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Parliament should beware taking a People’s Republic of China approach to women bishops

Something rather sinister has happened in the wake of the General Synod vote

By on Friday, 23 November 2012

Politburo Standing Committee members Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. China does not let the Pope choose his bishops (Photo: PA)

Politburo Standing Committee members Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. China does not let the Pope choose his bishops (Photo: PA)

Something rather sinister has happened in the wake of the General Synod’s vote not to proceed with the women bishops measure, and that is the call for Parliament to interfere. The Daily Telegraph has sensibly said that Parliament should “Leave the Church be” but this does not seem to be the position of David Cameron who urges the Church “to get with the programme”, without quite saying what programme he has in mind.

Moreover, on last night’s Question Time no less a person than Yvette Cooper seemed to think that unless the Anglicans sort this out, then Parliament will have to do so. The columnist Owen Jones was also on the programme and spoke about separation of Church and State, and that, given the Anglican bishops’ right to sit in the House of Lords, Parliament had a right to interfere with the running of the Church of England, specifically in the way it appoints its bishops. And behold, already people like Frank Field, a widely respected MP, who also happens to be an Anglican, are talking of parliamentary legislation.

Yet no one, not even the Conservative member of the Question Time panel, Iain Duncan Smith, seemed to grasp the essential point here: Parliament has no moral right to interfere with the internal workings of the Church of England, or any other ecclesial body for that matter, in matters of doctrine. The appointment of bishops and the changing of the supposed Apostolic Succession is surely a matter of doctrine.

Now, I fully accept Owen Jones’s point: Parliament must have a say in the appointment of its members. But this is not an argument for Parliament to say who should be able to be a bishop – it is an argument, and an overwhelming one, for bishops to leave the House of Lords. Membership of the Upper House compromises their religious role, which is something the Catholic Church has long recognised, forbidding, as it does, its clergy to sit in legislatures.

But what really worries me is the presumption that our secular government has a religious role to play, and the presumption that exemption from “equality legislation” is a privilege conferred on religious groups by government. Actually, it is not. In this country, and in every liberal democracy, it is the rights of conscience that are above all other rights – Parliament itself is subordinate to my conscience and should recognise that.

There is an amusing picture going round Facebook at present, of an English politician, the most high ranking of his day, who refused to get with the programme – Sir Thomas More. He paid the price. But it was a price worth paying. Erastianism, the doctrine that the state should control the Church, always was a heresy, and now is a heresy that has passed its sell-by date by several centuries. Its only adherents in the world seem to be people like Yvette Cooper, and of course the government of the People’s Republic of China, who refuse the Pope his right, which we believe to be given by God, to appoint bishops in his own Church. This behaviour by the People’s Republic is just one of the aspects of their unpleasant tyranny. British parliamentarians should beware going down the same path.

I never thought I would say this, but we all need to respect the integrity of the General Synod, and we all need to respect its decisions, carried out as they are in a transparent way according to rules that the Synod (and Parliament!) agreed on.

  • Robin L

    Well Erastianism has been growing since 1980. Neo-liberalism (market Capitalism) is, according to
    that excellent Catholic theologian Nicholas Lash,  a religious narrative just like any other religious narratives. So we need to approach the hegemonic ideology as laying claims to a metanarrative yet
    existing as a set of ideological practices and beliefs in the worship of money and the Market!
    The British New Elites practice materialism and are an idolatrous cult who are attempting to naturalise
    their gods by proclaiming in their demented jealousy that the Christian apostolate must be placed under the control of their gods (‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ spake the trinity of Money, Sex and Power ) Are we to conclude that Neitschze was right after all, that their desire is to kill
    All sorts of confused and rival desires lurk in this imperial colonising beast as it lashes around 
    in its failure to globalise anything and everything in sight.
    However church leaders should at least acknowledge the shallowness and incompetence of people
    like Yvette Cooper who know little or nothing about the Christian life and are obviously completely taken in by their own propaganda.
    Well they will soon meet some rather stiff resistance further along the line if they proceed any further
    with their claims!
    I’m surprised that the Bishop of London Richard Chartres hasn’t spoken out yet!

  • Alan

    As much as you do.  I just don’t think they shpuld be restricted to the relatively small pool of celibate men.

  • savvy

    These are two different issues. Perhaps you should read some actual theological views on this issue, instead of arguments by people who do not have a clue what they are talking about.

    The question I have for you is do you believe that the Mass is the Holy Sacrifice and the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

  • savvy

    The proponents of women’s ordination seem to think that Christians were dumb for over 2,000 years until they came along.

  • GratefulCatholic

    Very good observations Robin. I am in NZ and we have the same political elite at work here (sort of short pants apprentices tho) and they cross traditional left/right lines so elections become largely irrelevant. It is getting increasingly difficult to just live ones Christian life and ignore them – they make it so, I’m sure.  

  • JoFro

    Because Freemasonry also excludes women :D there are a few Freemason clubs that have allowed women but most of the older, more respectable clubs, keep women out…that is the irony of a man whining about the Church of England when he himself belongs to a club that does the same

  • Nick

    This is why the Catholic church is going to be left in the smoggy, pluralistic dust of the 21st and 22nd centuries! See ya, Suckers!

    I agree that legislating the Church into changing its mind is the wrong way to go about this, violating freedom–the members of the Church should make up their own
    mind–(maybe a regressive vs progressive split has to happen in
    Anglicanism). But can you see how ridiculous in the context of modernity it is to assume that the doctrines of the Church are inherently more right than the doctrines of the state? The People’s Republic’s unpleasant tyranny is at most 80 years old. The Church’s is 500+–and oppression of women is a long, long, well documented feature of the Abrahamic, especially Christian, faiths.

