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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.

  • nytor

    Worryingly, the former Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy – a Catholic - last night on the same programme declared himself to be in heresy by stating that he thought the Catholic Church should ordain women. However, the present pope (whilst a cardinal) issued a response to a dubium stating that the letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” and the teaching therein on the impossibility of the ordination of women formed part of the Deposit of Faith and that therefore all Catholics are required to give it assent. For such a prominent Catholic layman as Kennedy to go on the BBC and dispute the teaching gives the public the impression that this is something on which a debate can be had, that disputing the Church’s teaching is a legitimate position to take. It is not. Someone should issue a statement slapping Kennedy down.

  • nytor

    “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”

    Indeed, and once they start to remove exemptions from the C of E it won’t be long before they start demanding that we, too, “ordain” women or face the consequences.

  • Papa Sisto

    Just to be pedantic: Parliament and the House of Lords are the same thing, or rather, Parliament is composed of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  

  • Peter

    We should mind our own business and stop chattering.

    This does not involve us.  It is an issue regarding the administration of an organ of the state  - the CoE –  by the legislature of the state – the current parliament.

    Any attempt to enforce sex equality on other religions is absurd because they would have to deal not only with Catholics and Orthodox, but also with Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews.  

    It’s an absolute non-starter, only fodder for the chattering classes.

  • nytor

    It does involve us if they start removing exemptions from equality legislation as a result.

  • nytor

    I find the whole nonsense about the fact that there are now “reserved seats in the Lords for men only” to be quite ridiculous. The earl marshal, the duke of Norfolk, has a reserved seat in the Lords as well and the duke of Norfolk can only ever be a man. No-one’s screaming about sexism in the duchy of Norfolk and how Norfolk should be removed from the Lords until woman can inherit the dukedom. This whole farrago is about the state and the liberals trying to mould religion in their own inage so as to undermine its opposition to their immorality.

  • http://twitter.com/PewFodderBlog Pew Fodder

     Pewfodder’s take on it all:  http://wp.me/p1Hazj-3P

  • Patrickhowes

    “Parliament itself is subordinate to my conscience and should recognise that”

    Fr Alex,a very well wrtitten and argued article.However,I do not understand how you can make the statement that I quote above,having argued a few weeks back that you are in favour of legalising cannabis.Firstly,it was an act of hersesy and secondly if you were to get your way,I would not be able to make Parliament subordinate to my conscience.Less hypocrisy please and more subordination to the Holy Father please!

  • Popadopulous

    With such thinking as this you’re taking things back to the middle-ages. Kennedy has a right to express his views in a democratic society and is regarded as a rational politician. What next, the reintroduction of the proscribing of literature. And “slapping Kennedy down” is hardly Christian whether taken literally or metaphorically.

  • John McCarthy

    Parliament should keep out of matters beyond its competence 

  • Simon Davies

    Any person in our country has the rights you highlight. But to have a right to do something doesn’t mean to be right in doing it, to paraphrase Chesterton. Mr Kennedy, and other Catholics who do not act collegiately – remember, the action of speaking is not the same as freedom of thought – should realise that they are indeed allowed to say what they want, but they should realise that, as Catholics, they are also accountable to the penal system that they have volunteered to be members of. If they decide not to be bound by the articles of Faith, then they cease to be Catholic, and, therefore, cannot say ‘As a Catholic…’, because that is a lie. Freedom of Speech does not permit people to tell such lies.

  • Simon-peter Davies

    It’s not heresy to argue that cannabis should be legalised. It does not pertain to doctrine. I disagree with Fr Alexander’s opinion, but he is not a heretic.

  • John_Seven

    Is it true that even Catholic Bishops have been appointed by Sovereigns in the past, in some countries? Also, what happened in Spain under Franco’s dictatorship?

  • Patrickhowes

    Yes it does pertain to Catholic doctrine

  • Patrickhowes

    Canon Law applies as follows:

    2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

  • srdc

    Do not give to Cesar, what belongs to God.

  • Stephen

    That would surely keep it out of almost everything!

  • Simon Davies

    It’s not heresy, though, which is what you claimed.

  • Simon Davies

    It does involve ‘us’, if by ‘us’ you mean Catholics. It may be an established religion, but, as baptised persons, they have a relationship with the Church, and, indeed, are members of her, even though they only enjoy partial communion with her. It’s more than a judicial exercise: what Christians do – even Anglicans – effects the Church in a certain way, especially in this matter. Peter has a pastoral responsibility for the whole Church, even those not in communion with him: otherwise, he would not have promulgated ‘Anglicanorum Coetibus’, for example.

  • Simon Davies

    It was common practice for kings to appoint bishops, and the Pope would later give approval. Some Cathedral Chapters still have the right to elect their bishop, who is confirmed – presumably – by the Pope. But when kings – and queens – started to fall out of communion with Peter, the practice started to fade away. there is nothing wrong with the former practice, because the Pope had to approve the decision. The reasons for such practices – that it took months to get to and from Rome – are now not extant. If modern society suddenly collapsed and we ended up in the Middle Ages again, there is no reason why the old discipline couldn’t be restored. It is the Pope’s consent – the mandate – that is essential, not the Pope making the decision about who it actually is. as for political appointments, exemptions from the law can always be made. In fact, there are two Catholic bishops in Europe who are heads of stare today: The Pope, and the co-President of Andorra.

