My blog is not intended for church-political comment (see my first ever post!) But it is really important to those of us who have fought over the last thirty years for the catholicity of the Anglican tradition that people know just why a "structural solution" is the only fair way of meeting the needs of faithful Catholics within the Anglican Communion. I wrote this article for the September 2008 Forward in Faith Australia newsletter:
On the 8th July this year, the morning after the English General Synod voted to deny opponents of women bishops a "structural solution" to their problems of conscience when women are "bishops" in the Church of England, Fr Matthew Bernard SSC posted these words on the blog of Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the London Times:
"I was one of the young traditionalist priests in the public gallery throughout the debate. What bothered me more than the result, I think, was the sheer nastiness of the 'scorched earth' policy on the part of the liberals, and their unwillingness to listen to people of both sides, not least the archbishops, insisting that a code of practice would not do . . ."
We in Australia got used to the "scorched earth" policy a long time ago, as, indeed, did the North Americans. Our English brothers and sisters are now just beginning to understand that the Church of England doesn't really want them. Is it any wonder that after the disastrous vote, shock waves reverberated around our constituency there; the flying bishops sounded to the press as if they were off to Rome immediately, and priests and people alike withdrew from public discussion in utter disbelief, to spend the summer licking their wounds.
NO LONGER AN EXAMPLE
From our point of view, the really sad thing about this is that until now we have been able to point to the "fairness" of the Church of England's Act of Synod by which the flying bishop arrangement came into being as the truly "Anglican" way of caring for a vital minority whose only sin is a strong commitment to the faith and order of the Church Catholic as the Church of England received it. Now, however, unless the English General Synod changes its mind (and I suppose it just might after the 2010 General Synod elections) Catholics in the "Mother Church" of the Communion will be in exactly the same position as we are.
The flying bishops arrangement - the provision of "extended episcopal care" - was based on the Eames' Commission's understanding of "reception", that is, that as either side of the women's ordination debate might turn out to be right at the end of the day, the Church has a responsibility to create the environment in which BOTH sides can flourish and grow. This was popularly known as the "Gamaliel principle", and the provisions made have worked well over the fourteen years since they were put in place. Too well, in fact. There is real anger in liberal circles in England that our constituency has been steadily growing, that on average, our ordinands are the youngest, with a real passion for the Gospel of Jesus and the full Catholic Faith, and that parishes keep being added to the A, B & C list - that is, the list of those who have voted to have the ministry of a flying bishop ("provincial episcopal visitor") rather than their liberal diocesan bishop.
CODE OF PRACTICE
In the light of this growth, and the relative strength of our numbers, it was thought fairly inevitable by FiF people in England that even if the C. of E. didn't give them a "Free Province" with the advent of women bishops, some kind of structural arrangement would be permitted, such as adding to the present prerogatives of the flying bishops the ability to select, train, ordain and place our own ordinands, and the jurisdiction to manage the selection and induction of priests into parishes. This would have created something analogous to a "Diocese", and as a holding arrangement would have "just" sufficed for the time being.
Instead, all that the English will be offered is a "Code of Practice." Throughout the General Synod debate speaker after speaker from our side spelt out the reasons why such a provision is woefully inadequate.
This contrasts with the approach of many Australian Anglo-Catholics - a dying race! - who sit so lightly on the FiF Communion Statement as to think that the "Code of Practice" approach in the form of the "Australian Anglican Bishops' Protocol" will do nicely.
I cannot believe on the one hand that our brothers' consciences are not stretched to breaking point over matters of sacramental communion, or, on the other, that they are prepared to trust the assurances of the kind of liberals who run the Church almost everywhere in Australia but Sydney, whose track record in providing for the consciences of orthodox minorities is abysmal.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Indeed, the appalling behaviour of most liberal bishops right from the beginning of the process that has led to the "ordination" of women here in Australia makes it highly unlikely that their assurances about addressing the real difficulties of conscience our people experience are worth the paper they're written on.
(Notice I said "most." We do, in fact, have a few friends among the liberal bishops who deeply regret the way we have been treated over the years, and who also dislike the bureaucratic bullying that now passes for church leadership in many places.)
1. The Appellate Tribunal's opinion that the Fundamental Declarations in the Constitution could mean the opposite of what they actually say (an opinion described by no less than Archbishop Donald Robinson as "unconscionable"). These Declarations are supposed to assure Anglicans that ours is a Catholic and Apostolic Church, taking our stand on the Scriptures and the ancient Creeds, and that our ministry is a continuation of the Holy Order of the wider Catholic Church.
2. The pretence of bishops who in the debates leading up to the ordination of women claimed to speak in the interests of "tolerable plurality" (assuring "minorities" of pastoral care!!!) but who then proceeded viciously to persecute and hound those who could not in conscience accept that such women had in fact received Catholic orders.
3. The devising of operative canons claiming to "clarify" the law of the church, which in fact deliberately obfuscated that law, together with the 1992 appeal to the last handful of swinging voters in the General Synod that they were not really being asked to vote for the ordination of women, but for the unity of the Church.