  • Popadopulous

    As far as I’m aware women have their own official and recognised order of Freemasonry. You’ll be having a go next at the Soroptomists because they don’t admit men. 

  • Popadopulous

    I find nothing “depraved or perverted” about a society that welcomes men of all recognised religions and where they meet in harmony and friendship without being labelled protestant or catholic or muslim or hindu or jewish or buddhist, etc, and to say nothing of its charity towards worldwide humanitarian suffering. 

  • mollysdad

    April 28, 1738CLEMENT, BISHOP, Servant of the Servants of God to all the faithful, Salutation, and Apostolic Benediction.

    Since the divine clemency has placed Us, Whose merits are not equal to the task, in the high watch-tower of the Apostolate with the duty of pastoral care confided to Us, We have turned Our attention, as far as it has been granted Us from on high, with unceasing care to those things through which the integrity of Orthodox Religion is kept from errors and vices by preventing their entry, and by which the dangers of disturbance in the most troubled times are repelled from the whole Catholic World.Now it has come to Our ears, and common gossip has made clear, that certain Societies, Companies, Assemblies, Meetings, Congregations or Conventicles called in the popular tongue Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons or by other names according to the various languages, are spreading far and wide and daily growing in strength; and men of any Religion or sect, satisfied with the appearance of natural probity, are joined together, according to their laws and the statutes laid down for them, by a strict and unbreakable bond which obliges them, both by an oath upon the Holy Bible and by a host of grievous punishment, to an inviolable silence about all that they do in secret together. But it is in the nature of crime to betray itself and to show itself by its attendant clamor. Thus these aforesaid Societies or Conventicles have caused in the minds of the faithful the greatest suspicion, and all prudent and upright men have passed the same judgment on them as being depraved and perverted. For if they were not doing evil they would not have so great a hatred of the light. Indeed, this rumor has grown to such proportions that in several countries these societies have been forbidden by the civil authorities as being against the public security, and for some time past have appeared to be prudently eliminated.Therefore, bearing in mind the great harm which is often caused by such Societies or Conventicles not only to the peace of the temporal state but also to the well-being of souls, and realizing that they do not hold by either civil or canonical sanctions; and since We are taught by the divine word that it is the part of faithful servant and of the master of the Lord’s household to watch day and night lest such men as these break into the household like thieves, and like foxes seek to destroy the vineyard; in fact, to prevent the hearts of the simple being perverted, and the innocent secretly wounded by their arrows, and to block that broad road which could be opened to the uncorrected commission of sin and for the other just and reasonable motives known to Us; We therefore, having taken counsel of some of Our Venerable Brothers among the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and also of Our own accord and with certain knowledge and mature deliberations, with the plenitude of the Apostolic power do hereby determine and have decreed that these same Societies, Companies, Assemblies, Meetings, Congregations, or Conventicles of Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons, or whatever other name they may go by, are to be condemned and prohibited, and by Our present Constitution, valid for ever, We do condemn and prohibit them.

  • Popadopulous

    Freemasonry encourages its members to follow the creeds of whatever their particular religion is, be it Christian, jewish, muslim, etc., etc. To be a Freemason demands a belief in God  - a “Supreme Being.” Personally, I care not what a man’s (or woman’s) religion or faith be, providing the common denominator is that he or she exercises personal goodwill towards all living beings. Or as Our Lord decreed, “Love thy neighbour.”

  • Paddy the Papist

    I hope that the ‘Church’ of England does force it through. As with the farce in the 1840s with the heretic C.E. Gorham, who denied any objective effect in baptism; and whose adoption of a benefice, by Act of Parliament over the Synod, caused Cardinal Manning and others to see the Established church (lower-case c deliberate) as what it is ‘merely a creature of the English crown’, with no validity, no orders, no succession – a mere national institution rather than the Holy Church herself. This farce should bring the last few ‘Anglo-Catholics’ who are deludedly clinging onto the comfortable pretence that the Anglican foundation is in any way part of the Catholic Church – many of whom, like All Saints Church in York, which uses the ‘English Missal’, or the Mass of Trent done into English, St Magnus Martyr and so on,  would be a great service to the Ordinariate and to the whole  Church, back to Rome.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    Well fine….if you are not a Catholic. Actually from what I know of it from various non-Catholic friends and family who are/have been masons, it does not seem to be a very noble cause. And your defence — that women have their own separate arrangements –  applies of course to Islam too.

  • savvy

    No relevant to this discussion.

  • savvy

    Why are non-Christians interfering in issues they know nothing about? Sacraments are not secular, stop politicizing everything.

  • Arden Forester

    Those of us still in the Church of England and who may yet be drawn to the caravan as it heads towards the Ordinariate would prefer a less hostile attitude. You say that people may be of “a great service to the Ordinariate”, yet you seem to have a barb or two rising up. Thankfully, Mgr Andrew Burnham (who likened the journey to a caravan) sees it differently.

    By the by, the whole reason for the Ordinariate is that Anglicans do not wish to be totally “Roman” and Pope Benedict generously and wisely understands this.

  • Arden Forester

    David Cameron’s “programme” is unlikely to be as sinister as that of the Politburo Standing Committee. Neither will it be as cohesive and structured. It is basically a figment of his imagination until such time as he reveals the contents. However, his comments are rather sinister in that they are a poorly veiled threat to the Synod based on his ability to grasp only a vague understanding of the facts.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    Currently he is an ex-Catholic, strictly speaking, whatever he may believe himself to be. But I wonder if any of the Scottish hierarchy are going to pay much attention.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    “….can you see how ridiculous in the context of modernity it is to assume that the doctrines of the Church are inherently more right….”

    Now who was it said that we are fool’s for Christ’s sake. If you cannot even imagine the intellectual position of your adversaries, why invade their discussion area and go ramming your ultra-conventional views down their throats?

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