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MPs are threatening to overrule attempts to allow ‘traditionalists’ in the C of E to reject women bishops. And Parliament will decide: this is an Erastian Church

Anglo-Catholics should no longer expect the C of E to make special arrangements for them; it’s not going to happen

By on Friday, 13 July 2012

A parliamentary committee may block 'special arrangements' for parishes opposed to women bishops (Photo: PA)

A parliamentary committee may block 'special arrangements' for parishes opposed to women bishops (Photo: PA)

The question of whether or not the Church of England will appoint women bishops drags on and on. (We will of course put to one side here the question of the validity of Anglican orders: though our view has been somewhat softened in its expression by the ARCIC process, it is still, of course, the unavoidable view of the Catholic Church that they are, in Leo XIII’s not exactly tactful words, “absolutely null and utterly void”).

The Anglican bishops have now decided that they will delay the final decision as to whether or not to proceed to legislate on the matter. The reason for this is that those opposed to any special arrangements being made, for those parishes who don’t want to be in the diocese of a woman bishop, object strongly to these arrangements, so much so that they are threatening to vote the whole thing down. This would mean that they would all have to start again from the beginning of the whole weary synodical process; it could take another five years.

As to why many Synod members don’t like these special arrangements — which they say will mean the establishment of a second-rate episcopate for women — it is germane to note that by this stage the arguments against them are entirely secular. The Evangelicals don’t want women bishops because they say that scripture requires male headship in the Church. That’s a theological reason. Anglo-Catholics don’t recognise that they can be bishops at all, because they don’t accept (for recognisably “Catholic” reasons) that women can be ordained priest in the first place. That, too, is a clearly theological reason. Those who want women bishops, by contrast, say it’s now nothing to do with theology, and that it’s a matter of their human rights as women, and that if parishes are allowed to refuse a woman’s episcopal ministry and to opt out of their dioceses into a kind of limbo — serviced by something like the present obsolescent arrangement of “flying bishops” — that will mean that those women the Church of England would raise to the Anglican episcopate would be second-class bishops, since not only would the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics not fully recognise them: neither would the Church of England.

This objection has nothing to do with theology, and you don’t need to be an Anglican or even a Christian to see the force of it. The arguments in favour of women bishops have nothing to do with theology, says Rabbi Julia Neuberger, and she is dead right: once, that is, you have accepted that the women who have been “ordained” priests really are priests, since if you are a priest there can be no theological reason why you should not become a bishop. And the Church of England has already made a clear decision about that.

The fact is that the Anglo-Catholics who are still determined to stay in the Church of England are in an impossible situation. As I wrote in this column last February (the last time the Synod discussed the matter),

… 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.

As to why Julia Neuberger thinks it’s any of her business, or why I do, come to that, the answer is simple enough. The Church of England is established by law under the crown; it is the state Church, so we too have a stake in it. Ultimately its affairs are regulated by Parliament: when, that is to say, the Synod has legislated to establish a female episcopate, its legislation must be taken across the road and translated into English secular law by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Then the Queen must give her assent. All this would normally be a formality: whatever the Synod wants Parliament usually lets it have. It has been little noticed, however, that this time, members of the 30-strong parliamentary committee of MPs and peers known as the “ecclesiastical committee”, which would have to agree that the Synodical legislation is “expedient” before it proceeds on its weary way, are saying firmly that any “special arrangements” for dissident parishes would not be accepted by them.

This is, of course, for entirely secular reasons, as members of the ecclesiastical committee are making clear: the Synod’s legislation will have to conform with the Human Rights Act. That means that the “special arrangements” the House of Bishops want incorporated into the new law will not get past Parliament. “This is now the second time the bishops have tried to water down the proposals,” says Ben Bradshaw MP, a member of the parliamentary committee. “These would, in the eyes of many Anglicans, create a two-tier bishopric and a lesser status for women… I have spoken to some of my colleagues on the ecclesiastical committee and they share my concerns about the amendments.”

