Tuesday, 29 September 2015

SSWSH: A Catholic Life in the Church of England

Earlier this month, The Council of Bishops of the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda (SSWSH) published a statement Communion and Catholicity in the Church of England: A Statement of Principles.

Today the Council has published the promised second statement A Catholic Life in the Church of England: A Statement of Policy and Pastoral Guidance.

You can download the full text of the new statement here.

In the Society’s own words:

This statement by the Council of Bishops of The Society, issued in September 2015:

  • considers the relationship of parishes to the bishops of The Society and, through them, to its other parishes;
  • explains the criteria that the bishops follow in deciding whether to commend the ministry of bishops and priests, for the purpose of sacramental assurance;
  • explains the rationale for registering Priests, Deacons and Ordinands of The Society;
    sets out the bishops’ policy with regard to ordination;
  • considers what living in the highest degree of communion that principle and conscience will allow should mean in practice;
  • offers pastoral guidance on receiving Holy Communion and on concelebration.

The bishops call for openness to the Spirit, and for decisions to be taken ‘according to conscience and principle, and remembering the primacy of charity in the Church’.

There is also a leaflet titled Communion and Full Communion, based upon both statements, and available here.

The main press release about this is over here. The full text is copied below the fold.

The Council of Bishops of The Society today calls on catholic Anglicans to increase their participation in the life of their diocese and the wider Church of England. They comment, “Such participation… will be an expression of the love (charity) that is an essential characteristic of the communion that flows from our common baptism.”

In their statement of policy and pastoral guidance, entitled “A Catholic Life in the Church of England”, they also indicate how the principles set out in their earlier statement “Communion and Catholicity in the Church of England” need to be applied in practice. They show how The Society offers sacramental assurance.

The bishops once again reject any so-called “theology of taint” (whereby a bishop who ordains women as bishops or priests thereby invalidates his own orders and the orders of those whom he subsequently ordains). They explain and endorse the aspiration of ordinands to be ordained by a bishop with whom they are in full communion (because they are able to receive the ministry of all whom that bishop ordains).

The bishops affirm that holy communion is normally received within a context of full communion, but recognize that there can be occasions when it is appropriate (though none should be compelled) for the clergy and people who look to them to receive communion from validly ordained bishops and priests who do not belong to The Society.

The Chairman of the Council of Bishops, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson (Bishop of Wakefield), said, “These statements are the fruit of prayerful reflection and of consultation with our clergy and people. We offer them to those who look to us for teaching and pastoral guidance, and also to all with whom we share the life of the Church of England. We hope that they will be studied carefully and prayerfully, and that any responses to them will reflect the spirit in which they are offered.”

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Categorised as: Church of England

Why does the phrase "you can't have your cake and eat it" spring to mind on reading these documents? From the leaflet: "Normally holy communion is received in the context of full communion. For us, this means receiving communion in Society parishes or from bishops and priests of The Society." I just don't understand how SSWSH maintains it is part of the Church of England, but is in less than full communion. Please will somebody explain this, what I see as an anomaly, to me. I understand the theological arguments about sacramental assurance, but these statements seem to me to put in concrete, by referring to 'Society parishes' and 'bishops and priests of The Society' those differences which apparently separate us. These published statements explain clearly that there is apparently a church within a church. Please will somebody help me to understand.

Posted by: Confused Anglican on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 1:09pm BST

Warm welcome for such a generous hearted document, and good to hear from Traditionalists that they abhor the idea of a theology of taint. All very positive.

Posted by: Neil on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 3:10pm BST

This is their charter.. a self declared ( albeit not in name) third province and according to their theology they are out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury! It seems to me that the Church of England is simply there for endowments,stipends, buildings and pension fund..and as they put it their supporters can go to male clergy who have ordained women, if their conscience permits!

Posted by: robert ian williams on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 3:49pm BST

Since I've complained a few times about the apparent lack in any FiF/SSWH documents of any explanation of the reasons for the arrangements for the consecration of Philip North, I'm pleased to say that such an explanation is here. We also have a clear definition of what they think a doctrine of taint is. So all together this document might actually allow for disagreements about women bishops to take a slightly more theological turn.

