Thinking Anglicans

Clifford Longley writes about the General Synod

This article, which appeared in The Tablet last week, is reproduced here by kind permission of the Editor.

Nowhere is it written that a parish may excommunicate its bishop’

The Church of England has reached an impasse over the issue of women bishops. As conservatives blame the liberals and liberals blame the conservatives – and both blame the bishops – might a candid friend suggest that they would be more honest if they blamed themselves?

On 11 November 1992, the General Synod gave the required two-thirds majority to the decision to ordain women as priests. There were three hostages to fortune given that day. The first was to suppose a theological issue could be settled by such a majority as that. Not long before, the issue of unity with the Methodists had required a 75 per cent majority, which it failed to get. Two-thirds was chosen simply because the pro-women-priests side felt it could be achieved.

Secondly, the assumption was made that the issue of the consecration (i.e. ordination) of women bishops could be postponed to another day. Anything that might have alarmed the waverers was removed. Indeed, even this minimalist proposal was only secured by a margin of two votes, and there were more than that number of abstentions. But in the apostolic tradition, the priesthood is a unity. Priests exercise their ministry with their bishop; bishops with their priests. Theologically, one follows from the other. It is the attempt to separate them that is now coming unstuck, for the theological unity of the ordained ministry is deeply embedded in the Church of England’s structure, where it has survived since before the Reformation.

Thirdly, the two-thirds requirement guaranteed that up to a third of the Church would withhold its assent. The solution was to give the minority what was, in effect, their own Church-within-a-Church, with its own bishops who would not themselves ordain women (dubbed flying bishops because in effect they flew in when episcopal ministry was needed, and then flew out again).

This had two consequences. It meant abandoning any attempt to achieve a better consensus, to bring the Church to one mind on the matter. The Church proper and the Church-within-a-Church were henceforth destined to be rival and mutually incompatible versions of Anglican orthodoxy. It also implied that there was, in conservative eyes at least, a fundamental flaw in the episcopal credentials of any bishop who had ordained women, a “taint”.

By voting for the flying-bishop proposal as part of the minimalist package, furthermore, the liberal majority had colluded in this theology of taint, whether they meant to or not.

But it is not a doctrine known to the Catholic and apostolic tradition, to which the Church of England has pledged to be faithful. Nor is it biblical. It is a toxic novelty. Nowhere in the tradition is it written that a parish may excommunicate its own bishop and opt for another one, which is what the flying bishops idea amounts to. If a parish decided to reject the ministry of the local bishop if that bishop was female, it could arguably question her orders. But to reject it because a (male) bishop had, at least once, ordained a woman priest is contrary to the necessary (and Catholic) principle of ex opere operato – that the validity of a sacramental ministry is independent of the worthiness of the office-holder.

So the pro-women-priests majority may have set up this untenable situation by their eagerness to scrape up a two-thirds majority. But the anti-women-priests minority then made a grievous error by embracing the theology of episcopal taint that the flying bishops solution implied, contrary to the Catholic tradition. Henceforth they were sitting on a time bomb. If the Church decided to follow the logic of 11 November 1992 and ordain women as bishops, the minority’s position would become hopeless. Bishops often participate in each other’s consecrations: “taint” would become a sort of theological virus, transmitted by the laying on of hands. Sooner or later, none would be untainted.

The measure to ordain women bishops was adjourned by the General Synod this week because it entitled parishes by law to choose a bishop of the pure kind if their local diocesan bishop is tainted (or even more so, if the local bishop is female). The objection was made that this is deeply insulting to women priests and to any woman subsequently chosen as a bishop. So it may be, but this is an issue that is better dealt with by rigorous theological analysis than by indignant rhetoric.

Theological chickens have a habit of coming home to roost. The next step forward therefore needs to be a step back, to examine afresh what happened on 11 November 1992. And to be honest about – wherever that may lead.
——
Clifford Longley is an Editorial Consultant to The Tablet. He is a journalist who has been a religious affairs specialist since 1972, for The Times for 20 years and then until 2000 for the Daily Telegraph.

