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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.

  • polycarped

    This is all very interesting but the problem here – as also reflected in the other comment you made regarding Ulster Protestants – is that it seems you have been infected with the relativism bug - perhaps from our reformist friends - you clearly don’t accept that the Catholic Church is divinely instituted and that it derives authority from Christ through Peter. This whole confusion around women ‘bishops’ and many other things in the C of E reflects exactly the same problem – no authority – which leaves everything up to consensus. Given our inclination not to be able to see or understand the truth most of the time, it’s no wonder this leads to chaos, confusion and error. If you don’t accept the authority of Peter’s successors (and in this case their definitive statements on the ordination of women) then I can understand why you would defend the position that you do.

  • Peter

    Anglicanism is an offshoot of Christianity which has priestesses and will eventually have high priestesses, and may even be headed by a high priestess in the future. 

    All I can say is “good for them” but it’s frankly none of our business.

  • whytheworldisending

    Jesus wasn’t jewish in the sense that the word is used today (that is since his death and resurrection). Gender matters in the gospels, since Jesus referred to God as his Father, at the Annunciation, the message to Our Lady was “…blessed art thou amongst women,” and Jesus is the Son of God. Some people would have us rewrite the gospels to make them politically correct. It is an attempt to obliterate the memory and message of Jesus. I’d prefer to remember Him as he is revealed, not as people anbitious for worldly recognition for themselves would dictate. Women priests – like gay marriage – is the thin end of the wedge. 

  • whytheworldisending

    The problem is that the in the CofE, clergy get a nice house and salary, so those with worldy ambitions are attracted towards clerical positions. Bishops get paid more than priests so of course people who are interested in money and status will fight tooth and nail to get what they want. Equality legislation is there to help them do that, bu tI don’t think its anything to do with faith, for to the demand, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” Jesus replied, ““Man, who has set me as a judge and a divider over you?”

    He then went on to warn about Greed. Now what is Equality about if not dividing up the wealth between ourselves? If someone is hungry for food, of course, divide up your wealth with them, so that they can eat, but if someone is hungry for power and recognition ignore them and focus on the needy. To do otherwise is to adopt the corrupt standard which St Paul warned about.

  • whytheworldisending

    I think we should take sides with those in the CofE who are opposed to “Women bishops” and also “Gay bishops,” because these issues are eschatological in a sense. They bring people to a crossroads where they can choose the right path. We should therefore support and welcome them. If the remnant is exclusively miltantly feminist, militantly liberal, militantly homosexual and subject to Parliament (David Cameron) then that will clear up a lot of confusion about the christian faith, about what is right and about what is wrong.

  • Alan

    I often notice that “traditionalists” (for want of a better word, but you know what I mean) can be as selective as anyone else when it comes to which teachings to accept.  For example, the clear teaching of Pacem in Terris and of Vatican II on religious liberty is rejected by some.  But I notice that people who publicly advocate women’s ordination are not threatened with excommunication.

  • srdc


    Had I not spent years studying this issue. I would have probably held the same views. What makes you think that today’s arguments are not based on culture?

    Jesus had women disciples, so I do not think this was a reason.

    It had to do with the office of the priesthood itself.

    This website is a good one to consult on this issue.


  • gillibrand

    According to the Guardian, the Archbishop of Canterbury is already in negotiation with the secular powers.  He will try to subvert the House of Laity, despite him being a layman himself.

  • gillibrand

    PS I doubt if any of the House of Laity have read the Decrees of Trent.

  • nytor

    “people who publicly advocate women’s ordination are not threatened with excommunication”

    In fact they are, and if they take it any further then they are excommunicated. Look up the former priest Roy Bourgeouis.

  • nytor

    As was made clear by the current pope whilst a cardinal (in a response to a dubium), Catholics are obliged to assent to the teaching which forms part of the deposit of faith. If you reject this, it won’t be a case of me calling you a heretic – you WILL BE a heretic, and every time you take communion you will be committing a mortal sin. Your choice, it’s your soul you are imperilling after all.