Posted by: Leon Clarke on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 4:26pm BST

If the Church of England can accommodate SSWSH and they can in turn find space for their position, why cannot GAFCON do the same within the greater Anglican Communion?

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 4:49pm BST

I would like to ask three questions of the bishops of the Society.
1. If you do not recognise the priesthood of the female priests who work in your dioceses, why do you commit parishes to their sacramental care, given that if they are not priests, their sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation are in your eyes invalid? Surely you would see this as depriving lay people of valid sacraments, and this would be gross negligence in a Pastor?,
2. How can you serve on a bench of Bishops, many of whom you consider impostors and not true bishops, as Roman Catholics consider you? Eventually you may well be out of communion with most Bishops in the Church of England, and in communion only with yourselves.
3. Why do you attend what to you are invalid consecrations of women bishops, and ostentatiously
sit apart and refuse to take part in the imposition of hands? Surely a non-attendance would be more honest.
I ask these questions in a sincere desire to understand the theology which underpins your actions. If one reads St Augustine, your theology sounds Donatist.

Posted by: Gerry Reilly on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 5:58pm BST

I am an outsider, but this is clearly a Church within a Church - even the suggestion of taking the eucharist outside the Society has to be with the 'validly' ordained etc.. The Society is thus the True Church with a bit of ecumenical give to those who are actually the same. In its praying for full communion, presumably that is when there are no women priests and bishops. That's rather pointless then. As for the theology, it's all fantasy island, an intellectually bankrupt closed circle of Platonist impossibilities.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 6:11pm BST

Seems to me a thoroughly decent document. They're 'doing the splits' - as we all are, in our different ways.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 7:49pm BST

Amazingly, there is nothing whatsoever about confirmation. What is the status in SSWSH parishes (or indeed among Ordinands) of those confirmed by women bishops....?

Posted by: Neil Patterson on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 9:16pm BST

"The bishops call for openness to the Spirit, and for decisions to be taken ‘according to conscience and principle, and remembering the primacy of charity in the Church’." - SSWSH Statement -

Two questions:
Does 'charity in the Church' accept the exclusion of women from the exercise of their Spirit-called priesthood?

Is the work of the Holy Spirit on this issue limited to the understanding of SSWSH ?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 10:36pm BST

The irony in all of this is that SSWSH puts itself into precisely the same position as that of the Roman Catholic Church - vis-a-vis relationship to the Church of England (of which, presumably, SSWSH considers itself to be a member).

While practising the same discrimination against women as clergy, SSWSH is 'out of Communion' with the very Church it pretends to be part of.

The only way in which the behaviour of SSWSH can possibly be justified as consistent with being 'in Communion with' the Church of England, would be for the C. of E. to accept it as a separate province with its own doctrine, rules and regulations - a bit like Rome's Uniate Churches.

By segregating its membership from Eucharistic fellowship with the rank and file of that of the Church of England, the 'charity' it claims to be fostering is just 'dry bones' with no life.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 10:53pm BST

Let people worship according to their conscience. Whether that is presented as in or out of the Church of England, they are still fully in communion with me. As far as I am concerned we are in communion, one with another, whether we like it or not, through faith in Jesus Christ. If we are "in Christ" through this grace and faith, then we are in communion with God, and following from that, in communion with all other believers.

Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Methodist, Pentecostal... call it what you want... we are in communion, because we are Christians, we are in Christ, we are in the communion of the Holy Trinity.

So you, we, they, can lob what theology whatever, none of us who are Christians are out of communion. If we are in Jesus Christ through grace and faith, we are fully in communion. And if we are, then it is impossible for us to not be in communion with each other.

As for priests and bishops and their roles, again, let people follow their sincere consciences. I'm not remotely concerned, because all this hierarchy stuff means less than nothing to me. There is a single hierarchy: God and us. And even that gets shared, from a contemplative point of view. God chooses to share with us, to welcome us into community, to share even God's own consciousness and awareness with us.

So much of the rest is human angst and posturing and (at least the appearance of) power and control.

God controls. In the end, not one of us raises ourselves from the dead. Not one of us can bring about the true Holy Communion which was Jesus's giving of himself to God, and She to Him, and all of God to you and me.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 11:37pm BST

Fr Ron: may I take issue with one of your comments? The first thing is that the term 'uniate' is, I seem to remember, one that is not appreciated by those to whom it applies. The second is that any particular Church ( the Greek Rite Catholics, say ) in full communion with Rome might have different rules and regs, a distinct Canon Law, but not separate doctrine.