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Concerned Anglican
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Concerned Anglican

This should be read bearing in mind what Diarmaid Macculloch wrote recently about the potential for an an upcoming big schism in the Roman Catholic Church.

I read between the lines that Clifford Longley is taking a rather liberal or even radical Anglican position saying that the Act of Synod et al should never have been allowed in the first place because if Rome were ever to ordain women it would definitely be on an equal basis only.

Deacon Charlie Perrin
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Deacon Charlie Perrin

While I disagree with his assertion that the ordination of women as presbyters and/or bishops is a “toxic novelty” I do agree that it is always a mistake to accomodate those unwilling to concede the point (in this case that women can be ordained to any of the three orders). Those who refuse the ordained ministry of women will never change their thinking, especially if they are given the opportunity to avoid anything that might foster such a change. In the Episcopal Church, as well as some other Anglican Communion members, this has become mostly a non-issue. The machinations of… Read more »

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

– that the validity of a sacramental ministry is independent of the worthiness of the office-holder.

Quite so. One could ask, what’s the problem with women priests or Bishops? Surely God can sort it all out?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“If a parish decided to reject the ministry of the local bishop if that bishop was female, it could arguably question her orders. But to reject it because a (male) bishop had, at least once, ordained a woman priest is contrary to the necessary (and Catholic) principle of ex opere operato – that the validity of a sacramental ministry is independent of the worthiness of the office-holder.” As if rejecting a bishop-who-is-female ISN’T a rejection of her as unworthy?? Sophristry. “The next step forward therefore needs to be a step back, to examine afresh what happened on 11 November 1992.… Read more »

MarkP
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MarkP

Deacon Charlie Perrin said, ‘I disagree with his assertion that the ordination of women as presbyters and/or bishops is a “toxic novelty”‘

Is that what Longley said? I thought the toxic novelty was flying bishops, which is why the following sentence is about a parish excommunicating its bishop.

Randal Oulton
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Randal Oulton

– that the validity of a sacramental ministry is independent of the worthiness of the office-holder.

Is it sort of on that basis that the anti-women crowd has been able to live with the Supreme Governor of the Church being a woman?

I’m honestly asking — always wondered how they managed to square that circle, that the big boss (well, second in command boss) of the shindig is a woman.

John Sandeman
Guest
John Sandeman

I think Deacon Charlie Perrin has possibly misread Clifford Longley. As I read it Longley says Flying Bishops or the theology of taint (not women bishops) is a “toxic novelty”.

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“While I disagree with his assertion that the ordination of women as presbyters and/or bishops is a “toxic novelty”…”

Except he didn’t assert any such thing, as far as I can tell. It’s the idea of the “taint” attached to any male bishop that ordains women to which he was referring, isn’t it?

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“As if rejecting a bishop-who-is-female ISN’T a rejection of her as unworthy?? Sophristry.” The sort of unworthiness that Mr. Longley is writing about in regards to male bishops who ordain women is a sort of ecclesiastical cooty they catch by doing (in the eyes of opponents of WO) a Bad Thing. On the other hand, those same opponents do not (as far as I can tell) think that women are debarred from the priesthood and episcopate because of any such alleged moral failure. Worthiness does not enter into it, any more than believing that you can’t confect the Eucharist using… Read more »

Peter Sherlock
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Peter Sherlock

This is an interesting if provocative piece. I agree absolutely with the point that the Church, when and if it decides to ordain women, should ordain them to all three orders. But Longley overlooks a few key factors within the life and polity of the Church of England: 1. By his reasoning the key decision was not taken on 11 November 1992 but in July 1985 when the General Synod approved the Measure for the ordination of women as deacons. What actually happened then? 2. The vote in 1992 did not include provision for flying bishops; these came later at… Read more »

Deacon Charlie Perrin
Guest
Deacon Charlie Perrin

On re-reading Clifford it is reasonable that the “toxic novelty” is in fact the flying bishop or the “taint” theology.

