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Well, they’ve done it again. But the opponents of women bishops have only put off the evil day: and next time there may be no ‘special arrangements’

The arguments for women priests were wholly secular. This is, in any case, the state Church: and in the end the state will decide

By on Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A member of the Synod votes 'no' on their handset (Photo: PA)

A member of the Synod votes 'no' on their handset (Photo: PA)

Really, you couldn’t make it up. The Church of England, because of its arcane and dysfunctional, though supposedly democratic, voting procedures, has yet again decided that someone who really is a priest (that’s what they believe), and is worthy of promotion, is not necessarily eligible to be made into a bishop.

I say nothing about the question of what is known as “the validity of Anglican orders”, except that I can’t see why any Anglican takes offence when we say that by Catholic criteria they are invalid, when it is quite clear that apart from a few Anglo-Catholics, who think they are sacrificing priests in the same sense as Catholic priests do, what the Church of England as a whole thinks a “priest” is and does is utterly different from what the Catholic Church believes about Holy Orders: in other words, we are both using the same word to describe utterly different things.

Nothing, surely, illustrates that better than the debate about “women bishops” which took place yesterday. The discussion wasn’t about the sacrament of holy orders at all: did anyone even mention such a thing, even in passing? It was all about women’s rights. In other words, this was the governing body of a wholly secularised Church talking about a wholly secular issue.

As Jemima Thackray put it in the Telegraph, “as I listened to the debate unfold, hearing progressives pitched against conservatives … I found myself being too often oddly impressed by the cases made by the anti-women bishops lobby, despite the fact that nothing would’ve pleased me more than to see women enter the episcopate. One argument kept ringing true: the claim that the pro-women campaigners were too quick to try and make the church like the world.

“Uncomfortably, I had to agree. Too many of those in favour of women bishops just sounded too… well… worldly. My reasons for thinking this differed wildly from the evangelicals who think that the church needs to be set apart, not conforming to a society which no longer sees man as the head of the woman. My main concern was that some arguments for women bishops just sounded too much like a contrived government initiative to get women into the boardroom.”

Nor, however, do I have any sympathy with those who voted against the proposed legislation because they were dissatisfied with the measures proposed to allow them to opt out of having the governance of a woman bishop over their own parish. As I argued here the last time the question came up in the Synod, simply by remaining in the Church of England, you have accepted that you are a member of a Church which has women priests: you accept, in other words, that women may be priests, that those women already ordained as such by the Church of England are validly ordained: so what are you on about? “If a woman is a priest,” as I argued last time, “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 … 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.”

What has all this to do with us? Well, 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: if, that is to say, the Synod had legislated to establish a female episcopate yesterday, its legislation would have had to 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 would have given her assent. But in the process of becoming the law of the land, any special arrangements for dissident parishes might well have been removed: last time, members of the 30-strong parliamentary committee of MPs and peers known as the “ecclesiastical committee” (who would in effect have framed the legislation) were saying firmly that any special arrangements for dissident parishes would not be accepted by them.

So what will Parliament do now? I repeat, this is the state Church, and Parliament has the legal right to act. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and a former Anglican priest, said before the vote that a rejection would “undoubtedly undermine” support for aspects of establishment, including bishops in the Lords.

Frank Field, who sits on the parliamentary ecclesiastical committee, said that in the event of a no vote, he would table a motion to remove the Church’s special exemptions from equality laws. “It would mean that they couldn’t continue to discriminate against women,” he said. After the vote Ben Bradshaw, the former Labour minister, said: “This means the Church is being held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics. This will add to clamour for disestablishment – there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act.” That is an idea, it seems, gaining traction: if it happened, it would open the way for women to bring a legal challenge: and if successful, that could lead to women becoming bishops without any safeguards for traditionalists at all.

If those opposed are evangelicals, they have probably already opted out of their dioceses anyway. Evangelicals have little theology of the Church, and are essentially Congregationalists. So they’ll be OK, probably. As for Anglo-Catholics, there is a place prepared for them: it’s now time to come home. The Church of England is no longer (if ever it was) any place for those of Catholic mind and heart.

