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The Anglicans who voted against women bishops showed true Dunkirk spirit

Now the ‘Church in turmoil’ headline will run for another five years

By on Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A meeting of the General Synod at the Assembly Hall of Church House (Photo: PA)

A meeting of the General Synod at the Assembly Hall of Church House (Photo: PA)

According to the BBC News at Ten, which led with the story last night, the defeat of the women bishops measure in the General Synod represented the victory of “a vocal minority”. I interpret this to mean that having been given a vote, these dissenters from the majority line then proceeded to use their vote as they pleased, which is not the point of voting at all, at least not as the BBC sees it. It has all gone horribly wrong. The measure was meant to be passed. Now we will all have to wait five years, according to the Synod rules, until another vote can be taken, and we have a chance to finally get it right. What the BBC neglects to mention is that if you have a free vote, well, people must be allowed to vote freely. And if you set up rules allowing for a minority to block the will of the majority, can you complain when they do? They were your rules after all.

Rather oddly, I sympathise with the liberal consensus on this one. The Church of England ordains women, and has done so for over two decades; it must therefore follow that there is no theological reason for not consecrating them as bishops. To say that woman can become priests but not bishops is illogical.

At the same time one cannot but feel a sneaking admiration for the little over a third of the members of the House of Laity, who decided to resist the inevitable. They must know, however, that their voting down the measure will delay it but not in the end stop it. The Church of England must surely have women bishops; it is only a question of when; and a question of with what safeguards for dissenters. But the “vocal minority” have stood up against the overwhelming consensus inside the Church of England, and outside it too. (It is remarkable how people who never go to church care so deeply about women bishops!) They have shown the true Dunkirk spirit – though that they succeeded may have taken some of them by surprise.

In the end, does this matter? It does, in that it means that this question is still not resolved, and it would have been nice for the new archbishop to have come into office with all this behind him. The Church of England now faces five more years of an argument which is substantially over, bar the shouting. But that shouting will go on, and it may not be pretty. Moreover, there are better things to talk about; but the media will of course stick with the “Church in turmoil” headline that it loves so much.

But if those who oppose women bishops on theological grounds think that this represents a turning point, I very much doubt that this is the case. Female ordination is now part of the Anglican landscape. This last year more women were ordained than men in the Church of England, and in the not too distant future the Anglican ministry may become predominantly female. And the funny thing is that no one really minds. Those of us who oppose female ordination – and yes, I am certainly one that holds it to be an impossibility (if I did not, I would be an Anglican) – are the sort of people who the BBC and others look upon as a vocal minority: professional pains in the neck, who really ought not to be allowed to ruin the harmony of the overwhelming consensus mentioned above.

I seem to remember, years ago, back in the late 1980s, Margaret Thatcher saying something along the lines of “Women make wonderful dentists and doctors, why shouldn’t they make wonderful priests as well?” As in other matters, Mrs Thatcher spoke for so many when she uttered those words. For most of the United Kingdom, that is what the priesthood is – it is one of the caring professions, a form of social work, something that women can plainly do very well. So why shouldn’t they?

But my view of the priesthood is rather different from Mrs Thatcher’s. The priesthood is not a caring profession as such; it is a rather different line of work. In fact it is not work or a job at all. The priest exists for one thing and one thing only; all his other activities are icing on the cake; the priest is there to climb Mount Calvary and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He is there to say hoc est enim corpus meum (“This is my body”). That is his one purpose, though he may fulfil many others as well. But amid the multitude of tasks, the centrality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must not be lost sight of. But try to explain this to people who mutter about equality legislation being brought to bear, and it will seem to them to be antiquated nonsense.

Women priests seem perfectly natural to many Anglicans (and many liberal Roman Catholics too) because to them a priest is not really what, let us say, the Council of Trent had in mind. But I hold to the classical view of the priesthood, as exemplified by Trent and the Catholic tradition. As to the brave minority in the Synod, perhaps they may agree with me, in which case, their place is here, where I stand, on this riverbank, Tiber, not Thames.

