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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Understanding the C of E and those who may come over

The vote against women bishops at the General Synod by the House of Laity may be puzzling to some; perhaps even more so if you are told (correctly) that a significant number of those who voted against it are themselves in favour of women bishops.

Tom Sutcliffe has written a balanced and helpful article for Anglican Ink which explains things well. See: A "liberal" member of Synod explains his "no" vote on women bishops. (H/T The Deacon's Bench) Essentially he and others considered that the proposal was misguided in its approach to those who opposed women bishops, and would over-ride assurances given in 1992 to those who opposed women priests. They viewed this lack of care as something that would damage the Church of England and accelerate its decline.

The measure was considered overly clerical in not allowing the laity in a parish to decide whether or not they wished to have a woman priest. The assurances given over and over again, that provision would be made for those who could not accept women bishops was not only not trusted, it was seen as dishonest. Sutcliffe speaks of the determination of some to purge the Church of England of those who do not accept the ordination of women.
The assurances given to those in the minority of a traditionalist view were worthless because the Code of Practice, even when it had been set up, would have been open to constant revision and would have been a target for further adjustment when the campaigners from GRAS and Affirming Catholicism had managed to squeeze out of the Church all those people with whom they disagree on this matter and whom they do not think belong within the reformed liberal Anglicanism that they seek. This element of passionately committed supporters of the ordination of women made no secret of their determination to insist that the Church of England in their view should drive out anybody who did not accept women's ordination.
From outside the Church of England it is of interest to understand this vote and the process which led to it. First we should be under no illusion about the ferociousness of the debate. At least some of the supporters of women bishops wish to reduce their opponents to submission or drive them out of the Church. Secondly it highlights the impossible state of a Church which tries to encompass those who have two completely incompatible ways of understanding the priesthood.

For Catholics the third and most important lesson is to understand that those who may become Catholics as a result of pondering the implications of the present furore, may be exhausted and traumatised by the bitterness of the opposition which they have faced: in some cases for many years, compounded in some cases by the betrayal of their bishops who have given assurances and then cynically reneged on them. To seek communion with the See of Rome now will be an act of great humility. It will not be helpful for us to go around blithely saying "Why didn't they come across years ago?" A little sensitivity and kindness would befit us better.

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