THINKING ANGLICANS

Bishop of Norwich writes about women bishops

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To All Clergy

Dear Colleague

The procedures of General Synod are difficult enough for its members to understand so it is excusable that media reporting is sometimes wide of the mark. It’s often forgotten that the General Synod is the only body in England which can frame parliamentary legislation and which Parliament itself cannot amend but simply approve or reject. Hence, when it comes to legislation the process is very similar to that within Parliament itself with the addition that the framing of that legislation is also subject to a complex synodical procedure.

I begin this letter in a rather technical way since it may help to explain why the General Synod seems to be having so many ‘final’ votes on the Ordination of Women as Bishops. It’s been reported for several years that the Synod is about to have a decisive vote but we haven’t got there yet and will not be there for about another couple of years.

What the General Synod did this past weekend was to send the draft legislation to be considered in each diocese. Our own Diocesan Synod will consider it sometime next year and I hope every Deanery Synod will have the legislation on its agenda too. Recent meetings of our Diocesan Synod have begun to prepare the ground for this and our Agenda Planning Group will soon recommend a process and timetable for our diocesan consideration. The majority of the dioceses will need to approve this legislation before the General Synod begins the concluding stages and does reach a final vote.

I have described the process before offering any opinion of my own. However, I think you should know how I voted this weekend and the conclusions I have reached.

I believe that the Church of England would be enriched by women in the episcopate. The gifts and graces which women have brought to the ordained ministry seem self evident to me and I am convinced that in the ordained ministry it is our humanity which is more important than our gender, just as it is in relation to our salvation in Christ.

What is also evident to me is that many of those who are opposed to the ordination of women in our Church also believe it is right for the Church of England to ordain women to the episcopate. They see it as an inevitable consequence of a Church which ordains women to the diaconate and the presbyterate. However, they do want appropriate provision for those who do not believe this to be a legitimate development in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

This is why there has been so much focus on what sort of provision should be made to enable those who are opposed to remain with integrity within the Church of England. I have come across very few people who do not want to make some sort of provision for enabling conscience to accept this development in our tradition. But what should it be?

A Code of Practice which means that a woman bishop would delegate her authority to a male bishop (for pastoral and sacramental care) for parishes which cannot accept her authority does mean that the parish concerned would have to recognise the apostolic authority of the female bishop in order to make this request. That’s what some of the opponents find so difficult. That’s also why our Archbishops proposed an amendment which suggested co-ordinate jurisdiction deriving from the Measure itself. It would not have impaired the jurisdiction of the female bishop but required her (and male bishops too) to work with an episcopal colleague in order to provide pastoral and sacramental care for every parish within any diocese. It was this amendment which was carried by majorities in the House of Bishops and House of Laity but fell by five votes in the House of Clergy.

The Archbishops made it clear that it was not a test of loyalty to them but a way of so re-shaping the Code of Practice to make it something which could work for everyone without any losers. I voted for it and regret that it failed so narrowly to receive the Synod’s approval.

However, the House of Bishops is intending to get on with the work of drawing up the Code of Practice with some urgency. One of the difficulties is that we do not have a Code of Practice to work with yet which is why so many people were in the dark about the Archbishops’ intentions or what the consequences would be of what they had suggested at what seemed like the last minute (though this was inevitable).

I am very glad that the process of considering this legislation continues and I’m also glad that the present General Synod indicated such significant determination to make provision for those who find the proposal that women should be bishops so difficult. Under God I believe we are charged to do what we believe God calls us to do. For St. Paul this meant that the food laws he had cherished as a Jew should be set aside in a new dispensation brought by Jesus Christ. But he did continue to honour them among Christians who still observed such laws. We now live in a world which is likely to treat minorities in a cavalier and callous way. I long to see women as bishops in our Church but I also want the world to see that we honour and include the minority who do not believe this to be God’s will. The secular world may find that hard to understand but it seems to me to reflect both a New Testament principle and an honouring of our humanity redeemed in Christ.

This comes with my prayers for you all.
+Graham Norvic:

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Fr James
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Fr James

A very good letter. I’m sorry more people didn’t vote as he did. He draws attention to a very important point – if a Code of Practice had been drawn up first, might people have voted differently?

For me, it highlights the inadequacies of synodical government. These amendments should NEVER have been voted upon until a Code of Practice had been drawn up in full.

Fr James
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Fr James

Does anyone know if the Royal Peculiars were ever considered as a potential solution to this issue? I remember the idea being offered in “Consecrated Women?” but I don’t know if it was ever considered by Synod or the Revision Committee.

People were writing on this board about how the Queen ought to step in, in her role as Supreme Governor. Perhaps she should, not as they imagined, but to create more royal peculiars for those opposed to the ordination of women.