  • Mattrowlatt

    I feel the vote should have gone in favour of women Bishops. “To say that women can become priests but not bishops is illogical.” 
    What actually SCARES me is the attitude towards women and the Church of England in general by some of the people commenting here. I wonder what Mary would think ? Why are orthodox Catholics so scared of women ??? 

    Am I going to burn in Hell because I see women as equals ??? 

    I am baptized and confirmed Catholic, this happened when I was young. Now I am 38 I believe in God but do not believe in the immaculate conception nor the divinity of Jesus. 

    A theme of some comments seems to be anyone who is not Catholic is a “Pagan”. Do these people think only Catholics will go to Heaven then ? 

    That sort of attitude is bordering on extremism. In hindsight I don’t know whether to be scared of you or pity you :( 

  • srdc


    If you do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, then why do you want a priest to begin with? Political arguments do not address this issue.

    I pass no judgement on pagans, but simply that it’s a different religion. I wish them well.

    Have you heard of the law of non-contradiction?

    You cannot have it both ways.

  • Mattrowlatt

    Personally my friend I do not want a Priest- My Church is in my Heart. No one needs a Priest to have a relationship with God. Sorry I’ve gone Gnostic on you ;) 

  • Mattrowlatt

    It just really winds me up how bigoted some “Holier than thou” Catholics can be ! 

  • Mattrowlatt

    Yes I can have it both ways ! (Law of non-contradiction) ;)  My opinion doesn’t really matter with regard to the Women Bishops issue. I am just trying to point out the bigotry of some of the people here in the hope they will open their eyes some more and realise what they are saying is actually quite offensive and VERY narrow minded.

  • James

    Thanks for this Charles. I shall tell the Holy Spirit to remove himself from our church as we evidently have got it so completely wrong.

    A priest in the Church of England.

  • srdc

    It becomes our business, if they want others to accept their “progressive” views.

  • srdc

    It’s just calling a spade a spade. 

  • Alan

    Only last night I attended a public discussion between two very well-known Catholic converts (one a journalist, one a politician) both of whom openly support women’s ordination.   No suggestion of excommunication, though doubtless you think there should be.

  • srdc

    In that case, why are you even Catholic? And if you are not do not comment on these issues.

  • srdc

    They would if they actually ordained one or participated in one.

    The thing is the arguments being made are political.

  • Alan

    Do you assent to both para.15 of Syllabus Errorum (1864) and para.14 of Pacem in Terris (1963), on religious freedom?  If you assent to only one of them (they are contradictory) you are a heretic, according to your own reasoning.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Syllabus of Errors:

    17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ. — Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

    Pacem in Terrae:

    14. This too must be listed among the rights of a human being, to honor  God according to the sincere dictates of his own conscience, and  therefore the right to practice his religion privately and publicly. For  as Lactantius so clearly taught: “We were created for the purpose of  showing to the God Who bore us the submission we owe Him, of recognizing  Him alone, and of serving Him. We are obliged and bound by this duty to  God; from this religion itself receives its name.”[10] And on this point  Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, declared: “This genuine, this honorable freedom of the sons of God, which most nobly protects the  dignity of the human person, is greater than any violence or injustice;  it has always been sought by the Church, and always most dear to Her. This was the freedom which the Apostles claimed with intrepid constancy,  which the Apologists defended with their writings, and which the Martyrs  in such numbers consecrated with their blood.”[11]

    Failing to see a conflict there.

  • polycarped

    Well, yes, perhaps that’s not such not a bad idea – I mean that Holy Spirit fella can be darn inconvenient at times – not to mention terribly undemocratic. I recall hearing several pro-women-bishop Synod members and commentators before and during the debate declaring their confidence that the Holy Spirit was guiding the process and that it was Spirit-led. However, once the vote was ‘lost’ they suddenly decided it was the ‘wrong’ outcome. Hmmm…

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > “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.”