Simon Hughes MP, another member of the committee, says that its members have a “duty” to ensure the proposals do not conflict with equality law. “The ecclesiastical committee obviously does not set out to impose its will on [the Church], however we have a duty to make sure that anything that comes before us does not break any of the principles of the law of the land,” he said.

There you have it, really: an Erastian Church is ultimately a secular organisation, though one in which religion is permitted, so long as it doesn’t clash with the ethical principles which govern secular society. Well, you may say, don’t we all have to conform with “the principles of the law of the land”? Well, no, actually: the Catholic Church will not be ordaining women priests and bishops however much secular society thinks we should; nor will we be “marrying” homosexuals; in the end, the C of E will almost certainly have to. Secular human rights law does not and cannot touch us: we are the Church, and if they try to make us we will disobey.

Anglo-Catholics need to understand clearly that there is no longer a place for them in the Church of England; they are not wanted. They have, however, an alternative, in communion with the one true Church: the ordinariate has been erected precisely for them. If they will not become part of it, they will have simply to accept that they are members of a Church with women priests and women bishops and get used to it. But if they do, they had better stop calling themselves “Anglo-Catholics”: they will have forfeited the right.

  • srdc

    God still worked through his ministry, just as he would through a Baptist pastor, just not as a priest.

  • Fr Jones

     Try reading someone other than Duffy! Take a look at David Knowles on the dissolution of the monasteries – yes, mixed motives on the part of the Henrican government but other than Syon and the Charterhouses they were utterly lax and a laughing stock both for reformers and those who held the old faith. Doubt me? – go and read St Thomas Moore about what he has to say about the monasteries of his day. I should add that the late David Knowles as in fact Dom David Knowles

  • Fisher

    Please! ‘Smash and grab’! Do you honestly believe that? Please do read some reformation history – I’d be delighted to suggest some (in addition to Duffy whose studies are narrowly focused).

  • Jonathan West

    Reply to John Flaherty
    Neither do I have any problem labeling your apparent attitude by it’s most accurate description:
    Secular bigotry.

    You have no right to demand immoral services from someone else merely because you adamantly insist it’s OK.

    We have no moral obligation at all to bow to the views of a de facto Church of Secularism.

    Who is in a position to arbitrate on whether a particular service is immoral or not? It seems to me that you’re reserving that right to yourself and be damned to anybody else’s opinion.

  • Semper cum Petro

    Yes, of course it was a smash and grab, inter alia mala.  Duffy is not “narrowly focused:” he is, besides pioneering, careful, judicious, brilliant.  He has overturned the old views, written by Protestant overlords.  He has opened new veins of research.  I can make out a deformation, not a reformation, in England.  

  • Semper cum Petro

    Thanks.  Studying the sixteenth century as I have for decades, I am aware of historians, past and present, in a number of languages.  You realize that Dom Knowles retired almost fifty years ago, and that history marches on.  But I think you are comparing apples and fava beans, Fr. Jones. The historical rigor of Duffy has thrown the old ‘reformation’ histories of England into doubt, more than a little doubt, I might add.  David Hume had raised doubts about the state church in England long ago on other grounds in his great History.  One of the cant phrases of English history is ‘the dissolution of the monasteries.’  A cozy and durable little fiction for a state church for a people on a small island filled with absolute masters of fiction (Chaucer, Shakespeare…), but it does not begin to cover the sins of its odd un-Catholic and anti-Catholic making.  Recusant Catholics, my forebears came from England to America to practice the one true faith–thanks to Charles I and more especially Lord Baltimore–in Maryland.  As I say, I can no longer make out anything but a deformation in England, but that is merely because the best historical evidence now shows that quite plainly.  (I am sure by St. Thomas Moore you mean Saint Thomas More.)  At least we agree, I presume, that he is a Saint, dying for the Catholic Church at the hands of a despot. Naturally, the Maryland colony was threatened and short lived, even before Cromwell took over: the Catholic Church was persecuted, Priests were imprisoned and martyred, Her churches were plundered and burned.  Once Charles I was executed, the Calvert family could no longer really protect Catholics, though they tried, and the one true faith was outlawed.  By the end of the century, that became the settled matter, besides heavy taxes levied on Catholics to send them into poverty and out of existence.  By 1776, this failed.   