Posted by: Fr Mark Elliott Smith on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 7:22am BST

There are some mild criticisms of this document in this article by Fr Richard Peers


Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 8:22am BST

"the term 'uniate' is, I seem to remember, one that is not appreciated by those to whom it applies"
- Father Mark Elliot Smith -

Dear Father, did you really mean, at the end of your sentence here, to say: "is not appreciated by those to whom it does not apply:?

Otherwise, I don't get the jist of your message.

My thought on the matter is that the 'doctrine of humanity' might best apply to Saint Paul's definition: "In Christ, there is neither male nor female..all are baptised by the same Spirit" and therefore, presumably, able to be called by God's Spirit into the ordained ministry of the Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 9:32am BST


"There are some mild criticisms of this document in this article by Fr Richard Peers"


It seems to me that there are some very profound criticisms of the the SSWSH document in the link that you give, albeit expressed in mild language.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 11:54am BST

Well said Susannah

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 3:40pm BST

Two further comments:

(1)Susannah for Archbishop of Canterbury! If that were to happen, we might at last get some decent theology, some decent internal relations and some decent ecumenical ones too.

(2) Below is the calendar of St Clement's (FinF), Cambridge. Interesting reading. How does it square with the Society guidelines? I'm told that St Clement's like RW's presidencies very well indeed.






the Bishop of Burnley


18th OCTOBER SUNDAY St LUKE SUNG MASS 10am Bp Rowan Williams


Posted by: John on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 3:55pm BST

From the mild criticism:

"This is an excellent document which is beautifully crafted, I presume Dr Podmore’s hand to be evident here. How wonderful to see Keble and Ratzinger, among others, quoted.
All Anglicans would benefit from reading this document which, while presenting a particular point of view, does so in a theologically coherent way which is stimulating and interesting to read."

That is hardly a profound criticism...

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 4:22pm BST

Father Ron:

"Uniate" is very much a term used in polemic by Orthodox against their brethren who chose to remain in communion with Rome. What Father Mark said is correct--to Eastern Catholics, that is a fighting word.

Posted by: Ren Aguila on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 5:12pm BST

'did you really mean, at the end of your sentence here, to say: "is not appreciated by those to whom it does not apply:?'

I'm not Fr Mark, but I did worship with a Romanian Greek Catholic ("Greco-Cattolica unica cu Roma") congregation before swimming the Thames, and I suspect he meant exactly what he said. The term "uniate" is deprecated because it is not the word those it is meant to describe use to refer to themselves. Rather, it is a polemical epithet hurled by Orthodox who see Eastern Catholics as having unduly capitulated to papal claims.

Posted by: Geoff McLarney on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 9:27pm BST


I think there are two factors in this discussion. There is the craftmanship and elegance displayed by the writers of the document, and the actual theological arguments that the writers put forward. It seems to me that whilst Fr Peers praises the draftsmanship of the SSWSH document he is critical, strongly critical, of some of their arguments.

For example

"The concept that communion may only be shared if ‘full’ is, again, not one I can share. Like validity it is a relatively late development that seems to me not entirely theologically coherent. It is certainly very far from the theology I was taught by Roman Catholic theologians."


"my mind is exercised about the idea that the ordinations of women are invalid. The reasons that people might hold this, to me, eccentric view are not explored here, that can be found elsewhere but it is a concept that I cannot share for catholic and, indeed, Thomistic reasons."


"Those who refuse the ordination of women for ecumenical reasons or for reasons of lack of authority will need to make their own decisions on ecclesial membership but would seem to me to be more suited to full communion with Rome immediately."

I don't claim to be an expert here, far from it, but to me these comments are surely not classifiable as "mild" - except in the politeness with which they are offered.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 10:01pm BST

So - re the responses of Ren and Geoff; Anglicans are not the only part of the Body of Christ at war within their own family! That should make me feel comfortable, but I'm afraid it doesn't.