    Do you have any evidence for your theory, or is this just pure cynicism?

    > “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”. ”

    Believing what the Church believes does not make one a “ultra-traditionalist”.

  • nytor

    I despair of these enemies within. Belief in the inadmissibility of females to Holy Orders has been declared to form part of the Deposit of Faith and people who declare themselves to be Catholics are obliged to give this assent and so should not be opposing it, especially publicly.

  • MatthewWarbler

    Another excellent article from the wonderful Dr Lucie-Smith.

  • 12Maria34

    Christ is all knowing and all good & just, past, present & future but ever present.  Fast forward 2000 yrs as present in His time, would He not have one woman as an apostle for us to be free of this problem now?

  • 12Maria34

    I am a woman and an orthdox catholic.  I do not like women priests nor bishop.  As blessed Pope John Paul II said, the church does not have an authority to do so.  By the way, there are a lot of us women who wants only male priests.  If to uphold and respect what Christ has instituted is being NARROW minded, then you can call me as one and you can include all the negative words you want. 

  • Alan

    My reference was to para.15 of the Syllabus of Errors, which condemns the proposition that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which he, by the light of reason, thinks to be the true religion”.  Clearly contradictory to the teaching of Pacem in Terris and Vatican II, and undoubtedly an embarrassment to the Curch today.

  • Peter

    They don’t want to and they can’t force us, therefore it’s not our business.  

    If as a consequence of this, parliament decides to apply equality laws not just to the established CoE but to every religion, then they will have to contend with the Muslims and Jews as well as the Catholics.

    In others words, it’s a non-starter, so let’s mind our own business and let that particular offshoot of Christianity go its merry way and wish them well in the process.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    I apologise for misreading your comment.

    Given the context of article 15, the well-founded fears of anticlericalism in France, and its audience, Catholics and Catholic institutions, I take the view that it can be read in continuity with Pacem in Terrae, which was addressing a fundamentally different concern.

  • David

    Some amusement here! Substitute ‘Roman Catholic Church’ for ‘Church of England’ and you will have the position of the Orthodox. Never mind, you can always convert to Orthodoxy by being baptized!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.mesley Mark Terence Mesley

    I have to disagree that it is illogical to allow women to ordained as priests in the C of E but not as Bishops … the Eastern Orthodox Churches allow married men to be ordained as priests, but none of these men are eligble to become bishops because the Church does not permit married bishops! For conservative evangelicals male bishops preserve male headship in the Church, a Pauline doctrine to which they attach some importance. It is also nonsense to allow women to become bishops when we are still in a period of reception over women priests, not only have a significant minority of Anglicans not accepted this innovation, but it has not been received by either the RC Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. Moreover, the House of Bishops of the C of E has so watered down the provision for traditionalist believers who cannot accept women bishops so as to make “not fit for purpose”.

  • Jonathan West

    If the church were to change its mind and say it does have the authority to do so, who would contradict it?

    As far as what Christ instituted, I think that you will find very little in the gospels on the subject of whether women can be priests. I think that you’ll find that all the business of men being in authority over women comes from St Paul, not from Christ.

  • Jonathan West

    if you think that the sacrament is only valid if it comes from a man, then you can always attend a church with a male priest.

  • Peter

    Meaningless to you maybe, but not meaningless to them, and we should respect that, even though it is none of our business.

    If this particular branch of Christianity with historical state affiliations wishes to move forward with priestesses and eventually high priestesses, that is their right and privilege, and we have no justification to pass judgement.

    Compared with the tide of rabid atheism and vitriolic secularism overwhelming this country, any believer in a good God is welcome, no matter how they worship.  Best leave them alone and let them get on with their business while we get on with ours.

  • 12Maria34

    Who gave St Paul the authority?