  • Semper cum Petro

    Elizabeth I killed dozens of Catholics in the last thirty years of her reign, not, to my knowledge, hundreds.  Terror is terror no matter the number.  Of course, Elizabeth I did so ‘legally.’  Nor was the terror, which was quite effective, limited to execution.  But all that is fairly common knowledge, I trust.  

  • teigitur

    Hear hear!

  • srdc

    Have you read their views on the priesthood?

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

     Or, put much more briefly, all persons who speak or act in the public square will be obligated to bow to the adjudication of secular standards.

    I agree that is, in fact the crux of the matter.

    No person has any obligation to subject their ideas and intentions to secular standards. In fact, I’d say it’s quite the other way around.
    In fact, secular efforts have only become somewhat dominant because people of faith have demonstrated extreme tolerance for rampant secular arrogance. Should faithful people begin to demand the opportunity to live out their ideas to the fullest extent, I think there’d be quite the public battle with secularized institutions. ..We’re beginning to see this battle come to the fore.

    You can’t over-rule moral arguments merely because you wish to reject even the possibility of the existence of sin.

    Ironically, arrogance tends to undermine itself over the long run; secularism will either be defeated publicly, or else it’ll merely implode as people die off.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

    Not really.
    Reading and heeding are two separate things. I have not seen anything that honestly resembles serious theology from any of the Fathers you mentioned.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

     In many cases, your concern about burden of proof might be accurate, but in this case, I think not. Whatever canon law may or may not dictate about who may come into various places in a church building, the REAL argument relates to an effective Church vs State battle. Will the Church be allowed to practice its own faith according to its own rules or will the State declare what the Church “may believe” or do. In the case of the latter, the State effectively IS “god”.

    That’s a very dangerous proposition.

  • paulsays

    That WAS the reformation. I think after 500 years we should learn to forgive.

    I am a Catholic myself by the way.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

    “Secularism doesn’t insist that the public square be cleared of religious ideas.”

    Well, now, let’s see: Courts have required religious persons to either remove crosses or manger scenes from public property, but they (the courts) can’t stand to remove pornographic or “provocative” images of people (women in particular) from public view because of fears of “censorship”. Nor will they chastise such imagery in movies or others, but anyone who declares that homosexuals can’t marry for purposes of the State can readily be branded as bigots.

    Secularism doesn’t insist on clearing the public square, huh?
    Riiiiiight.

  • Claudia

     Not one physical building has ever left the C of E for the ordinariate. This  is ironic since the Anglican bishops refuse to even share the buildings with the ordinariate; buildings which are not rightfully theirs to begin with.

  • Tim

     The Catholic church was not founded on murder, theft, and destruction as the C of E was. 2nd, the French were invaders to begin with and England simply free itself from them 3 centuries later. Your moral equivalency argument is invalid

  • Tim

     Ok I’ll forgive. How about Anglicans returning or at the very least, sharing with us the property which they took, as a sign of their forgiveness…

  • Jack

     Just read Sir Winston Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking Peoples.” He is no Catholic but describes the convert or die policy of Henry VIII and the seizing and destruction of Churches. Learn your own history before defending the indefensible C of E.

  • Jack

    How can you justify Anglicans not even allowing their churches to be shared with Catholics when those churches were taken from Catholics in the first place? How is that a Christian attitude on the part of the C of E?

    “We took your churches 500 years ago, then we criticize your for being divisive if you complain and we won’t even share the space with you today.” Sounds like the simple school yard bully wins again.

  • Semper cum Petro

    The question for the historian is all I am referring to.  As for forgiveness, the historian can tell us WHAT to forgive.  But forgiveness does not, I believe, mean forgetting.  Justice must be done, too, and that is where history is a help.  The Vatican II Council did forgive Protestants, by the way.  

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

    I’m reserving the authority to arbitrate to those who recognize objective moral Truths.