That said, I stand by the rest of my post.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“But it is not a doctrine known to the Catholic and apostolic tradition, to which the Church of England has pledged to be faithful. Nor is it biblical. It is a toxic novelty. Nowhere in the tradition is it written that a parish may excommunicate its own bishop and opt for another one, which is what the flying bishops idea amounts to.” – Clifford Longley, in ‘The Tablet – Clifford Longley is surely right here, when he suggests that the idea of a two-tiered episcopate is unknown to classical catholic theology – which is surely something the ultra-montane among the… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

To sort out this “mess” which is in danger of becoming a “train crash” – can T A ask Clifford Longley exactly what he was referring to when he used the highly descriptive phrase “toxic novelty”?
Having read his piece several times I am not at all sure what he regards the “toxic novelty” to be?
Is it
a) Flying Bishops.
b) The innovation of women’s ordination as priests and bishops.
c) The thelogy of “taint”
There seems to be much confusion among your readers, myself included, as to exactly who or what is the “toxic novelty”.

Petra
Guest
Petra

IMO Mr Longley has summed it up rather nicely. The C of E needs to jump one way or the other as it is obvious that there is no way that both sides of this argument can be satisfied. They can’t have it both ways. Either it was correct to give the Orthodox wing pastoral oversight back in the 80’s and this should continue, causing all the WATCH supporters to start screaming about “second class bishops”. Or, they should admit that giving this concession was a mistake, it will be revoked and that we should take it or leave it.… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

An interesting and incisive comment by Peter Sherlock when he states that the consecration of a woman would mean that the period of reception re. women’s ordination has concluded. Would that obversely mean that the failure to pass the Measure in November, thus delaying the innovative consecration, that the period of reception (about which we hear little nowadays) continues?
It seems to me that we have somewhat sidelined the period of reception in favour of what might currently be described (with the vote to adjourn) as a period of reflection.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“It is a toxic novelty. Nowhere in the tradition is it written that a parish may excommunicate its own bishop and opt for another one, which is what the flying bishops idea amounts to.”

The context makes it quite clear that this is about flying bishops, doesn’t it?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

When in doubt as to what an “it” refers to, one should look back to find the previous noun. In Mr. Longley’s passage: By voting for the flying-bishop proposal as part of the minimalist package, furthermore, the liberal majority had colluded in this theology of taint, whether they meant to or not. But it is not a doctrine known to the Catholic and apostolic tradition, to which the Church of England has pledged to be faithful. Nor is it biblical. It is a toxic novelty. We have here three sentences that use “it.” The noun that immediately precedes the first… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

If Erika Baker is correct in her assumption that Clifford Longley does indeed link the phrase “toxic novelty” to the “flying bishops” then that is grossly offensive to the Provincial Episcopal Visitors who offer a first rate pastoral ministry to the significant minority within the Established Church who, in all conscience, cannot accept recent ministerial innovations as either consonant with Scripture nor consistent with 2000 years of Christian tradition.

Feria
Guest
Feria

Clifford Longley: ‘If a parish decided to reject the ministry of the local bishop if that bishop was female, it could arguably question her orders.’ Here’s a left-field thought. The legislation to allow persons “born out of lawful wedlock” to be ordained as priests, deacons, and bishops went through all three houses of synod unanimously – I think at the February 1964 session. If anyone has ready access to the minutes of that session, it might be worth investigating whether the same fears about the validity of ordination and consecration were raised and laid to rest then, and whether the… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Fr David, the PEVs might offer a sterling service, but it is nevertheless true to say that the creation of flying bishops was somehow inexplicable and that it created a formal split church within a church. I have still not understood how they ever came about in the first place. Evangelicals are happy as long as no woman teaches them. And Anglo-Catholics are worried about the ontological aspect of ordination and are concerned that no ontological change happens to a woman. A bishop therefore has to be a man. That’s where this should have stopped. There was no credible rationale… Read more »

Jean Mayland
Guest
Jean Mayland

We did NOT agree to Flying Bishops in the minimalist legislation. We agreed to a ‘male bishop’. We never accepted the Act of Synod and were promised that the Measure would do away with them. By their amendment the House of Bishops allowed ‘special male bishops’ and not any male bishop and they were the ones who wanted to put the schism into law. That is why we could not accept it.