  • mollysdad

    The proposition that the Church has no authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood is a truth which has been acquired with the help of the Holy Spirit and has been set forth by the ordinary and universal magisterium as a truth to be held definitively. The time is nearly upon us when every member of the Church of England will have to leave it under pain of sin without invincible ignorance,

  • Kevin

    “the opponents of women bishops have only put off the evil day”

    Not really. That is like saying the mother who refuses to give into her child’s tantrum at the supermarket sweet counter is only putting off the inevitable.

    Only if she is a weak mother.

  • frater sejunctus

    So Dr Oddie concedes that the many married men now serving as priests in the Roman Catholic Church (whether in one of the 22 Eastern rites, in the Ordinariate, or, by dispensation, in the Latin rite itself) are actually eligible for elevation to the episcopate?

  • David Lindsay

    In declining to permit women bishops, the General Synod of the Church of England has made its most positive decision in decades, possibly ever.

    Christianity is the basis of this state and the foundation of all three of its political traditions. But independent research has found very large proportions of the women among the Church of England’s clergy to be doubters of or disbelievers in key points of doctrine. Two thirds deny “that Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin”. One quarter denies the existence “of God the Father Who created the world”. Assuming a woman on the episcopal “team” in each diocese, of those with privileged access to the media and other organs of national life as the voice of the Christianity professed by 72 per cent of Britons, at least one eighth would have been agnostics or atheists.

    A positive decision to retain declared “Fathers in God” sets the tone for the introduction of a legal presumption of equal parenting. For the restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit was being paid to mothers. For the restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father. For repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed. And for paternity leave to be made available at any time until the child was 18 or left school.

    That last, in particular, would reassert paternal authority, and thus require paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence. That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver: high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need. Not least, the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing that secure economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community. Nuclear power. Coal, not dole.

    And it includes foreign policy, in no small part because those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm. Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children. Yet our society urgently needs to re-emphasise the importance of fatherhood. That authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle. You cannot do both.

    To argue for this by word and by sheer presence is a role for living icons of God the Father, addressed as “Fathers in God”.

  • Sylvia Considine

    Excellent, clear-headed commentary.

  • josephmatte

    Sorry. I cannot take the Church of England seriously. Can you imagine at the last Papal Conclave seeing Cardinals in tears at the prospect of seeing Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope ?

  • NewMeena

    Mr Oddie says the arguments for women bishops were purely secular. I must take his word for that, as I am unable to identify divine arguments. 
    But I note that the Anglican Clergy voting at the Synod actually voted in favour of women bishops by the required two-thirds majority.

    I too will say nothing about the matter of “the validity of Anglican orders”. But, unlike Mr Oddie, I will not then write a paragraph about it.  
    It would be nice if Catholics stopped carping at Anglicans, who hold their weird beliefs as strongly as Catholics hold their’s.

    As for the C of E being a “state Church” – well does it matter?  Who cares?  This is merely a historical curiosity.

    The RCC, as Mr Oddie suggests in his last paragraph, will probably open its Job Centres in an attempt to recruit more conservative (and Conservative) Anglicans to its flock. Many Anglicans don’t like this.
    To an outsider the whole pantomime looks as ridiculous as it actually is. 

    However if this eventually becomes a springboard for legislative change, which makes at least one Church conform to Equality Law, that would be a piece of worthwhile fallout. . 

  • JabbaPapa

    This is merely a historical curiosity

    Good grief !!!!

    As usual, you haven’t the faintest clue about the subject matter in hand.

    Have you even heard of Saint Augustine’s City of God ???

  • JabbaPapa

    Very good question, Papal Sovereignty withstanding …

  • Breff

    Despite what is said here (and despite enjoying the friendship of many Anglicans), I conclude that all this is none of our business. “..the same word to describe utterly different things” – exactly. 