  • Bellarmine

    Talking about vocal minorities, and voting rights, is very rich coming from a male adherent of a church which only accepts one vote, to elect the Boss, and then takes the voting booth away and excludes all dissenters!! And as for the opposition to women priests on theological grounds; I despair at the hypocrisy: it is purely and simply on grounds of power and the sharing of the same with women. I would love to see someone justify their “theology” to Mary the mother of God!

  • Charles Martel

    “The Church of England ordains women, and has done so for over two
    decades”. No it doesn’t. It thinks it ordains women. It thinks it ordains men. Of course nothing happens at these ‘Ordination’ ceremonies. They are lay people (and heretics) to begin with and they remain the same afterwards.
    They do not become priests and cannot become bishops. Any of them. None of this has anything to do with us Catholics, and there’s no point taking sides because the whole thing is meaningless to begin with.

  • nytor

    “I sympathise with the liberal consensus on this one. The Church of England ordains women, and has done so for over two decades; it must therefore follow that there is no theological reason for not consecrating them as bishops.”

    The reason they have allowed women to be “priests” but not “bishops” (of course Anglicanism has neither, and even if it had those women purporting to have been ordained could not possibly have been) is for reasons of keeping the thing together. If you allow them to be “priests” only then those who do not agree with this can simply ignore them and avoid them, but if you allow them to be “bishops” and have authority over dioceses and ordain people then Anglicans who believe in the proper theology of orders will have cause to doubt who is ordained and who is not.

  • nytor

    “for the opposition to women priests on theological grounds”

    No, it is very clearly theological. Our Lord did not select a woman as one of the Apostles and it is as a result of this that the Church has not done so since. It cannot do so, it has not the authority. It is both Biblical precedent and Church Tradition which render the ordination of a woman an absolute ontological impossibility.

  • nytor

    “and many liberal Roman Catholics too because to them a priest is not really what, let us say, the Council of Trent had in mind”

    Catholics are required to adhere to the teaching that women cannot be priests. Not invited: required.

    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
    Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.
    Responsum: Affirmative.
    This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.
    The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.
    Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.
    Joseph Card. RatzingerPrefect
    Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.Archbishop Emeritus of VercelliSecretary

  • South Saxon

    None of them is ordained. Their orders are null and void. Can we please call Anglican clerics “ministers” and not priests.

  • Kevin

    “it must therefore follow that there is no theological reason for not consecrating them as bishops”

    Alternatively, the Synod could conclude that if bishops should be male then priests should be too, and reverse its recent decision in the latter case.

    After all, we pray that they will reverse their decision to leave the Church.

  • polycarped

    “The priesthood is not a caring profession as such; it is a rather different line of work. In fact it is not work or a job at all.”   The C of E’s concept of the priesthood and church more generally (i.e. focus on social institution, management/employee focus, etc) is very diverse and on the whole completely different to ours; simply put, it is distorted. I say they should go ahead and ‘ordain’ their chief social work manageresses (sorry….Bishops). As Fr Lucie rightly says, if they really believe women are already being ordained as priests, then stopping at Bishops makes no logical sense, irrespective of whether its objectively possible or not. The no-vote presumably shows that, deep down, some (perhaps many) members of the C of E still do not believe that women should/can be priests, let alone Bishops.  Those who cannot abide this should leave. They know where they can go. Indeed we need them because, unfortunately, frightening numbers of supposed-RCs also believe that women can and should be ordained – we mustn’t pretend otherwise. Sadly they get very little faithful (indeed any) catechesis or clarity from the great number of dissenting parish priests and Bishops who basically feel the same way. Of course catechesis must be the priority because this may remind them of the true nature of the Church and of the priesthood. However, like the ‘catholic’/evangelical dissenters in the C of E, they may also need to be reminded that there are other places where they would be much more at home to pursue their social rights agenda if their pride really won’t let them accept the truth. I listened to the endless debates in the Synod yesterday with the representatives throwing scripture and diverse ideologies at each other; it simply reinforced, in no uncertain terms, why I’m so happy to remain firmly in my seat on the barque of Peter, however rough the sea can be at times.  