Neil
Guest
Neil

The Act of Synod was passed to try to hold the CofE together, and helped avoid a more general split – and indeed proper provision for opponents was what persuaded the house of laity to vote for women’s ordination in 1992 by just one vote I seem to recall. Can anyone explain why the women who were happy to be ordained priest then (under a system which in some respects admitted them on different terms to their male colleagues), are now unhappy to be ordained Bishop on similar terms? If they insist on a single clause ‘winner takes all’ theology… Read more »

Simon Kershaw
Guest
Simon Kershaw

My recollection is that the Act of Synod was dreamt up, proposed, drafted, debated and passed only after the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure had been passed by the General Synod, but before the approval by the parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee and by the Lords and Commons. It was an addition to the package (the Measure and the financial compensation measure) and IIRC was at least in part designed to get the Measure through Parliament. But it did not influence any votes in the Measure in the Synod because it did not exist at that point.

Clive
Guest
Clive

@Neil: Somewhat (but only somewhat) tongue in cheek I point you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salami_tactics. There is no doubt in my mind that those who now make up WATCH and GRAS accepted the Act of Synod pragmatically in order to get the 1992 Measure through Parliament, but did not expect the PEVs and their “integrity” to survive this long. This need to eliminate all opposition to WO from the CofE is, of course, why no legislative provision can be made – because that would prevent further slicing of the salami. The Code of Practice is OK, because it will gradually be eroded… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Neil,
there’s a difference between a single Measure and making provisions for something that cannot be theologically justified.

I wish I had had one, just a single one, theologically sound explanation for why people need bishops who believe like they do and who do not ordain women.

It doesn’t even have to be an explanation I agree with. I’d just like to see a single one that is grounded in theology.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Further to Erika’s point, I would be grateful if those on this thread who are in favour of flying bishops could explain why they believe this is necessary, given that it is an innovation (toxic or otherwise). I understand that those who believe that women cannot be validly ordained might wish to be ministered to only by male priests ordained by men, and by male bishops. The problem in being ministered to by other male bishops who (a) have ordained women, or (b) are in favour of women’s ordination, is less clear to me. For centuries, the C of E… Read more »

Neil
Guest
Neil

Thank you SImon – that sounds right to me. However, without the Act of Synod there was a danger that the various Dioceses whose synods and bishops voted against WO would have been ‘no-go’ areas, and this was avoided.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

With all this hoohah about the provenance of the Episcopal Line by F.i.F. members; I wonder what they think of the biblical ‘Priest of the Order of Melchizedek”, who appeared out of nowhere, but after whose provenance even Jesus is pronounced to have appeared – as stated in Psalm 10, verse 4: “A priest for ever, after the Order of Melchizedek”? Anglo-Catholics, in my days as a member of GSS, used to sing this Psalm at the Guild Office quite frequently. What do F.i.F. members now think it might mean for the Line of The Priesthood? Is God sovereign in… Read more »

Pam Smith
Guest

When I read this it seemed fairly clear that the ‘toxic novelty’ Clifford Longley mentions is the theology of taint – a novelty because it arose from the creation of PEVs rather than an existing theological position, and toxic because it has increased the separation of the two ‘sides’ and so made it much harder to find a way ahead.