  • Romulus

     They are ontologically eligible, which is more than can be said for any C of E clergy.

  • Benedict Carter

    I find the Catholic obsession with the Anglican sect unhealthy. Still, we are living in ecumaniacal days, are we not?

    To think, as the ARCIC mob did, that we could possibly have “corporate union” with such a theological mess that has no final authority is beyond imagining. Had we not 400 years plus of sure knowledge of the nature of Anglicanism before Vatican II? Why is it that so many Catholics, particularly Bishops, chose to set aside all this sure knowledge to pursue such a chimera is a question we will be debating for decades to come. And utterly bizarrely, some do still talk in such terms – Koch and the other professional ecumaniacs. 

    As Dr. Oddie says, ” … this was the governing body of a wholly secularised Church talking about a wholly secular issue” (except that in Catholic terms, the Anglican sect is no “Church” at all). 

    Cameron’s comments today, and those of other politicians, show us that Scripture and Tradition plays no part whatever in the real business of the Anglican ecclesial community in this country. There are evangelicals within it, yes, but how many of them can in conscience remain within it now? 

    And as for the Anglo-Catholics, if they choose to remain within a body that despises them, then it’s their look-out. The Holy Father has provided them with the Ordinariate. Let them prove that their religion is not merely a comfortable sinecure within a body that provides them with livings and other benefits. The Ordinariate awaits them. 

    Ecumenism with that remains is a total waste of time. We should be attempting rather to convert these neo-pagan heathens to authentic Christianity, not confirm them in their errors, not confuse even further the poor, maligned Catholic laity.

  • nytor

    “The arguments for women priests were wholly secular”

    They were. Some of them were amusingly barking. One woman from Oxford urged Synod to “dance with her a dance called Strip the Willow”. The mind boggles.

  • nytor

    C of E clergy are ontologically eligible, or at least the men are if they convert…

  • Benedict Carter

    Once the wymmin take over, the end result will be paganism. Look at the Catholic nun’s grouping in the USA, with whom Rome is being unduly charitable. 

  • nytor

    “I find the Catholic obsession with the Anglican sect unhealthy”

    Many, many Catholics in England are converts from Anglicanism. I am. So is Dr Oddie. Without such converts the Catholic Church here would be much less significant than it is. Newman, anyone? So the obsession, as you call it – rather, more of an interest in whether there will be more converts, on my part at least – is perfectly understandable.

  • nytor

    “which makes at least one Church conform to Equality Law”

    Now THIS is what worries me. Slippery slope. When they’ve come for the Anglicans, then they’ll come for us. Prepare for a war which will make the skirmish on gay marriage look minor.

  • Benedict Carter

    So was my own father. Point taken. 

    Nevertheless, in modern times, we (meaning the Hierarchy, not the ordinary faithful) do seem to be more interested in non-Catholics than in teaching our own children about the True Faith. 

  • NewMeena

    It’s “Good grief!!!” this time (other times: cripes! wow!    etc).  Are you related to Batman’s boy Robin?

    And then the old, old favourite “you haven’t the ………..”.

    But people DO like it!!

  • NewMeena

    Not a slippery slope, more a road to justice and civilisation.

  • Victor

     Of course – if their spouses are deceased…

    But I suppose that the good Frater knows the difference between circumstantial obstacles and ontological obstacles and just wanted to be funny.

    Ha. Ha. Ha.

  • nytor

    If you think it’s just for a state to infringe religious freedom and attempt to force the Catholic Church to do something it cannot – whether that is marry gays or ordain women – then you have a very perverse notion of “justice”.