I know it wouldn’t work for evangelicals because of their beliefs about headship, but might it work for Anglo-Catholics?

Pantycelyn
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Pantycelyn

‘We now live in a world which is likely to treat minorities in a cavalier and callous way.’

I think he must mean ‘we now live in a church…’ –surely ?

I look forward to his urgent proposals for lesbian and gay equality and inclusion in the Church — some day soon.

Pantycelyn
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Pantycelyn

I what what he means by ‘apostolic’ and ‘apostolic authority’ of C of E bishops ? This kind of talk is relatively recent. C of E bishops didnt go on like this about themselves when I was younger.

I really wish they would stop ! I think it is contentious, unconvincing and unhelpful to attempts at christianity.

Lister Tonge
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Lister Tonge

But, having voted for the Archbishops’ disastrous compromise (torpedoeing) ammendment, be aware that the Synod is likely to throw out any Code of Practice which undermines the episcopal integrity and authority of women which you and your male colleagues enjoy.

The game is up for those who would seek to stay and at the same time wreck the forward movement of the Church of England. Their bluff has been called by Rome. It now needs to be called by Canterbury.

JCF
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JCF

“It would not have impaired the jurisdiction of the female bishop” That’s Norvic’s opinion! “the parish concerned would have to recognise the apostolic authority of the female bishop in order to make this request. That’s what some of the opponents find so difficult” I honestly do not understand this interpretation. Accepting the *signature* of the delegating bishop-who-is-female, isn’t any Summa of Catholic Belief: it’s simple *courtesy*! Where the rubber hits the road—the Sacraments—would be pristinely male-confected. To wit: I don’t believe that George W. Bush was legitimately elected President of the United States in the year 2000… …but that doesn’t… Read more »

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

In response to Fr James: 1. I think you might be right that people might have voted differently had there been published draft Code(s) setting out how the option(s) might be framed. 2. Peculiars I rather assume are not a viable solution. I work in one, as it happens, and I don’t think that there is any legal method by which they can be ‘created’; those that exist are products of distinctive legal and historical developments in a relatively small number of places. Royal Peculiars are even rarer (about half a dozen), and have distinctive personal and historic links with… Read more »

Benedict
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Benedict

“The Synod is likely to throw out any Code of Practice which undermines . . .” Lister Tonge, how do you turn a majority in favour of the Archbishops’ amendment into that??? It only failed because the vote was taken by houses, and even then, still only by five votes. It was not a disastrous compromise at all, only in your eyes and in the eyes of those who seem to want to destroy any vestiges of Catholicity in the Church of England. The forward movement of the Church of England, as you put it, is being wrecked, even as… Read more »

Lister Tonge
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Lister Tonge

Benedict

Thank you for the ‘seem to want to destroy’. But you are mistaken.

Do you seriously think that, after all this, the Synod will vote for a Code of Practice that undermines women bishops?

I don’t understamd the ‘lust for absolute power’ of which you speak. The bishops are bending over backwards to seek to accommodate conservative catholics and evangelicals whilst pressing forward with the ordination of women bishops. You may note that some liberal commentators are already dismissing the various bishops pastoral letters for their continuing attempts at bridge-building.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“[L]ust for absolute power.”

I’m sure that female bishops would prefer to have the same amount of power that male bishops have.

So “lust” is an interesting choice of words.

Either every candidate for a bishopric — male or female — “lusts for absolute power.”

Or the poster is subconsciously conflating episcopal power with sexual power.

Benedict
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Benedict

Lister Tonge, you may well wish to turn a majority on the Synod into some kind of reverse thinking, but that was nevertheless the level of support for the Archbishops amendments. Yours wasn’t a resounding success by any stretch of the imagination, not when the said amendment was lost by just five votes. And there is still “unfinished business”, to quote +Rowan. And Jeremy, I think you must have some sort of hang up to turn this into an argument about power and sexuality. But there again, that’s the sort of typical revisionist thought we’re becoming used to in the… Read more »

Paul Davison
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Benedict: Do I understand you correctly to say that “Catholicity” requires, among many other things, an all-male clergy? If so, would you also say that any church that has female clergy not to be “catholic” (as in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”)?

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

Why didin’t the good Bishop address this letter to laity and clergy/ Isn’t he the bishop of both? Just askin’

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Benedict, “lust” is your word, not mine…. Have you read Freud, by any chance?

As for my theology, it is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that a hierarchical church must tolerate a certain amount of ambition.

As for yours: Are you accusing anyone who wants to be a bishop of “lusting for absolute power”?

Or are you just accusing women priests of this?