Whether that gets us any further is unclear.

james
Guest
james

The anglo Catholic position is surely ultimately untenable in terms of their own purported theological catholicity. How can such person in good conscience remain ‘in communion’ with persons who either (being female) allow themselves to be ordained bishops, or being male ordain women bishops or allow themselves to be ordained by a female ordained or who otherwise support or accept any of the above practices. Either formally or, at very least materially, is not the ordination in question and the subsequent exercise of sacramental ministry of such a person thereafter is necessarily sacriligious? It makes no sense to be or… Read more »

John Sandeman
Guest
John Sandeman

Erica,
a few posts ago you said “Evangelicals are happy as long as no woman teaches them.”
I assume you meant “conservative evangelicals”.
Does this mean that a bishop has no teaching role in your view?

Chris Fewings
Guest

I speak as a somewhat peripheral member of the Church of England. I think Clifford Longley clarifies how the 1990s arrangement deepened divisions. But I don’t think it’s a theological issue. I think it’s a church order issue, a cultural issue, and a simple ‘aggiornamento’. In the past the church simply absorbed the culture of its time in its governance and in its biblical interpretation, failing to follow through on Jesus’ radical practice of accepting women, and Paul’s more radical thinking (it took millennia for ‘neither slave nor free’ to take precedence over ‘slaves, obey your masters). Cruciform churches are… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

John, This is a very interesting question as far as I’m concerned. I would always have thought that the PEV scheme should have been aimed at conservative evangelicals in particular, because it is clear that they are the ones who have a genuine interest in what someone teaches. On the other hand, in the traditional CoE evangelical parishes have always had evangelical, Anglo-Catholic or Liberal bishops, there has never been a suggestion that the diocesan system should be changed to one based on theological alignment. The other thing is that for Anglo-Catholics women priests is the one issue where compromise… Read more »

Chris Fewings
Guest

I’ve seen this issue debated from the point of view of theology, church history, exegesis, English law, and culture, but not yet in psychological terms. Has anyone studied how our attitudes to this are informed by relationships between males and females in our families of origin, for example?

Charles Read
Guest
Charles Read

Neil, you are still not quite right.

The Measure would have been OK on the avoiding of no-go areas but the AofS was an extra – never referred to the dioceses and cobbled together hastily by a panicked HofB. Not like today of course….

The AofS has been abused by some to try to have a church within a church. I don’t want that to continue – hence 5c is unacceptable to me.

Any male bishop should do – unless one believes in taint. FinF say they don’t so what is the problem?

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I really think that James is right here, when he says that no right-minded Anglo-Catholic (or, for that matter, Evangelical) who really believes that the Church of England is being ‘apostate’ when seeking to Ordain Women to either the priesthood or the episcopate, would want to remain in a Church that has taken such a step. Therefore, for (their) integrity’s sake alone, such people could no longer remain Anglican – if they thought their immortal soul were in danger? Or, in fact, is it just ‘misogyny’, under the cloak of ‘sacramental assurance’? After all, Rome has offered them the safety… Read more »

Jonathan Redvers Harris
Guest
Jonathan Redvers Harris

There never was, nor is there, any such thing as a theology of “taint”. It is simply a term used to make those unconvinced of the rightness of this development look as though they had a “problem” about women. Their problem – if that’s the right word – was about seeking sacramental assurance (ie, “Is this a priest?” not “Is this a woman?”) and ecclesiological integrity (eg, when a presybterium is gathered as a college around its bishop, especially at the eucharist, then something is being said about the mutual recognition of the orders of all present). The reason for… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Any male bishop should do – unless one believes in taint. FinF say they don’t so what is the problem?” That’s only half right. Any male bishop should have done up to now. With the advent of female bishops it will be important to ensure that the male bishop serving FiF parishes was validly ordained deacon, priest and bishop by another validly ordained male bishop. This has nothing to do with taint, because if you genuinely believe that women cannot be validly ordained, then any ordinations they participate in can also not be valid. Whatever one might think of that… Read more »

Ian Arch
Guest
Ian Arch

Following Jonathan Redvers Harris above, if the Act of Synod was about provisionality, not taint, the clear logic is that 5c must be removed: consecration of women brings the period of reception to a close.