  • Guest007

    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

    When the anglican communion was formed back in the 16th at the behest of a philandering king, it became a nationalized body wholly dependent on the state for it’s legitimacy and survival.  Now this body has to conform to the equality laws which are part of the social legislation of modern Britain, and it is this reality which William Oddie has so effectively pointed out, which has shown the Church of England to be so compromised by secular tendencies, that it’s theological base has been dramatically eroded.  The administrative episcopal constructs worthy of a contortionist which past Synods have created to cater for dissenting Anglo-Catholics have only undermined the credibility of their original decision to extend the anglican priesthood to women.   The Catholic Church has been clear on the theological basis and nature of the priesthood, and this laid down as a binding truth to be held by all the Faithful through the Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”, authored by the Blessed, Late, Great Pope John Paul 11 in 1994.

  • srdc

    The diversity dictators need to stop imposing their sameness on others. They can start their own religion.

  • NewMeena

     “Once the wymmin take over,……”

    The “Once the wymmin take over,…” comment, and the context in which is presented, might make this remark (and possibly the repeating of it on this website as well) a criminal offence in the UK, I’m not sure. 

    But whether or not this is so, the comment is so clearly sexist and an insult to 52% of humanity.

  • NewMeena

    It is nothing to do with “sameless”, as in only one brand of corn-flakes, but with human equality before the law.

    It also has nothing (very obviously) to do with religion.

  • NewMeena

    You misunderstand. 
    Women priests, and other women, in the C of E, and some women Catholics, believe that to prevent them from becoming bishops or priests (respectively) is a gross infringement of their religious rights, which is based only on sex – i.e. solely on their chromosomal makeup.

    This is nothing more than a vestige of ancient ignorance.

  • Alessandra Parrini

     So strictly speaking and digging deeper into the question, and antiecumenically so, not even the priests or Bishops of the Anglican are really priests. No breath of the Holy Spirit having been bretathed on them via  Apostolic Succession leading back to Jesus.

  • Benedict Carter

    That’s right.

  • Benedict Carter

  • Benedict Carter

    The law does not extend thus far to spelling I don’t think. Try not to be ridiculous.

  • Parasum

    Christianity is the basis of this state and the foundation of all three of its political traditions.

    ## That’s in the past. There is no reason why something that was important to the state in the past should count for anything now. For that matter, Greek & pre-Greek ideas have been very important to thos state – but it would be absurd to imagine that this is a reason to worship Zeus, or Jupiter Capitolinus, or JHWH or any other god. The past is merely a fact - thaty does not make it a guide to present conduct, or impose any obligation to worship its gods. People had their social arrangements before this island was Christianised.

    The idea that people have to believe a religion just because it was accepted in the past – often because it was dangerous not to accept it – is no reason at all to think it is stilll worth bothering with. If people think it is worth bothering with, they need to show that. What they have no right to do is to assume that their Bronze Age superstition deserves deference merely because it is old and has been a “basis of this state and the foundation of all three of its political traditions”. And until they can see that, they living in a dream. In case they have not noticed, the culture has changed in the last 1800 years. People do not need gods, they do not need a discredited religion like Christianity with its a hideous record of cruelty & crime. Christians don’t even believe their own religion – if they did, there would not be an unbridgeable chasm between how they supposed to behave, and how they do behave. Most of the baptised don’t even bother to go to Church ! So how in the name of all that’s holy do Christians expect non-Christians to find their religion any good, when their own people don’t bother with it ? For crying out loud, the Churches *cannot* carry on taking their status,or the patience of the people in this country, for granted. If they are idiotic enough to take their status for granted, they deserve all the trouble they get.

  • theroadmaster

    The break which characterized the sundering of the ecclesial bond between England and the Holy See back in the 16th also marked a break in the apostolic succession which linked the English Church with the seat of Peter for the  thousand years or more of history prior to this event.  Only one bishop out of the English hierarchy  bravely refused to recognize the usurpation by Henry V111 of the leadership of the Church and his name was St John Fisher, bishop of Rochester who like his great contemporary, St Thomas Moore,met their end on the scaffold.  The rest of the episcopate fell in line with the radical reforms of Henry and thus conformed to the anglican tradition of holy orders which denied the true sacrificial nature of the Mass which was confirmed in the ordinals of anglicanism over the course of the 16th century.  Elizabeth 1 had to have a new line of bishops created to follow the ordinal of King Edward V1 and this was done through the “consecration” rites performed on Bishop Parker in 1559 by 4 renegade/turncoat ecclesiastics as they could not get any Catholic bishops to perform the ceremony to continue the line of  apostolic succession.  Thus the Anglican line of bishops down to the present in reality sprung from that ceremony of 1559.