4. The refusal in 2001 and 2004 to provide a "structural solution" to our people in the event of women bishops becoming a reality - with some of the most passionate supporters of women bishops voting against the legislation on the basis that it sought to give "wriggle-room" for our consciences. (Our people also voted against it because the "wriggle-room" proposed was inadequate!)
5. The consistent denial that what we have asked for reflects a theologically legitimate point of conscience (as when in 2005 the Archbishop of Brisbane made the rejection of "sacramental space" and the acceptance of his sacramental ministry in the parish of All Saints' Brisbane a condition of the appointment of a new priest).
6. The sneaking in of women bishops through the back door (on the basis of a 4 - 3 vote of the Appellate tribunal) when it became clear to proponents that the continuing decline of most dioceses and the growth of Sydney Diocese meant that they would never have the numbers get legislation for women bishops through the General Synod.
Why on earth should anyone now trust those who are responsible for such behaviour to start being pastoral and caring? In all honesty, who would buy a used car from a crowd like that? It is highly likely that they believe their opposition to be so marginalised as to make it "safe" to offer their "protocol", knowing full well that almost no-one is left who will seek to avail themselves of it.
THE WELSH VOTE
On 2nd April this year, the bill to introduce women bishops into the Church of Wales was narrowly lost. The Archbishop of Wales - who sings from the same hymn sheet as most of his Australian counterparts, thinks nothing of dismantling Catholic Faith and Order; but he opposed the inclusion of legislative protection for traditionalists (i.e. the right to their own bishop) on the basis - he said - that it would be "institutionalised schism"!
Where have we heard that before?
The amazing thing is that in the Welsh Governing Body a number of liberals who want women bishops, were unwilling to pass the required legislation if it did not include legislative protection (a "structural solution") for opponents.
WHY A STRUCTURAL SOLUTION IS NECESSARY
An astute commentator on this episode is Roland J. Morant, who points out that mere gentlemen's agreements will never be enough for the orthodox when they are in an ecclesial body in which women purport to be bishops. I quote him at some length as he summarises why "Codes of Practice", "Protocols", the best of "gentlemen's agreements", and even the present "flying bishop" arrangement in the C. of E. just will not do once a province goes from women priests to women bishops:
"As was realised in England a year or more ago when discussion was taking place on women bishops there, when women bishops are introduced into an episcopal college of men (as would apply to the present bench of Welsh bishops), the system using a 'Provincial Assistant Bishop' (or in England, 'Provincial Episcopal Visitors') would become unmanageable. Here are six objections:-
"1. Traditionalists in holy orders would find it impossible to join in acts of collegiality e.g. at clergy chapters etc. The main reason for this is that the question would always be in traditionalists' minds as to whether revisionist clergy (male or female) were actually in holy orders.
"2. Traditionalist bishops, priests and deacons would be unable to make oaths of allegiance to revisionist bishops or archbishop of the province.
"3. Given that there must be nothing provisional about the sacramental acts of a bishop (especially ordinations and eucharistic celebrations), traditionalist clergy and people would have to have sacramental assurance that such acts were valid.
"4. Traditionalist bishops, priests and deacons would be unwilling to take part in sacramental acts with clergy of other provinces and dioceses, if there were question-marks hanging over the heads of the clergy of these other provinces and dioceses as to whether they were actually in holy orders.
"5. Traditionalist bishops would require total control of their parishes, be it for reasons jurisdictional, administrative, pastoral or spiritual. Anything less, and protection from revisionists would be whittled away in the course of time.
"6. Traditionalist bishops would need to retain the authority to ordain their own subordinate clergy and to consecrate their successor bishops."
In other words, the ordination of women as bishops represents such a significant departure from "the Catholic Faith as this Church has received the same" as to be a betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ that strikes at the very core of Church life.
If the bishops who ordain women really believe that this is a "period of reception", as I said before, they must at least believe it is possible that we are right and that they are wrong.
If we are right, and it is NOT God's will that women be ordained to the priesthood and consecrated as bishops, then the women purportedly ordained are not priests and bishops at all. The sacraments over which they preside are null and void. As Fr Tom Davis has written in New Directions (Sept.2008):
"[In the case of women priests and bishops] . . . The Holy Spirit will not transform the bread and wine into the saving Body and Blood of Christ, even though the correct words have been said over them; we receive just bread and wine. The Holy Spirit will not impart the charism of ordination or confirmation to those upon whose heads a woman bishop places her hands . . . And in the case of priests she ordains, male or female, they will NOT be priests, and the sacraments will have no effect."
That is what the Church has always believed and practised, and what the wider Church still believes and practises today. As the ones who believe it to be right, the orthodox Anglican minority in places like Australia, England and Wales, are entitled to a "structural solution", embedded in canon law, that will guarantee them a distinct sacramental life, the validity and effectiveness of which is not impaired by what any fair-minded reading of Catholic theology must regard as the technically schismatic actions of the so-called liberals.
That would do for a generation, making it possible for orthodox Anglicans around the world to re-group, even as liberal Anglicanism shrinks away before our very eyes, along with what are now the old fashioned social movements of which it has been a pale imitation.