Charles Read
Guest
Charles Read

Jonathan, that’s all very well but…

what about not accepting a male bishop who has been consecrated by male bishops but who happens to ordain women? Why is such a bishop not acceptable? I don’t want to label this ‘taint’ but can you not see how it sure looks that way….?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jonathan Redvers Harris, “ie, “Is this a priest?” not “Is this a woman?”) But that is simply not true! In that case, any male bishop would have been acceptable to Anglo-Catholics and no flying bishop scheme would ever have to have been created, because every single male bishop in the CoE is validly ordained by other males who have not themselves been ordained by women. There is not a single bishop in the current CoE who threatens sacramental assurance. And there will not be until the first woman is made bishop. The fact that the male bishop also has to… Read more »

Nigel LLoyd
Guest
Nigel LLoyd

I am not at all sure why having women participating in consecrations needs to cause a problem. For many years it was the custom to ask an Old Catholic bishop to participate in English consecrations. If there were doubts about the validity of the orders of bishops in the Church of England, this could be countered by making sure that there was at least one bishop taking part whose orders were beyond doubt. In our present situation, as long as some of the participating bishops have a ‘faultless pedigree’, why does it matter if others laying on hands (ie women)… Read more »

Jonathan Redvers Harris
Guest
Jonathan Redvers Harris

Thanks, Charles. Why is a male bishop who “happens” to ordain women as priests not acceptable? For the reason I was trying to explain: that such a bishop, by his actions, indicates that he sees himself as surrounded by a presbyteral college, both male and female, with Orders recognised with mutual reciprocity by all the college. His non-acceptability for those unconvinced by the development of women priests is not to do with any taint, even if some persist in perceiving it that way, but a matter of ecclesiology.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“that such a bishop, by his actions, indicates that he sees himself as surrounded by a presbyteral college, both male and female, with Orders recognised with mutual reciprocity by all the college.”

So the fact that a bishop sees himself in Communion with every priest in the CoE is such an obstacle that we needed bishops who explicitly do not see themselves in Communion with every priest in the CoE in order for Anglo-Catholics to remain in the CoE?

So it is only possible to be part of the CoE if one is not actually part of it?

Geo Noakes
Guest
Geo Noakes

Pro WO people are in full unimpaired sacramental communion with a bishop who ordains women to the priesthood.Anti WO people can only enjoy the same full unimpaired sacramental communion with a bishop who does not ordain women as priests.This is the reason traditionalist bishops have to be provided for parishes that are anti WO. This was all provided for decades ago by the Eames Commission on Women in the Episcopate.

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

“he sees himself as surrounded by a presbyteral college”
I wonder how many bishops of the C of E saw things that way between 1559 and relatively recently? I suspect most anglo-catholic bishops in the first half of the 20th c didnt actually think like that..Its rather Vatican 2 and catholic minded anglicans have rather absorbed this since the 1960’s.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Jonathan – I wonder if you could explain how is that compatible with Canon A4?

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

Exactly, Jonathan Redvers Harris: it’s a matter of the bishop holding what is, in the eyes of those who would reject his ministrations, a heretical view that invalidates him. In other words, it’s a form of Donatism and to be condemned.

Do those who insist their bishop agree with them on every point of belief imagine the Tractarians had that luxury?

Martino Reynoldo
Guest
Martino Reynoldo

Oh! I had thought it was about apostasy.

Some years ago I listened to my old colleague Alan Rabjohns speaking to a FiF gathering and he was saying that there was only one real bishop in Wales and that was the Provincial Assistant who took a role similar to the English Flying Bishops.

Those bishops and priests who taught women could be ordained were teaching a lie that resulted in the sacraments being away from the faithful.

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“Pro WO people are in full unimpaired sacramental communion with a bishop who ordains women to the priesthood.Anti WO people can only enjoy the same full unimpaired sacramental communion with a bishop who does not ordain women as priests.”

I have to assume you’re joking. If what you describe we’re true, it would follow that pro-WO people could only be in full communion with pro-WO bishops, and would be entitled to flying bishops of their own, were their ordinary a traditionalist.