With further reference to Anglican Solidarity, I used the prayer for Unity offered by the General-Secretary of the A.C. at this morning's Mass in Aotearoa/New Zealand, with the fervent hope that the invocation of the Holy Spirit's guidance at the upcoming Primates' Conference is faithfully and conscientiously sought by ALL the Primates.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:27am BST

It is pleasure to be able to say to Susannah "I couldn't agree more!"

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 1:44am BST

Congratulations, Susannah. My mother, who died 19 years ago, often said that it didn't matter whether one was Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist or whatever, since we all believed in the same God and worshipped Him, just in different ways, and I have long believed that that mode of thinking did not die with her. Now I know it didn't.

Posted by: Stephen King on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 7:28am BST

If being an Anglican means that one does not accept the claims which the Church of Rome makes for its authority and teaching, why does disapproving of the consecration of women bishops become a reason for going to Rome?

Posted by: Barry on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 6:06pm BST

I am grateful to everyone who took the time to read and respond to my initial thoughts on the statement from the bishops of The Society.
I hope to say something more about validity at some point. It is an important point that is insufficiently appreciated.
I would also like to say something about how we all exercise graciousness in being willing to attend, in choir if ordained, Masses at which we don't concelebrate and the welcome we give to those in choir who do not communicate. I think that if we could do that it would do a lot to overcome some of the barriers between us.
Th inequality between those receiving the ordination of women and those who don't is also in need of highlighting, we accept their orders even when they might not accept ours. That is hardly insurmountable but it is an additional difficulty.
In many ways for Catholic Anglicans we are moving beyond the post-Vatican 2 days when we concelebrated and communicated at every possible Mass and returning to a situation where for a variety of reasons individuals may not wish to concelebrate or communicate.
This also means that the opportunity must be provided for 'private' celebrations of Mass. I think of a Sunday when I preached at Saint Stephen's House recently and celebrated Mass at 6am on a Sunday morning in Lewisham in order to be at a non-concelebrated Mass in Oxford. The opportunity to celebrate Mass at the House would have been a kind offer in advance and without my asking.

Posted by: Fr Richard Peers on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 6:54pm BST

I have seldom seen a relatively short thread with such a wide range of opinions, ranging from generous welcome to scornful condemnation. Much though I wish I could hold the middle ground which some have persuasively advocated, I'm afraid I have to agree with Confused Anglican and robert ian Williams. This IS about a church within a church and a third province in all but name, and the document is shot through with glaring contradictions, none more so than the part about episcopal consecrations.
In the secular world, some have criticised the ideas of the Leader of the Opposition as being 'sixth-form socialism'. In the same vein, this is sixth-form ecclesiology.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 9:11pm BST

It definitely looks like a separate province. They are defining themselves, what communion is, etc., on their own... Brave New World.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 2 October 2015 at 6:43am BST

Claiming to distance themselves from a "theology of taint" is not evidence. Perhaps someone can explain why so many Society Priests refuse even to celebrate at an altar where a woman incumbent usually presides, refuse to even walk in procession at a Chrism Eucharist together with - let alone next to - women priests, or "training incumbents" literally clambering over chairs and flattening themselves against the wall at an ordination that includes both male and female candidates. However they try to dress it up, it always comes down to the same. In this latest version it is "merely" the women who are tainted, not the men who ordained or consecrated them.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 10:17am BST

Fr Richard Peers has written a second article, which can be found here:

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 5 October 2015 at 9:37am BST

Great article by Father Richard.

This society can't weasel out of the heretical theology of taint here. Out in the American West, we would say they are putting lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

And numerous girls are still going to get the message, from CoE, that they are inferior to boys, not equally created in the Image of God and not equally deserving of God's radical love. It is an assault on their humanity and the love they should be receiving from the church.

I grew up Greek Orthodox, the girls will notice.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 5 October 2015 at 5:26pm BST

What they're saying about taint is quite subtle.

They give theological reasons why it's less than desirable (to supporters of the society's position) that some of the functions of a bishop are carried out by a validly consecrated bishop who has since consecrated a woman. That is a position which could legitimately be described as a 'theology of taint'.

Therefore they do not reject 'any theology of taint' as they assert. They do clearly reject a theology of taint in terms of the validity of sacraments, and there should be some limited rejoicing about this, but the concept that opponents of the society describe as 'taint' is clearly still present.

Posted by: Leon Clarke on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 at 3:51pm BST
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