Wednesday, 22 June 2011

CofE bishops are better than some others

The Tablet had an article last week by Francis Davis entitled Players in the public square.

Catholic bishops are often overshadowed in the national debate by their Anglican counterparts, as shown in the furore caused by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s critique of the Coalition Government last week. A Catholic academic and political adviser asks why this may be…

A sample of the analysis:

…For a start, there are more than 100 Church of England bishops across 43 dioceses compared with 29 Catholic bishops across 19 dioceses in England. Catholic bishops in these dioceses shepherd around 4,000 clergy in England while the Anglican tally is double that number, bringing with them spouses and children whose joys and sorrows have direct consequences for the success of diocesan ­ministry.

The Anglicans have more than twice the number of schools – 4,820 with more than a million pupils – giving them greater presence in communities and opportunities for encounter. These schools are mainly primaries while the Catholic Church has far more ­secondary schools. There are 2,000 Catholic schools altogether in England and Wales ­educating 860,000 children.

I have also selected for closer examination the 19 Church of England bishops whose dioceses most closely compare with their Catholic counterparts. In these dioceses, Catholic ­bishops are generally older and remain in post longer than the Anglicans. The average Catholic episcopal age is 66 and their average service a decade at the diocesan helm compared to 60 and just over seven years for the Anglicans. Church of England bishops normally retire a decade younger than their Catholic counterparts.

This contrast in institutional reach and episcopal age is mirrored by matters of formation and experience. Each of the 19 Church of England bishops I surveyed had at least one degree from Oxford, Cambridge, London or another leading university. Only nine Catholic bishops in England have degrees from outside Catholic institutions, with some having pursued all their studies from secondary age in a seminary. Four of the current Anglican bishops have published more books between them than all English Catholic ­bishops combined since the Second Vatican Council. This is not only a question of class, as half of both groups surveyed were schooled in grammar or other state schools…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 8:53am BST | TrackBack
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"The average Catholic episcopal age is 66 and their average service a decade at the diocesan helm compared to 60 and just over seven years for the Anglicans. Church of England bishops normally retire a decade younger than their Catholic counterparts."

Is it really a good thing that bishops in the C of E are getting younger? Our diocesan bishop recently retired and has been replaced by a veritable babe-in-arms. While people talk about youth, vigour, energy, and all the other values popular with late-capitalist advertisers and consumers, I tend to think there's a place for old people in church leadership (and elsewhere too!). The growing number of ex-bishops languishing about the place on pensions looks to me like a symptom of a society that has little respect for the elderly and devalues their experience and contribution. Must the Church of England buy into the popular cult of youth?

And I don't even know where to begin with this one:

"Each of the 19 Church of England bishops I
surveyed had at least one degree from Oxford, Cambridge, London or another leading university."

All this says to me is that the background and interests of our bishops are dismally homogeneous. Sure, there's a place for academics in the Church, and we do need theologians. But the job of a bishop is pastoral, not academic.

Posted by: rjb on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 9:20am BST

With all due respect to the hallowed halls of 'Oxbridge' and their ilk; does that guarantee the particular sense and sensibility of the sort of 'intelligence' required of Bishops in The Church?

From the performance of certain of these people in the House of Lords, one wonders what their utterances do to enhance the message of the Inclusivity of the Gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 10:26am BST

The situation is, of course, exactly opposite in the States. The RC bishops get all the press (good and bad) while anything that happens in the Episcopal Church is "inside the paper" material. Unless you live in one of the areas involved--Northern VA, Dallas/Fort Worth, parts of California, Pittsburgh--it is unlikely you're even aware of a controversy among Episcopalians.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 11:08am BST

"But the job of a bishop is pastoral, not academic"

But I'd rather have a pastor or an academic than someone who thinks their job is managerial......

Posted by: david rowett on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 11:31am BST

Can we please get away from bashing our bishops? as someone who has been on both sides of the fence, RC and Anglican, I find our Anglican bishops very pastoral, very theologically aware, non-dictatorial, and very patient and long-suffering!