  • Peter

    Anglicanism is an offshoot of Christianity which has priestesses and before too long, female ordinaries.

    So what?

  • Bellarmine

    It is most definitely time-conditioned theology, and part of a theology of a patriarchal organization which has treated and still treats women perniciously , supposedly in the name of God. Not many centuries ago blacks and slaves were not permitted to be ordained, nor people who had lost their index finger or were otherwise disfigured. In scholastic theology, woman is simply these vessel for man’s seed, and in fact, inferior. The only way the church gets around this in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to make her sexless, a virgin, free from sin at the moment of conception, and hence unlike all other women. I don’t think Our Lady wants to stay on her pedestal!

  • Johnwhite

    What I find amazing in all of this is the lack of Scripture!  Who is basing what, on what! Is this just ‘tradition’ or ‘new age’ stuff. If the church wants clarification, then let the ministry state so FROM SCRIPTURES!

  • teigitur

    Quite so. Nice people I m sure, but not ever “Priests” in the full sense of the word.

  • ConfusedofChi

     Did the Apostles elect Jesus as boss? If so I’ve missed something…..

  • nytor

    Well, at least the men could potentially be priests or bishops if they converted. It does have to do with us, as well, for two reasons. The first is the close intertwining of Anglo-Catholicism and English Catholicism – many English Catholics (such as myself and of course most famously the Blessed John Henry Newman) are converts from Anglo-Catholicism, and converts continue to come from that source. Further converts may do so if women bishops are put in place. Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism have influenced one another in this country (what would we now be without Newman?). In that sense we have an interest in it.

    In a more prosaic way, if Anglicanism does something then liberal secular society starts to wonder why we will not do it (cf ordaining women) and pressure is applied to make us do so. There are now calls for religious organisations to have their exemptions from the Equality Acts repealed to allow women to sue to become Anglican bishops. If this happens, it will affect us too – it may plunge us into a war with the state which will make the skirmishes over adoption agencies and gay marriage look minor.

    There are consequences for us, as Catholics, however this plays out in Anglicanism.

  • nytor

    I put the terms in inverted commas for a reason. The terms were, however, necessary for the sake of the argument.

  • Benedict Carter

    Who cares? Can the Anglican ecclesial community even be called “Christian”? Paganism awaits it once the ladies have taken over.

  • Bellarmine

    There speaks a true Anglican misogynist! You arch-conservatives crease me! You find bits of Scripture or so-called Tradition which agree with your political an/or personal prejudices, you dogmatise it, and then approve of bishops, councils, or even Popes who agree with you, and vilify the rest. You can call yourselves Catholics or Anglo-Catholics or Ptotestants, but what you are really doing is using God and his Word to consolidate your position in the world–On Top!

  • GratefulCatholic

    Correct Benedict and I pray every day for the reconversion of the land of England to the Holy Roman Catholic Faith. I was once a Lost One with them; it was the two issues of Women and Homosexual “Priests” that 20 years ago began my Journey to Rome, thanks be to God, now I am Found.
    Regards, GC

  • Guest007

    Dear Catholic Herald: When writing articles referring to the Anglican Community I ask you to please stop using words like “Priest” and “Bishop”…use more appropriate terminologies that are inline with what the Church teaches…minister would be a good example. We dont want to cause confusion amongst the laity.


    We all know that any Priest can be made a Bishop you know this as a Catholic like myself.

    Although theirs are invalid however for the sake of conversation in their deluded minds this is how I see it:

    The fact the Anglican community allowed for women to be ordained
    ministers alongside their male ministers in the first place 20 years
    ago…I dont see the recent vote as being discriminative but its double
    standards for them then to say women cant be promoted or made anything
    higher than that it has to naturally follow suit otherwise why did you
    allow them to be female ministers in the first place??

