be time for you finally to come home. What, for you, is most to be feared is that the Synod will today accede to your request for “a space in the Church of England” to be made for people like you: for if it does, you will enter that space, and find yourself in a limbo of futility from which it may become more and more difficult to extricate yourself.