  • Davidjames

    Perhaps it seems to be “antiquated nonsense” because that is simply what it is. The fuss over such arbitrary baroque hocus pocus is at once amusing and fascinating.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.perrott Liz Perrott

    That is incredibly patronising. Of course it ordains both women and men, Ordination doesn’t belong to Rome, all religions ordain their minister one way or another. The term ordination means given spiritual authority, These Anglicans are given Authority to be Anglican priests!

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.perrott Liz Perrott

    The total arrogance of the Catholic Church is only matched by the Latter Day Saints. both of which insist they are the ‘One True Church’.  and that everyone else has got it wrong.

  • savvy

    What do you think Jesus was doing when he said, “This is my body, this is my blood poured out for you.”

  • savvy

    This issue has been hijacked, with talk about rights, equality etc. It’s like this is now a status symbol, rather than a sacrificial vocation.

  • Jonathan West

    The last I heard, women have bodies as well, and blood is contained in them.

  • savvy

    Yes, but it’s HIS sacrifice on the cross. His blood that washed away sins. It’s the cross that unites men and women in the God-man Jesus Christ.

  • savvy

    Other churches do not ordain priests. Only RC’s Anglicans and Orthodox do. Now Anglicans will be the ones out of this.

  • Adam F

    As someone considers themselves a traditional, orthodox and conservative High Church Anglican in Australia, I am glad that the vote for women “bishops” has been rejected, but I am also saddened that at heart, the vast majority of the Church of England wants them. I cannot in words express how embarrassing and humiliating this is – no wonder you Catholics laugh at the Church of England as a bit of a joke – it damned well is, except I am more inclined to weep than to laugh. Those fools (Rowan Willams and Justin Welby) have shown themselves to be servants of secular liberal progressivism. What part of “God is not a democracy” do they not understand? Christianity should not change just to “get with the times”. I give full credit to the Roman Catholic Church for sticking by what it actually believes to be true and holding your ground in the face against liberalism and secularism. Thank you for actually showing that Christianity isn’t headed for the dust-bin. I abhore the idea of Justin Welby coming in as the new Archbishop of Cantebury – what a joke.

    I’ll take my spiritual guidance from Benedict XVI thank you very much. At least he stands for the Truth – not for “whatever’s popular”. Every day I inch closer and closer towards Catholicism. As for the the Church of England – I pity the fools.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Would you care to make an argument in support of your position? At the moment it is a bare assertion and nothing more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Johnson/100002117620278 Adrian Johnson

    As a Catholic eager for the re-conversion of England to the True Faith, I am disappointed but not surprised that the C of E has illogically delayed –for at least the next 5 years– to allow priestesses to become bishopesses.  When this is fait accompli, the last Anglo-Catholics and true evangelicals who believe that sacraments administered by female clergy are de facto invalid, will decamp either to the Catholic Ordinariate or to the Orthodox Church.  The remaining members of the C of E will then be honestly Protestant.   

    The daft fiction that a religious entity whose theology and discipline are decreed by Parliament are “a third branch of the Catholic Church” will be exploded, to the relief of all who care about Truth, rather than conformity with society’s changing cultural mores.  After the exit of the principled traditionalist Anglicans, the Established Church in the UK will resemble the modern established (Lutheran) churches of Scandinavia — useful for quasi-religious state functions like coronations, state funerals, and rememberance day ceremonies, but whose nominal adherents are practically speaking, agnostics who like to go to Christmas and Easter services for sentimental or purely cultural reasons. 

    The sooner this happens, the sooner all parties, traditional and liberal,  are put out of their misery–so:
    the sooner we, the citizens of the UK, (of any or no denomination)  have Anglican bishopesses, the better for everyone.  The C of E will finally be exactly “what it says on the tin”, a State Church in tune with the zeitgeist, not some pseudo Catholic-branch manqué which claims to be doing the will of God for the salvation of souls according to certain unchanging verities.