    Im sure it will eventually occur but those who call themselves
    Anglo-Catholics or whatever Conservative affiliation who did not join
    the Ordinariate they may think they have have won this recent vote
    however for the future they have to begin contemplating the fact they
    may have to eventually reunite themselves back with Rome..and quite
    rightly so.

    I also think the Anglican Community should also be separate from the
    state…the Church has demonstrated that she has been able to do this
    throughout the world where in state constitutions they are separate from
    the state and the faith has remained strong..therefore so should the
    Anglican Community…In the UK Catholics have a higher church attendance
    rate than these guys which says enough for me.

    However people I think will say to reinforce Christianity in country it must remain interlinked…My reply is this:

    The reason you think your community should not be separate is not due
    to the belief in Christianity being reinforced in British society but
    fear that if the Anglicans were to become separate their community would
    splinter, crumble to dust and wither away due to the divisions within
    themselves and also the lack of faith its own members have.

    The only thing propping them up is the Pomp and its so called
    Priviliged position. The man made Act of Supremacy also has to go. They
    hardly have much of a say even in the House of Lords as it is when it
    comes to passing laws etcc.

    If this was all taken away then we would see how strong their faith
    really is. The UK is fertile for conversation and we should look to play
    our cards right.

    Catholics let us be nice to them as one human being to another but in
    terms of faith, morals and truth we should look to bring what divisions
    they have within their community back into full communion with that of
    the Church under our Holy Father Pope Benedict.


  • theroadmaster

    William Oddie makes a very sapient point concerning the inevitability of women acceding to the episcopal office in anglicanism on the basis of the move 20 years ago to admit them to the anglican version of the priesthood.  It would be a ludicrous scenario if once admitted to the latter that a glass ceiling then was enforced to prevent them from reaching the latter.  The Classic Catholic,Christian understanding of priesthood as enunciated by William, has been the consistent tradition which both the Western Latins and Eastern Orthodox have kept faith with over the last 2000 years, during the centuries when both halves of the Church universal were both united and out of communion with each-other.

  • James

    Radio 4′s PM programme tonight was hilarious.

    After airing an interview with a female “canon,” who was awfully upset about the decision to reject women “bishops,” Eddie Mair then interviewed a Labour and a Conservative MP, both of whom railed against the decision.

    At no time did the programme allow anyone to put forward the case against having female “bishops.”

    The female “canon” had been on last night, saying how she hoped the Holy Spirit would guide the decision, obviously in favour of female “bishops.”

    Tonight, it was obvious she believes she knows better than the Holy Spirit, as the Synod reached the wrong decision.

    Either that, or the Holy Spirit could not be contacted last night…

  • NewMeena

     “….have kept faith with over the last 2000 years,….”

    But women have only been able to vote in very recent years.

    This scrap of ancient prejudice, superstition and ignorance (against real women) is still appartenly “doing the rounds” in religious circles.  Just as you would expect, the old religious superstitions will be the last to change and acknowledge sanity. 

  • NewMeena

    Why not ask the Catholic Herald to preface terms such as “Anglican Community/Church” etc with “perfidious, erroneous …..etc”.

    I would help us all get along better in this world, wouldn’t it?

  • NewMeena

     There you go again Benny!

    Caution please!

  • Alan

    I agree that the purpose of the priest is to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, and I also agree that it should not be a matter of equality laws or human rights. Where I do not agree (and in the eyes of some it makes me a “heretic”) is that for a woman to do this is an impossibility.  To hold that view (the Church’s official line) presupposes that the one, key, distinctive thing about Our Lord was His gender.  Not His age, or His height, or even His religion (He was a Jew), but His gender.

  • Oliver

    Love the irony of a Catholic saying of Anglicanism ‘the whole thing is meaningless to begin with.’ You people crack me up. I should visit this site more often!

