The ‘rebel’ Anglican bishops ‘defect’ to Rome
The Vatican has finally announced the erection of a Personal Ordinariate within the territory of England and Wales for those groups of Anglican clergy and faithful who have expressed their desire to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Decree of Erection specifies that the Ordinariate will be known as the ‘Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham’ and will be placed under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman.
So, it’s all about Mary.
And a dead priest/cardinal who now intercedes on our behalf.
Nothing very ecumenical about the nomenclature.
These three bishops have become the founding members of the world's first Ordinariate, a church-within-a-church created by Pope Benedict to permit Anglo-Catholics to worship under the aegis of Rome whilst retaining some Anglican traditions, like the Prayer Book and liturgy.
Yet His Grace has yet to see the form of this Prayer Book. For there is no Anglican prayer book other than that which has been approved by Parliament. And one gets the feeling that there are some aspects of His Grace’s book and one or two bits of the XXXIX Articles which aren’t going to make it into the Ordinariate, despite them being quintessentially Anglican.
We are told that there are more converts to follow – about 50 priests and 30 groups of parishioners from the Church of England are expected to enter full communion with Rome. Doubtless other groups of Anglicans in Australia and North America will follow as ordinariates are established in other parts of the world.
No doubt this will be a cause of further unseemly triumphalism and anti-Anglicanism.
But many Anglo-Catholics oppose their erstwhile colleagues' conversions, not least because they seem somewhat precipitous when the Church of England has not finally settled what sort of provision there will be for those who oppose women in the episcopate: there is, as yet, no legislation on the matter.
Having waited 15 years, a few more months would not have done them any harm.
According to The Times (£), these bishops are ‘rebels’. Yahoo and C4 talk of ‘defectors’. The Scotsman and The Independent place the emphasis on ‘ex-bishops’. The Mail talks of ‘history made’ and The Guardian talks of ‘history overturned’, while The Telegraph and BBC simply go with the fact of their ordination.
Or is it ‘simply’?
By focusing on their ordination, we are starkly confronted by the inescapable belief of these men that they had never previously been ordained. We are left in no doubt that these three bishops had to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests because the Vatican does not recognise Anglican ordinations. Married Anglican priests are accepted but married bishops may not retain their higher status.
It is strange, if not a little ironic, that they have exchanged a church with gender issues for a church with gender issues; a church in which being a woman is a bar to higher office for one in which the possession of a wife is a bar to higher office.
It is also strange that these shepherds of the sheep have dedicated the best part of their lives to the belief that the Church of England is the continuing Catholic Church in England, albeit reformed after the break with Rome. If the Church of England were part of the One Holy and Apostolic Church, and they were ordained into it, in what sense was that ordination so ‘absolutely null and utterly void’ that they require ‘re-ordination’, which is really a primary ordination?
Such faithful men have been a bulwark in the Church against both liberals and Protestants. It is sad indeed that they choose to depart instead of fighting their theological corner.
Have they really asserted the invalidity of Anglican Orders and negated a lifetime of ministry over the trivial obsessions of the world with gender and sexuality?
It’s hardly the stuff of schism: it is simply not of the order of the sort of debate that used to divide the Church: the divinity of Christ, for example, or the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325; or the ‘filioque’ of 1054; or the erroneous doctrines and blasphemous rituals which precipitated the Reformation in 1517.
We are talking about women.
More than half the human race.
The role of the Bible in addressing the thoroughly modern issues of gender and sexuality is complex, not least because where they are mentioned in Scripture, the authors give little sustained consideration of the issues as they are manifest in the modern world. The nature of a biblical perspective will invariably be affected by the questions posed of the Bible, by the particular hermeneutic employed, and by the unavoidable perspective which each scholar brings to his or her reading. While some may have an instant negative reaction to women priests and bishops, others seek to understand the debate in the different and changing circumstances in which we now live.
That God established an objective, moral order in creation, and continues a work of re-creation through Jesus, is a source and standard of all that it beautiful, good and true. If such a moral order means anything, there may be no via media on the issue of female bishops any more than there may be on homosexuality. Accepting theological diversity is not the same as tolerating all beliefs and practices, because ultimately the Church is called to be holy because God is holy (Lev. 19:2; Mt. 5:48).
We cannot as Christians just give way to ‘you believe this, I believe that’ approach to being together, or moving apart, in the Church. Nor even can we be content with the rather cheap model of ‘reconciled diversity’, meaning benign tolerance, which many Christians find an easier option to the costlier pursuit of real, ‘visible’ unity. We need to continue to struggle together for the truth, to find the right and godly balance between the call to solidarity and the recognition of difference. Presently, nowhere is this more important in the Anglican Communion than in the areas of gender and sexuality.
But His Grace is persuaded that the whole issue may really be a non-issue because the wrong question is being asked. The modern era is sex-and-gender-obsessed: we live in a society which demands ‘rights’ and ‘equality’, and there is little that is marketed without a glance, a wink, a flirt or allusions to sexual intercourse, because ‘sex sells’.
By devoting so much time and effort to gender issues, instead of challenging society by deconstructing the question or focusing on poverty and wealth (for example), the Church is simply showing itself to share the same obsessions as the world. Pauline ethics seem almost utopian to our myopic age, in which it appears at times that one’s identity is made to reside in testes and ovaries. The issue for the Church of England is that this debate has been blown out of all proportion; it is neither a battle for the soul of the church, nor an issue worthy of schism. It is a question utterly peculiar to this era, and those Christians on both sides of the divide might consider toning down the rhetoric and the apologetics, and preaching the gospel instead.