Benedict
Guest
Benedict

Lister Tonge, you have missed the point completely, and throwing in Freud is just a red herring. I fear you are just trying to be clever. The point I am trying to make is that the whole idea of “coordinate jurisdiction” could have allowed us to go forward on a far more united front, but many proponents of women bishops are completely opposed to this kind of jurisdiction. That suggests to me that it has to be all or nothing for them (and you), which, I reiterate, is about nothing more than the desire for absolute power. And Paul Davison,… Read more »

Benedict
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Benedict

My last post was addressed to Jeremy as well.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“That suggests to me that it has to be all or nothing for them (and you), which, I reiterate, is about nothing more than the desire for absolute power.” Benedict, are you saying that male bishops have “absolute power” in the Church of England now? If so, presumably you have tolerated that power for decades. Or is it only when a woman might have the power of a bishop that a bishop’s power suddenly becomes “absolute”? Does a powerful woman seem somehow more dangerous to you than a powerful man? If so, why? “Lust” aside, it does seem to be… Read more »

Christopher (P.)
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Christopher (P.)

Benedict–

But of course from the point of view of COE, these conclusions about women’s ordination by the RCC and the Orthodox remain opinion, and not binding. Just as from the point of view of the RCC, all our ordinations remain opinion and not binding, and thus so do our eucharistic celebrations–that is, we know they’re real, and they think that we’re mistaken in that “opinion.”

My point is that catholicity and reform have broader meanings than you ascribe to them.

MarkBrunson
Guest

There is no catholicity in clergy without women in clergy. Without catholicity in clergy, there is no catholicity in the mere structure that is church.

Authority doesn’t rest with church, but the Body of Christ.

Lister Tonge
Guest
Lister Tonge

‘My last post was addressed to Jeremy as well.’

May I take this as an apology, Benedict? You seem to have drifted into attacking me for things written by someone else. Let’s keep this debate at least good mannered! 🙂

Benedict
Guest
Benedict

Jeremy, I wasn’t talking about my own perceptions or levels of tolerance, I was referring to the perception of those who wish for women bishops at any cost. I ask the question that, if it is not simply about a thirst for absolute power, why did proponents of the measure (male and female) steadfastly refuse to allow for a situation of coordinate jurisdiction? Just what was the problem with that compromise? It was surely about fear of dilution of the woman bishop’s authority and therefore power. What esle could it have been? What was there to be afraid of in… Read more »

Christopher (P.)
Guest
Christopher (P.)

Benedict–

But of course the church is telling you that you must believe in some particular something! That’s what churches do! That is, churches believe in something, and not just anything. And no one’s telling you to get out–that comes from how you manage to coordinate what your conscience is telling you with what the church is telling you. I honestly don’t see the problem, except you don’t agree with the result.

Bill Dilworth
Guest

“Theological…principles are at stake here.”

The theology I’ve seen against WO deserves to be sent to the stake – especially the type claiming that women cannot represent Christ at the altar, or that a woman is “improper matter” for the sacrament of Orders.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Benedict, you say that you were only describing the “perceptions” of others. But you will admit, I assume, that your description of the perceptions of others can be colored by your own perceptions? It was you who perceived proponents of woman bishops as “lust[ing] for absolute power.” Your words, not mine. You then replaced “lust” with “desire” — which of course is subject to the same reading. You now replace it with “thirst,” which refers to another physical need. Such choices of words say much. One might want to keep power and gender, on the one hand, and sex, on… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“I long to see women as bishops in our Church but I also want the world to see that we honour and include the minority who do not believe this to be God’s will.” – The Bishop of Norwich – One cannot but honour the desire of His Lordship, but the problem is: ‘How do you square episcopal authority in a diocese with the fact that the Diocesan (if Female) is forced to surrender her diocesan oversight to another (Male) bishop’? This is precisely the sort of thing that F.i.F Catholics would resist strongly if it did not specifically help… Read more »

Fr James
Guest
Fr James

Excuse me? How exactly am I willing to compromise my principles? How do you know what my principles are? What exactly is *your* definition of catholicity? If you are referring to my question regarding royal peculiars above, you’ll note that it was indeed a QUESTION. I wasn’t advocating it, merely asking the opinion of other writers because I was curious as to whether peculiar jurisdictions had been considered. I do indeed see the value in the diocesan structure. I have commented elsewhere that I see the diocese as the local manifestation of the Church. This is why additional dioceses would… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“Lister Tonge (sic), how do you turn a majority in favour of the Archbishops’ amendment into that??? It only failed because the vote was taken by houses, and even then, still only by five votes.” – Benedict, on Thrusday – Benedict, do you not realise that a failure in the House of Clergy is significant – in that, on the purely clerical level, this is really where the rubber hits the road? Parish Clergy, rather than the Bishops, have to deal with the reality of having to deal with parish needs within the Church. They have their finger on the… Read more »