  • Romulus

    Bellarmine, you do not understand the Immaculate Conception’s essential relevance to the Atonement.

    Moreover, you have no understanding of God’s nature if you suppose the Incarnation to be an unfortunately scheduled accident that the Father would have timed better had he only possessed that power.

  • Romulus

     Yes — you should.

  • Recusant


  • theroadmaster

    Mea Culpa.  My previous words should have read  “It would be a ludicrous scenario if once admitted to the former that a glass ceiling then was enforced to prevent them from reaching the latter.

  • theroadmaster

    The priesthood is founded on the personhood of Jesus Christ who was the ultimate High Priest whose supreme sacrifice is re-enacted at every mass through the transformation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood by ordained priests who act in the name and authority of The Lord.  Thus only men can enter into the sacerdotal state and is not dependent on worldly sociological distinctions and fads for it’s essence.  

  • GratefulCatholic

    Johnwhite, St Paul’s Epistle, Titus 1: 5,6,7 with reference to Haydock commentary on verse 6 re. matrimony.
    Regards, GC

  • srdc

    Another case of someone commenting on something they know nothing about.

  • srdc

    It’s your arguments that are completely political, not ours. Do not give to Cesar, what belongs to God.

  • srdc


    Sister Sarah Butler covers this issue.

    “The covenant relationship between Christ and the Church is expressed in Scripture by the “great analogy” of married love: Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. This analogy protects the distinction between Christ and the Church as well as highlighting their unity. In Mulieris Dig­nitatem John Paul II called the Euch­arist “the Sacrament of the Bride­groom and the Bride,” the “sign” of which is clearest “when the sacramental ministry is performed by a man.” There is also a “comple­men­tarity” ordered to “communion” in the relationship between the priest and the rest of the baptized, for the priest is not only “in the Church,” but also “stands in relation to the Church.” The spousal love that was only an analogy in the Old Testament took “concrete historical expression” in the Incarnation when Christ became a man. Now sexual complemen­tarity is “sacramentally significant.”

    Different iconography leads to a different Gospel and even a different God. The Biblical worldview is binary. Priestess is a different religion.

  • cullenD

    A brilliant analogy by ALS.

    Dunkirk was a chaotic, but effective, retreat in the face of inevitable defeat by a superior force. 

    But I doubt that any retreat or re-grouping will stop inevitable. It’s not the “Battle of Britain”, but a battle for Britain. As the author pointed out, it may well have been lost years ago. 

  • aearon43

    In reality, it was the Church that established rights for women in Europe in the first place. The idea of “courtly love” was a Catholic invention intended to curb the bellicosity of men. Women like St. Brigid and St. Hildegard were influential in society because the Church respected their dignity. The first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics was Elena Cornaro Piscopia, an Italian, and the first female professor of mathematics, Maria Agnesi, was personally appointed as such by the pope. Today in Africa and Asia, it is primarily Christianity that supports the rights of women.

  • aearon43

    There is an “edit” button, you know.

  • cullenD

    Not so bad, if you lived in a in a secular state. If the C of E were non-established, it wouldn’t be a problem. You would have a self-funded club that could live by it’s own rules. 

  • Galeverions

    The question is not “should there be women priests or bishops ? ” but rather, should there be priests at all ? The answer is “no” ! The New Covenant utterly did away with the Old Testament priesthood…now, true Christians only have ONE priest….the Lord Jesus Christ himself – our “Great High Priest.”  Both the Catholic church and Anglican church are apostate….we see both the Pope and Archdruid (sorry ! Archbishop !) of Canterbury as not even preaching the Gospel. Oh that the Lord might rise up TRUE men of God again….more Whitefields, more Bunyans, more Gadsbys, more Philpots, more Huntingtons…… 

  • Jon Brownridge

     You might check “The Pagan Christ” by Tom Harpur for a better understanding of paganism.