  • Kevin

    Pay the price? Like Thomas More?

    “Man, you’re ill. This isn’t Communist China, you know. This is England.”

  • mollysdad

    Tony Baldry MP seems to be looming rather large in this one. Apparently, as a Church Commissioner, he’s about to call the Archbishop of Canterbury onto the carpet with an ultimatum to hold another vote on the double.

    Interestingly, Mr Baldry is a Freemason.

  • Patrickhowes

    Again you are wrong.Any theory or beleif that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.The Church has written the catechism and this is the only opinion.Fr Alex has no right to contradict the Pope!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Charles Kennedy should be slapped down for his heresy.

    Boy, you don’t hear a squeak from him and suddenly … wallop! 

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Matters of Church Doctrine are not for discussion.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    LOL! Good one!

  • GratefulCatholic

    No Father, we don’t need to respect the “General Synod” or it’s decisions. They (Cof E) are Heretics pure and simple (I know, I used to be one); their predicament is yet another inevitable lurch into darkness that began with the Tudor religious experiments. We Catholics should have nothing to do with them other than pray for their conversion and help those who take the First Steps. We really need to prepare for when the Pagans come after us, as they surely will.     

  • frater sejunctus

    This is to miss the point:  Kennedy claims to be a loyal RC, while at the same time denying what has been held always, everywhere, and by everybody not only in the RC magisterium but also in 90% of the rest of Christendom. By arguing the legitimacy of women’s ordination, Mr Kennedy denies the divinity of Christ. …If he so disagrees with the Church of his baptism, he should have the courage, even the decency, to leave her.

  • GratefulCatholic

    On reflection, “have nothing to do with them” – here I mean Cof E hierarchy and their schemes, not parishoners. Too harsh of me, my apologies.
    GC 

  • Patrickhowes

    What with the character of our Archbishop.He would not say boo to a ghost!

  • Peter

    We have no involvement in what goes on between the religious organ of the state (the CoE) and its state employers (parliament).  The state maintains the CoE and its clergy and therefore parliament, as the state’s legislature, feels it has a right to call the tune.  That is not our affair.

  • Peter

    As employers of the CoE clergy, the state’s legislature, parliament, has the right to impose conditions on that employment permitted by law, such as sex equality.

    No such provisions exist for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or Freemasons.

  • Alan

    Do you seriously think that Christ would condemn someone who expresses the view that women should not be excluded from the priesthood?  Christ Himself was condemned by others for merely talking to women on various occasions.

  • savvy

    Alan,

    I am tried of these arguments. The question I have for those proponents of women’s ordination is Why do you even want a priest?

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    An excellent piece Fr Lucie-Smith. If the politicians feel free to meddle with one religion, they will soon be emboldened to try it on all of them. Or at least on those that will not produce defiance and martyrs and disobedience.

  • nytor

    Oh, we’d defy them if they tried to force us to do the impossible.

  • nytor

    Heresy is denying doctrine. This isn’t a doctrine.

  • nytor

    Yes. The Church has spoken on this issue. “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven”.

    Roma locuta, causa finita.

  • nytor

    He does not have the right to claim to be a Catholic and yet deny a part of the deposit of faith.

  • nytor

    Indeed, and the thing that most annoyed me was that he did this on Question Time, on the BBC, and so will have made the public think that there is a legitimate debate to be had here and that his opinion is a licit one for Catholics to hold. There is not and it is not.  

  • JAS

    Why is it only converts who use the expression “We Catholics” as though it were some sort of badge of honour.  And who call Anglicans “heretics”.  Do they think the only way they will be accepted into their new faith is if they bash Anglicans at every opportunity?

  • GratefulCatholic

    JAS, You barely deserve a response. “We Catholics” all of us, are the Brotherhood of the New Testament and secondly, the CofE are heretical; read the 39 Articles, John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and St John 6:61-70, for starters. More than 20 years of prayer and study lay behind my conversion in 2009 and no “bashing of Anglicans”.   

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    Let’s hope so. But there are plainly  some Catholics who would side with them. 

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    And the politicians and media seem to have forgotten or deliberately overlooked the idea of freedom of conscience and see religion merely as the mouthpiece of political correctness. Listen to Sir ‘Tony’ Baldry spouting away and denouncing the C of E as a ‘church behaving like a sect’ on the ‘Sunday Programme’.

  • Popadopulous

    “Interestingly, Mr (Sir) Tony Baldry is a Freemason.

    What’s that got to do with the topic of women bishops in the CofE?

  • Popadopulous

    I don’t support the innovation of bishopesses, but I seem to remember that there has been at least one prominent Jewish rabbi in the UK – Julia Neuberger (sorry if I’ve spelt her surname incorrectly).

  • Popadopulous

    I rather think, however wrong he may be, that Kennedy is a thinking Catholic.

  • Popadopulous

    I seem to remember that centuries ago there was an argument about whether the world was flat or global.

  • Papa Sisto

    In terms of constitutional law, NOTHING is beyond the competence of Parliament.  If you are talking about legal competence, of course.  Practical consequence would surely exclude it from matters religious, though this would be unenforceable in a court of law.  

  • mollysdad

    Membership in Freemasonry of any description has always been judged by the Catholic Church to be gravely sinful – Pope Clement XIII referred to “the depraved and perverted societies of the Freemasons.”