Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Bishop of Norwich writes about women bishops

From this page

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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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.

Posted by: Fr James on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 8:22pm BST

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?

Posted by: Fr James on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 8:45pm BST

'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.

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 9:40pm BST

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.

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 9:44pm BST

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.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 10:39pm BST

"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 mean I wouldn't (didn't) accept his *signature* (on a law, etc) to convey what the President of the United States' signature does. I could accept the *convention* of the Reality, w/o the Reality itself (and what GWB signed was a lot more *hostile* to me, than the signature of a delegating bishop is to a PEV-receiving parish!)

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 10:46pm BST

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 the monarch, so would perhaps be even less appropriate. Whether the option was seriously considered, I don't know.

Posted by: Philip Hobday on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 10:02am BST

"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 we speak, by the lust for abolute power of proponents, which ironically is what traditionalists have so often been accused of in the past.

Posted by: Benedict on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 10:22am BST

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.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 12:14pm BST

"[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.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 12:15pm BST

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 Church of England. What kind of theology is it you embrace?

Posted by: Benedict on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 3:29pm BST

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")?

Posted by: Paul Davison on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 4:08pm BST

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

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 6:48pm BST

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?

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 6:57pm BST

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, yes, Christians of the two great Churches of East and West would say as both the Roman Catholic Churches and Orthodox did in 1992 and more recently, that the ordination of women to both priesthood and episcopate stands against both Scripture and tradition, as well as against the faith, as we have received it. The Churchof England will thus be entirely Protestant as against Cathoic and Reformed.

Posted by: Benedict on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 8:24pm BST

My last post was addressed to Jeremy as well.

Posted by: Benedict on Thursday, 15 July 2010 at 9:45pm BST

"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 about power and gender, doesn't it?

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 12:43am BST

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.

Posted by: Christopher (P.) on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 2:24am BST

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.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 5:36am BST

'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! :)

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 10:34am BST

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 coordinate jurisdiction? It seems to me that there is simply no appetite for compromise now in the Church of England. It's a question of Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals having to believe what we are told or get out. Your arguments, as persuasive as you may think they are, cannot and will not override Christian conscience. And to try to make all of this into a discussion about gender and sex is reducing it to the lowest common denominator. Theological and ecclesiological principles are at stake here.

Posted by: Benedict on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 12:06pm BST

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.

Posted by: Christopher (P.) on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 12:33pm BST

"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.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Friday, 16 July 2010 at 8:24pm BST

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 the other, entirely separate. But we all fall short of what we intend.

I agree with you that women who want to be bishops presumably, to some degree, seek power. The power they want is equal to the power of men who are bishops. One reason to oppose the archbishops' amendment is that it would have enshrined the inequality of woman bishops into church law.

But I'm getting the sense that equality may not be a principle you value. You seem to be avoiding the question, so I'll ask again: In your view, does a male bishop have absolute power? Or is it only when a woman wants the power of a bishop that this power becomes "absolute"?

It seems to me that opponents of woman bishops like hierarchy so long as it is patriarchy. When hierarchy threatens to become matriarchy, then look out, because all sorts of ecclesiological innovations, which were previously impermissible no matter how much one might disagree with one's bishop, suddenly become matters of conscience.

Why might that be? Why does this issue, of all issues, cause traditionalists to abandon centuries of thought about the role of bishops in the church? I wonder.

"And to try to make all of this into a discussion about gender and sex is reducing it to the lowest common denominator." That depends -- in part, I suppose, on whether you regard sex as "low." (Perhaps it is instead natural?)

I would describe the reduction as one to an essence.

An essential element of this ecclesiological controversy is fear of powerful women. It is easy on this site to dress that fear up in theological garb. But a fear of powerful women does not begin with ecclesiology; that fear is usually far more deep seated, and is imported from other areas of life.

Please excuse me for calling a spade by its name. Not very C of E, I realize; and not often done here; but still useful, lest we miss the reality of things.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 17 July 2010 at 11:00am BST

"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 their own particular situation.

The conundrum here is really that F.i.F. normally believe very strongly in episcopal authority within the diocesan structure, and yet, in this instance, it would seem they can be encouraged to turn a blind eye to 'catholic' principle when it suits them.

Fr. James, for instance, obviously would be keen to compromise his 'catholic' principles on this one issue - because it suits him - regardless of what his Evangelical clergy colleagues might find difficult. This doesn't seem to equate with the criteria of the 'fair deal' he is seeking for his fellow 'catholics'.

(n.b. I use the term 'catholic' here in the loosest fashion, meaning those who arrogate to themselves this term exclusively within the Church of England on the grounds of their anti-women-bishops stance. There are many other Anglo-Catholics, like myself in other parts of the Anglican Communion - as well as in the C.of E. - who want a clear policy of diocesan jurisdiction for every bishop, male and female).

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 18 July 2010 at 7:11pm BST

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 have been preferable to the current situation. However, there is nothing "uncatholic" about situations where clergy and laity are considered to be "church" outside the diocesan structure: military, educational establishments, monastic communities, and indeed, royal peculiars.

And with regard to your comment about my Evangelical clergy colleagues: please remember that we are coming from extremely different viewpoints. Conservative evangelicals say a woman *should not* be bishop. Conservative Anglo-Catholics say a woman *cannot* be a bishop. The difference here is between function and ontology - and it's a pretty big difference!

Posted by: Fr James on Sunday, 18 July 2010 at 10:48pm BST

"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 pulse when it comes to what parish ministry (which is at the heart of the efficacy of women's gifts in ministry is all about) needs are. They know that a Church which has already agreed to the validity of women in ministry cannot logically deny them a leadership role equivalent to their male colleagues. Bishops have to deal with politics; Clergy with praxis.

Lay people in General Synod have a tendency to agree with the hierarchy of the Church. Whereas Clergy tend to deal more with the realities of how to minister effectively in a Church which includes at least as many women as men. This is not about party rivalry, but rather more about how to proceed in the mission that Christ has given to the Church. Clergy are at the coal-face.

In answer to Benedict, as to why a simple majority vote was not suficient - which would have delivered a different result: One has to live within the Rule of Synod, which has decreed a majority in each House. Remember that's how it worked against the Ordination of Women in an earlier General Synod! One can't just reverse the Rule to suit one's own prejudices.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 19 July 2010 at 7:11pm BST
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