  • mollysdad

    In what manner is Jesus Christ a priest? In that he swore the oath of the New Covenant: “This is my body which is given for you . . . This is the cup of my blood which is poured out for you.” It was an oath by which Jesus swore to die, and which assimilates the Eucharistic celebration to the sacrifice of Calvary. So, Galverions, you are quire wrong. And if perchance you belong to a church that recognises the dissolution of the bond of marriage by civil authority, then you are already defying the Holy Spirit on a point of very great importance.

  • Kevin

    The irony is that we still view Anglicanism as more credible than atheism. At least Anglicans do not try to pretend that something can exist from nothing.

  • Popadopulous

    I think he should go back to his ice cream factory and keep Jerry company!

  • nytor

    @ Alan: if you are a Catholic, then you are definitively obliged to assent to the Church’s clear teaching (not, as you put it, its “official line”) that a woman can never be validly ordained. If you do not adhere and assent to this, then yes, you are a heretic. You are a heretic for the very simple reason that the Sacraments are an essential of the faith and if you adhere to a view of priesthood which risks the validity of these then you are ipso facto heretical.

  • candylin

    i have just looked at the special question time in parliament this morning,and the only conclusion i could come to was the c of e needs to disestablish it self if it really wants to be a church in its own standing.othwewise it could be like a state religion in any other country where parliament dictates its rules and practices,ie iran…..give to ceasar  etc.. being a christian  and being a good subject of the crown is not impossible but lets keep them seperate.if on the other hand one wishes to be part of the establishment there is a price but at what cost..the archbishop spoke of mission,what is the mission of the  church? go and make disciples of all nations bring the good news..but the night before he died he prayed for unity and what do we see to day..i wish the c of e could turn back the clock but it cant,by this i mean never seperated from Peter its all history now the rights and wrongs dont interest me.I want to live in the present  i would like to see all christians love one another be open to the Spirit no matter what it may cost me be guided by the spirit intepret the signs of the times and listen to the vicar of christ. and most important of all spend time in the presence of the lord,how else can i introduce him to others if i do not know him.

  • whytheworldisending

    It is not necessarily illogical to have women priests but not women bishops. It would only be so if there were no difference between the role of a priest and a bishop, or if one’s gender had no impact on one’s suitability for either role. Bishops have powers that priests do not have, and there is no logical (as opposed to political) reason why argument cannot exist as to why women should not wield those powers. Women for example find their way principally by using landmarks, while men tend to use their sense of direction. In a desert therefore, men should lead, because there are fewer landmarks. This applies to the CofE because they are making a spiritual desert for themselves by seeking to be in agreement with “Society.” David Cameron chipped in saying that they should get “with the programme,” but what if there is no programme? If the CofE is to simply reflect the values or lack of values in society, what is its purpose? Indeed Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as Society. There are individuals and families.” Its that last word that is important. The CofE’s sheepish efforts to appease the militant feminists and militant homosexuals who have (almost) hijacked its decision-making completely ignores children and families, and threatens to turn it into a club which no decent family would wish to belong to.

  • whytheworldisending

    St Paul refers to Jesus as the perfect high priest, since He offered himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. At John 10:!7 Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

  • Alan

    The way I see it, the Church inherited a male-only priesthood (dating from a time when women had no leadership roles, and Jesus Himself incurred hostility for even talking to women).  When people started questioning why only men were ordained, the Church started making up reasons to justify an already-existing practice.  Several such reasons have been offered, including “Christ was male”, “the apostles were all male”, “the Church is the Bride of Christ” etc.  None is wholly convincing, so I reserve the right to express my view on this issue whenever it arises.  I don’t expect any change in my lifetime, nor would I support attempts at illicit ordinations of women as occasionally happens.  But, at the risk of being called a “heretic” by the ultra-traditionalists, I stick by my view that ordaining women is NOT an “ontological impossibility”. 

  • Alan

    This is like those Ulster Protestants who insist on addressing a Catholic priest as “mister” instead of “father”.  Do you find that offensive?  If so, show more courtesy to others.