Friday, 7 May 2010

A Code of Practice Will Not Do

As was widely predicted, the Church of England has chosen the day after a General Election to bury its bad news. Tomorrow the various reports concerning women in the Episcopate are to be published.* Meanwhile we have to make do with Ruth Gledhill's blog, where she leaks as follows:

"As the Bishop of Manchester indicated to General Synod in February 2010, the draft legislation continues to provide special arrangements for those with conscientious difficulties by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop under a statutory Code of Practice.
The legislation has been amended in a number of detailed respects.
Provision for statutory declarations by bishops unable to take part in the consecration of women as bishops or their ordination as priests has been removed as has an obligation on the Archbishops to nominate particular suffragan sees to be occupied by those who do not consecrate or ordain women.
Added to the Measure are new provisions requiring each diocesan bishop to draw up a scheme in his or her diocese that takes account of the national Code of Practice and provides local arrangements for the performance of certain episcopal functions in relation to parishes with conscientious difficulties.
A further new provision allows such parishes to request, when there is a vacancy, that only a male incumbent or priest-in-charge be appointed. It is expected that much of the July group of sessions of the General Synod in York (9-13 July) will be devoted to debating the Revision Committee’s report and conducting the Revision Stage of the legislation. "

There will, alas, be some priests and parishes who are taken in by this. 'Oh, we shall still be able to have a male priest here, so that's all right!..' No, it is not. First, note that all bishops must participate in the consecration of women bishops. No conscience clause for them. And when a man is consecrated there will doubtless be women bishops joining in the consecration even before we have our first women Archbishop. And do you suppose any priest opposed to women's ordination could be instituted? And how could he swear allegiance to the Bishop of X and her successors...?
"But we will still have the PEVs to protect us!" Oh no you won't. The Archbishops will not have to retain the sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough or Beverley for those opposed; and so any safeguard there is removed. How could a new PEV accept office in the first place, though? He would have to accept that he was part of a college of bishops which included women whom be believes are not bishops; but he would not be allowed to say that, and women bishops would participate in his consecration. Since at least three of those functioning as Episcopal Visitors are committed to joining the Ordinariate, there would just be the PEV of the Northern Province hanging on until forced to retire by reason of age just four years from now. This is not the provision we asked for, "for our children and grandchildren".
So what shreds of a fig-leaf are left? Any special arrangements are by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop. A woman bishop would have to draw up a code of practice in her diocese which would "take account of a National Code of Practice". As a PEV until nine years ago I had the 'protection' of something much stronger than a code of practice. Yet even those legal provisions of the Act of Synod were largely ignored by many bishops. Now at least two of the women straining at the leash to be consecrated have said that when they are bishops they will do all they can to ensure any such code would be a dead letter. And even if they do make provision for those benighted parishes which do not accept their ministry, how will it be achieved? Will they ask a neighbouring male suffragan bishop, who himself fully approves of women bishops and joins in their consecrations, to take confirmations in that parish? What is that but pure misogyny.

The fact is, we are not (as is falsely alleged) 'opposed to women'. Many of those most firmly against women in the episcopate are themselves women. What we assert is our belief that women may not and should not be bishops in the Church of God. It would be very much easier for us if we could accept them; but, as Archbishop Rowan has recognised, we cannot, and this is a matter of conscience.

What is to be done, then? Far better end the pretence, scrap the fig leaf, go ahead with consecrating women and tell us to go. After all, the fig leaf is not for us; we have told you, A Code of Practice Will Not Do. Its only purpose is to try to hide your own embarrassment.

And, dear Synod, while you are about it, remember that you are breaking all the promises you so solemnly gave us when women were first ordained. You are ignoring the conclusions of the Eames Commission, that the Anglican Communion by itself could not resolve the question of whether women might be ordained. You are setting aside the decisions of the last two Lambeth Conferences, that those opposed to women's ordination have an opinion of equal value to the opposite opinion. And as a new Parliament is elected, you seem to forget that the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament required you to make proper financial provision for those who were being driven out of their livings by a decision they could not, in conscience, accept. Until that was promised, the Measure could not pass into law.
Go ahead, but don't pretend your Codes of Practice hold any interest for us. It is only you who need them, to cover your naked ambition in striving for your own will and intention. Forget the Codes; let us part honestly, as fellow Christians. Don't patronise (or even matronise) us any longer.

*The reports are now published, Sat 8th, and dismal reading they make. You will find a link to them at Fr Ivan Aquilina's blog (listed alongside this posting: St John's Sevenoaks)


  1. What a poor performance by Fr Houlding, Chairman the Catholic Group on General Synod, on the BBC Radio 4 “Sunday” programme this morning. We need media-trained advocates for the Catholic cause within the CofE. Fr Houlding wasted the interview by talking about the proposed Code of Conduct driving Anglican Catholics out of the church, but he didn’t explain why.
    Let’s stop pussyfooting around and explain the basics. Except for the Sacrament of Baptism (which any Christian may administer in extremis), all Sacraments conferred by a woman priest or woman bishop are invalid. In the case of women bishops, any deacons or priests they ordain, or any bishops they consecrate, will themselves have invalid orders. A male priest ordained by a woman bishop will not be able to celebrate Mass in a Catholic Anglican parish because he will still be a layman. We must clearly explain to our people that they must check the validity of all clerics’ Orders before they perform any sacramental function. Catholic Anglicans in the CofE should demand that any validly ordained clergy must carry, and be prepared to display, a passport of sacramental authenticity. Without such a safeguard we are on the fast track to lay presidency.

  2. The bluff is being called; Pope Benedict's generous offer of an Anglican Ordinariate in full communion with the Holy See and structurally part of the Catholic Church is being used to absolve the Church of England from any duty to provide for those who dispute the right of synodical majorities to determine doctrine. Whilst a previous Archbishop of Canterbury might have declared that the Church of England had no doctrine but that of the Undivided Church, it is clear it now has no doctrine but that of General Synod.

  3. As the July deadline approaches when it will be "D" Day re. Women Bishops - it is interesting to note the mass exodus of so many diocesan bishops - Chelmsford, Durham, Ely, Lincoln, Salisbury, Southwark et al.
    I wonder if by any chance they are related?