Anglicans left with conscience choice after female bishop vote
The Church of England’s decision this week to allow the consecration of women bishops ends years of internal conflict and opens up an interesting debate within the Catholic Church.
In breaking with nearly 2,000 years of tradition, some members of the Church’s Anglo-Catholic and headship evangelical wings, which oppose female bishops, said that they voted in favour and against their consciences only for the sake of Church unity.
Some warned, however, that the approval would lead to further departures from the Church, with traditionalists being unable to accept ‘headship’ from a woman.
There were also concerns expressed that it would further damage relations with the Catholic Church.
The debate, however, centred on whether or not the motion offered sufficient guarantees for the place and pastoral care of those with theological grounds for opposing the ordination of women, and on commitments to keep the Church of England united despite the many differing positions.
To address those concerns, the House of Bishops presented “five principles” to the synod, including one that recognised “those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, so that they can continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion.”
The bishops promised such Anglicans “pastoral and sacramental provision” in a way that “maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.”
The Second Vatican Council recognised that Anglicans held a special place among the Christian communities formed at the time of the Reformation because they maintained the three-fold ministry of deacon, priest and bishop, and recognised the bishop’s role as a guardian of faith and the point of unity between the universal and local Church.
From the moment the synod voted, by one vote to ordain female priests in 1992, the path to female episcopal ordination has been turbulent, culminating in the 2012 synod when the Churche’s House of Laity failed to achieve the required two thirds majority in favour of women bishops.
Anglo-Catholics now face a simple choice: stay in an established Church that has reaffirmed its Protestantism, or seek full communion with Rome, either as ordinary Catholics or as members of the self governing Ordinariate which celebrates using its own distinctive Anglican rubrics.
The day after the synod vote the Rt Rev Mgr Keith Newton of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham acknowledged that for many members of the Church of England, the female bishops vote would be “a very happy day”, and also recognising that once having agreed to permit women priests the Church of England’s decision to allow women bishops was the next logical step.
He said, however, that what was undeniable was that both developments make harder the position of those within the Church of England who still long for corporate unity with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Mgr Newton described Pope Benedict XVl’s decision to set up the Ordinariates – allowing former Anglicans to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church, bringing with them much of the Anglican heritage and tradition – and noted that it was made in response to repeated requests from Anglicans who longed for unity with the Catholic Church.
It was, he said, “a prophetic and generous ecumenical gesture because it demonstrated the possibility of unity of faith with diversity of expression.”
Planned before the outcome of the vote was known, the Ordinariate has organised an exploration day, entitled Called To Be One, on the 6th September this year, which is aimed at making the Ordinariate more widely known and understood as well as reaching out to those whom it feels God may be calling to join it.
Groups across the country will stage an event on the day. Each event will be different – it may be Choral Evensong followed by refreshments and a presentation about the Ordinariate, or it might be a debate or a talk – but all the events will focus on the vision for Christian unity at the heart of the Ordinariate.
There might be quite a few Anglo-Catholics giving more than a sidelong glance at the event in the wake of the synod vote.