  • NewMeena

    Advocating discrimination through sexism in a public arena is a criminal offence in the UK.

    And don’t be ridiculous by trying to make a joke of this. Those times have gone for good. 

  • srdc

    Why blame the Christians when they are taking secular advice about how to be “relevant”?

  • srdc

    You have a twisted concept of equality that includes imposing your views on churches. The C of E needs to de-establish itself.

  • srdc

    Well, you misunderstand too, and so do they. Sacraments are not rights or secular. Do not give to Cesar, what belongs to God.

    This is nothing but a vestige of ignorance.

  • Dr. Jon Brownridge

     I am not sure that is entirely correct. First, there were certainly many other bishops besides St. John Fisher who resisted Henry’s take over. The Catholic Church may have gone underground but it did survive in England. But more to the point, even those bishops who submitted to the new order were still able to conduct illicit but nevertheless valid ordinations and consecrations. Thus some of the newly ordained Anglican priests were validly ordained, and many of the new bishops were validly consecrated. The problem for the Anglican Church then was that invalidly consecrated bishops were not able to validly ordain new priests.

    The situation today is that some Anglican priests are validly ordained and some are not. It’s impossible to know which is which. That is why Anglican priests converting to Catholicism are conditionally ordained and allowed to practice their priesthood, married or not. If I am mistaken about this, I am sure there are many contributors who can set me right.

  • EndTimes101

     Thank you for demonstrating how quickly ‘progress’ can turn into persecution. Now that the full power of the state is transferred from those with grace to those without grace, fascist threats to be silent (as demonstrated here by NewMeena) come with the full power of the state. It started with just psychological pressure and brainwashing, now real penalties are in play (usually financial/job loss/legal costs/fines etc). Finally comes the physical persecution – jail and executions.
    The wheat is being separated from the chaff. Be of good cheer even though the world is in deep spiritual darkness….remember it is only temporary. The lunatics will be given a short charge over the asylum but God allows it for the sake of his elect.

  • Benedict Carter

    There was ONE other, and he died before being arraigned under the Act of Supremacy.

    “The situation today is that some Anglican priests are validly ordained and some are not.”

    It is this sort of claim which serves only to totally confuse the Catholic laity.

    If what you say is true, then any Anglican vicar converting to Rome would be conditionally ordained, not ordained per se. There has been no case of this and there won’t be.

    Anglican Orders have no validity whatsoever.

  • EndTimes101

    Is it just me or do other people find this ‘load more comments’ bar after every 5 comments from the Catholic Herald blog pages a really useless (and annoying) recent ‘innovation’. Answers on a postcard please…..

  • scary goat

     Am I allowed to say the same thing by law, being a woman myself?

  • aearon43

    Just to address one error among the many in your post, the Bronze Age refers to the period from roughly 3600-1200 BC. Christianity, as you know, began in roughly 30 AD.

  • aearon43

    Yes, and while they’re at it, can they implement a “dislike” button, please?

  • aearon43

    So I suppose the inability of men to bear children is also a “vestige of ancient ignorance,” as well?


  • Adam Thomson

    It’s not just you. It is exceedingly annoying.

  • Sweetjae


  • Sweetjae

    Please forgive this man who called himself ‘traditionalist’ catholic, they are remnants of the old, defeated french royalist fascism.

  • Sweetjae

    Derogatory and name calling like “wymmin” must be addressed strongly and does NOT qualify as persecution by the State. Tell your friend to stop this macho lingo.