Posted by: Gerry Reilly on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 12:24pm BST

rjb "Must the Church of England buy into the popular cult of youth?"

Hang on, rjb, the Church has an incredibly top-heavy age-profile, at every level. It is very far from anything approaching a cult of youth.

The amazing slowness of the process towards creating women bishops (will they actually be consecrated in my lifetime, I wonder?) and the way that reactionary views typical of the 1950s are allowed to predominate regarding the gay issue are both examples of this.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 1:13pm BST

On the matter of Oxbridge degrees, Scott-Joynt's bizarre ravings that allowing other religious bodies to solemnize civil unions would undermine religious freedom are proof positive it is possible for a complete fool to earn an Oxbridge MA.

On the matter of retired bishops, the antics of Lord Carey of Clifton are a good argument for having fewer retired bishops about.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 2:30pm BST

Very interesting. It does highlight another interesting difference between the UK and Anglicans at least in North America. Here, the numbers of Romans (bishops, priest, and laity) far outweigh the numbers of Anglicans of all connections (setting aside, for the moment, the differences among the varied ecclesial bodies that may claim participation in the Anglican heritage). Since that is as notably true in our largest urban centers, and to the largest centers of media, Roman bishops and their statements get a lot more attention than Anglican bishops do. I'm certain of that in the United States and in Mexico, and also believe that to be true in Canada. It is, I think, true of the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Which raises another question: I wonder how this plays into the differences of perception between the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. And, how does this play out in other regions in the Communion? That I just don't know.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 3:06pm BST

Interestingly the article does not make one comment which it think it needs to make. I am a Catholic seminarian and the parish in the diocese where I am based in holidays etc has a mass attendance of about 2500 people. This is bigger than the three anglican churches, baptist, methodist and salvation army put together. So although the anglican presence is much bigger across the country the anglicans do not seem to be doing very well in terms of attendance. Also, much more importantly the relationship that we have with our Bishop is very different to that of the anglicans - simply he is the shepherd of the local church and as such our father. I do not have this sense from my anglican brothers and sisters.

Posted by: mark wharton on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 3:42pm BST

I have always admired and, to a certain extent, envied the fact that the C of E has so many learned bishops. Nevertheless, the fact that the vast majority of bishops in TEC have spent many years as parish pastors keeps them in touch with the thinking of the people in the pews.

Posted by: Old Father William on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 4:36pm BST

Fr Mark - ...'and the way that reactionary views typical of the 1950s are allowed to predominate...'

I have just been reading 'The death of Christian Britain' by Callum Brown and came across this -

‎'By the 1950s organised Christianity had become characterised by the support of a harsh and vindictive state apparatus that oppressed many pleasures without reason, and hurt the lives of many young people, especially women and gays. And it was the first of these who...took the lead roles in and from the 1960s in overturning that regime, taking on the churches and wider cultural and civil institutions'.

50 years doesn't seem to have wrought much change then.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 6:10pm BST

In New York City the Roman Catholic Archbishop can't sneeze without making headlines while the Episcopal Bishop would only make headlines by saying or doing something scandalous.

And this is regardless of the fact that no one gains the episcopacy in the Roman Catholic Church if they display any tendancy for independent thought or stray from the company line.

Posted by: Deacon Charlie Perrin on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 6:35pm BST

Mark Wharton: "So although the anglican presence is much bigger across the country the anglicans do not seem to be doing very well in terms of attendance"

Careful with that way of putting things, Mark. All the major denominations are in long-term decline in the UK, and hasn't the most preciptious decline of all in recent years been in RC Mass attendance, in fact?

The reason the C of E bishops still have a higher public profile is hardly a great mystery, is it? It has been the Established Church in England since the Reformation... whereas the RC Church was outlawed altogether for a good part of that period, and residual social anti-Catholicism lasted until fairly recently.