    You’re in an exceedingly poor position to be howling about “anyone else’s opinion be damne d”.
    I have never heard of even one nation or state in which the vast majority of people would profess to be secular, pagan, atheist, agnostic, progressive, whatever. Even so, let one person howl “discrimination”, and the entire society must be forced to change its ways, lest we offend some small(ish) group.
    Secular interests have, by their own free will, inflicted a rule of the minority over and above the rule of the majority.
    In more crude terms, we’ve long been subject to the tyranny of moral relativism.

  • Jonathan West

    Tell me how you distinguish an objective moral truth from a subjective one.

  • Semper cum Petro

    Tristan, the answer to your question is already in your question.  

  • MCarroll

    The bottom line is that the Church of England is second division in comparison with the Catholic Church. Why defend it? Even Rowan Williams when interviewed publicly stated word for word that

    “The Church of England is for those who like their Christianity light”.

  • MCarroll

    The
    bottom line is that the Church of England is second division in
    comparison with the Catholic Church. Why defend it? Even Rowan Williams
    when interviewed publicly stated word for word that

    “The Church of England is for those who like their Christianity light”.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jflare29 John Flaherty

     Much as you’ll argue against the idea, I think you already know.

  • Jonathan West

    I think you don’t know.

  • Semper cum Petro

    Glad, Mr. West, you accept both objective and subjective truth. I think Michael Polanyi’s book Personal Knowledge is a wonderful philosophical work with a great definition of the subject you bring up.  The author was also a chemist, not, I believe, a Catholic.

  • Jonathan West

    As I don’t have the book to hand, would you care to summarize the definition you mention?

  • Semper cum Petro

    Thanks, Mr. West.  I wish I could: it is packed away neatly in a cardboard box after we moved here a year ago, along with thousands of other books.  Nor is it what I would call a portable definition, at least not within my feeble philosophical grasp.  There is a website devoted to the great man which might point you in the right direction, as I hope it will, easy to find online.  More generally, I feel that we must be very careful never to give up on the search for truth, subjective, objective, demonstrable, intuitive.  The reasons people tend to do so are, I have come to see in studying history, as culturally determined as not.  Scientism, as opposed to science, is one big reason.  As a Catholic, I love to consider what Saint Augustine writes, somewhere, and I paraphrase, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, but His truth is everywhere.  God bless you, Mr. West, and all the readers of this site.

  • Jonathan West

    How do you know that “Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father?”

  • Semper cum Petro

    How does a physicist know about the atom?  I hope you get to read Michael Polanyi’s book Personal Knowledge.  God bless you.

  • Jonathan West

    So you don’t know.

  • Semper cum Petro

    So you don’t know how science works–and you have not tried, I suppose, to read a book about it to rectify that.  One should never condescend in a stage of appreciable ignorance. God bless.

  • Sigfridii

    The RC Church fails to maintain what few beautiful buildings it has not already defaced, and it could certainly not be trusted with the great heritage of the English Church.

  • orthodoxpriest

    Women bishops are an absolute certainty in the Anglican Church. I have great sympathy indeed for those who are unable to support this move, but there have been women priests in the Anglican Church since 1994, and in the Anglican communion since 1971. This should have been a pretty clear signal that there would, eventually, be women bishops, as of course there are in other provinces of the communion.

    It is reasonable to ask how and why there are still any Catholics in the Anglican Church, if they have any sort of approximation to a proper ecclesiology. It must surely be because some like the liturgical elements of Catholic ritual but are essentially liberals, while some others have functionally adopted a congregationalist ecclesiology which allows them to treat their own congregation as essentially independent of the wider slide into heterodoxy on the part of Anglicanism.

    None of the possible options are very easy for such people. Remaining in the Anglican Church must surely become more and more impossible. Becoming Catholic or Orthodox, as some others have done and are doing, is not without its own personal challenges. The Catholic Church is to be commended for the generous act of hospitality which it has offered the Catholic remnant in Anglicanism through the Ordinariate. Yet even that option is not without its own problems.

    These are certainly challenging and critical times for Anglo-Catholics.

  • orthodoxpriest

    As an Orthodox priest engaged in ecumenism, I would much rather deal with traditional Catholics who know what they believe and why, than with liberal Catholics whose views are always changing to reflect the increasingly anti-Christian world around us.