I don't think the high profile that any church leaders currently enjoy is likely to be inherited by the next generation, though, given how that capital has been squandered in recent years by relentless knee-jerk reactionary comment from the likes of Messrs Dow, Carey, Scott-Joynt, Nazir-Ali, Wright and friends...

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 7:48pm BST

"our Bishop is very different to that of the anglicans - simply he is the shepherd of the local church and as such our father. I do not have this sense from my anglican brothers and sisters."

Yes, yes, mark w. And you "do not have this sense" that the consecrated Anglican eucharistic host is the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ, either. We know what Apostolicae Curae says.

...that said (on topic), I think that the CofE well may make too much of a fetish of Oxbridge for its bishops. The importance of a good education is principally for critical-thinking skills. Many bishops (Anglican AND Roman!) get the distinguished letters after their names, yet lack those skills. It's no guarantee of thoughtfulness . . . much less pastoral care!

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 10:05pm BST

Mark Wharton:

Try a few other catholic dioceses if you want to get another 'take' on bishops.

None of us can afford to throw stones - let alone to generalize.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 at 10:25pm BST

Perhaps, Mark Wharton, being a Roman Catholic has an air of 'obligation' about it. This may account for the head count at Mass. Fear of retribution is not the very best motivation for spiritual exercises.

Most Anglicans go to church because they actually want to. There is nothing to fear in not going.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 3:40am BST

With so many Roman Catholic bishops about to retire - the new Papal Nuncio has the ideal opportunity to right this perceived wrong and replace the current fairly liberal and allegedly ineffective bunch with those who are of a more traditional cast.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 6:34am BST

So why did our lord choose fishermen?

God has chosen the foolish in this world to confound the clever!

By the way there are more Mormons per head of population of any religious grouping in Who's Who in America...does that make it true?

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 6:43am BST

Given the age profile of the current bench there will be a spate of retirements from the end of 2012. It will be interesting to see what that brings since the pool is getting smaller, older, less university educated, more trained on courses rather than college etc..I suppose the first woman bishop ( presumably a suffragan) may appear by 2015/6 but I think bishops in the future will struggle to have much impact at the national level. The Establishment has woken up to the fact that with numerical decline and even residual C of E allegiance substantially weakened, the Established Church is often punching above its weight.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 10:18am BST

PS.... I was interested by Fr Davids post. If the next generation of RC Bishops is more traditionalist /conservative ( and aggressively so) as is the case in the US I gather, then I would judge numerical decline in the RC community will probably accelerate..the biggest change in that community since 1945 has been the emergence of a significantly enlarged middle class who esp in the last 30 yrs have taken an increasingly a la carte approach to their faith. A lot of hectoring from above ( episcopal or clerical) wont help. I have seen that amongst my professional RC friends and their children. Possibly the C of E may pick up a few...most of the Catholics I received in my ministry felt somewhat bruised..but sadly the majority will lapse.Paradoxically some fired up keen RC's when they get dissatisfied , apparently head for strongly evangelical churches.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 10:34am BST

When Father Mark notes that many of the loudest and most primitive bishops of the outgoing generation were Oxbridge educated, it's dismaying. On the other hand, Father Mark and I myself are living proof that an Oxford education doesn't necessarily rot the brain or freeze the heart.

Is joke.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 23 June 2011 at 4:25pm BST

I find myself in agreement with RIW that neither numbers nor certificates and diplomas are an indication of a "better" bishop or a superior church!

From this side of the pond, it appears there is a certain distressing, yet unconscious, undertone in this report and analysis of "our. . ." or "the *right* sort of people." We pride ourselves, in the Anglican tradition, on education, and a broad educational background - but the education is not an end of itself, and certainly no guarantor of character or compassion or even intelligence!

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 24 June 2011 at 7:49am BST

"By the way there are more Mormons per head of population of any religious grouping in Who's Who in America...does that make it true?" - RIW

Shrewd question Robert

Posted by: A J Barford on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 3:56pm BST
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