The Guildford brief

James Patrick barrister and Recorder of the Crown Court, as a member of the FiF lawyers' group draws out some of the issues from their rewsponse to the TEA proposals and shows how much more work the new Guildford group needs to do


Any participant in a debate, let alone one amongst Christians on matters of theology and doctrine, would hope that the contributions would be considered and reasoned. Whatever one’s views about the ordination of women to the Episcopate, surely no one could suggest our report, Consecrated Women? was anything other than that. Yet it is a sad fact that the report to the House of Bishops from the group chaired by the Bishop of Guildford (GS1605) fails to fulfil that hope.

The General Synod has asked the Bishop of Guildford to give further thought to the proposals his group made, and so the lawyers’ group, which prepared the draft measure in our report and which includes me as a member, gathered together again in the crypt beneath Christ the King, Gordon Square, to look at the report, and at the TEA (Transferred Episcopal Arrangements) which it proposed. Our response, which has been sent to the Bishop of Guildford, can be found on the Forward in Faith website.

It was hoped that the Guildford Group would deal head-on with the arguments which we have tried to set out clearly. What we found was that our arguments are misstated, misunderstood and misrepresented. The consequence is a report proposing a solution which fails to deal with the problems. Of course, we have become used to the Church of England making the move first, and then trying to fit the theology around it afterwards: this report continues that practice.

The place and role of a bishop was touched upon in the Rochester Report, another report which seems sadly to have become side-lined, even ignored, rather than given the study it demands; yet the root of the problem is that the Church of England has largely failed to address the issues of what a bishop is called to do and to be.

The traditional historical and Catholic view is that the bishop is the focus of unity for the local church. If this is so, then how can the bishop be a focus for unity if he deliberately takes part in the consecration of a woman as a bishop, and thereby fractures the unity of the College of Bishops?

Until 1994, everyone in the Church of England recognized that all deacons, priests and bishops were truly deacons, priests and bishops. Since then, whilst there remains doubt about the validity of the orders of women priests, this has not been the case. But even now, all CofE bishops currently recognize the validity of the orders of other CofE bishops. The consecration of a woman would drive a permanent division through that unity. The focus of unity would become a focus for disunity. And once that unity is fractured, how could the bishop be a focus for unity when the validity of her orders is doubted by other bishops, by priests who would be within her college of priests, and by laity within her diocese?

It is precisely to look at unity and communion that the theological group which contributed to Part One of our report has been reconvened. They will be considering what it means to be an Anglican, and what it means to be in communion with others, and offering their conclusions to the Church. This issue, though, has the capacity to fracture the cornerstone of Anglicanism. As has been widely accepted, when the College of Bishops faces this degree of fracture, in which the foci of unity introduce disunity, then a structural solution is needed to deal with it.

Consecrated Women? proposes such a solution. When the Guildford Group summarizes it, we are misrepresented. The Group suggests that we are seeking a third or a free province, ‘not unlike the Church in Wales.’ Anyone bothering to read the report will see that we ask for a new or additional province, which remains part of the Church of England, and thus nothing like the Church in Wales.

The Group suggests that the creation of a province would be schismatic and that there is a danger of us becoming a continuing church. The very purpose of the new province is actually to keep us within the Church of England and prevent the formation of a continuing church. Quite how being inclusive, and keeping us within the Church, can be schismatic has yet to be explained.

Nor is it explained to us why the fracturing of the unity of the Church is itself not schismatic. A new province is dismissed as novel and unknown within Anglicanism, an assertion which ignores the history of Anglicanism which records the foundation of the Holy Catholic Church of Hong Kong, set up for precisely the same reasons which we propose.

So what does the Group propose instead? It proposes TEA, which, apparently, is like the London Plan, the arrangement by which the Bishop of Fulham ministers to parishes across the Diocese of London, and provides care into the dioceses of Southwark and Rochester. Any solution based upon the current ministry of our Chairman of course deserves our careful consideration. However, whilst there is a superficial similarity, a moment’s thought shows the fallacy of this suggestion.

The London Plan works because the Bishop of London ordains both men and women as deacons and takes no part in the ordination of priests. But more importantly, it works because everyone recognizes that the Bishop and his area and suffragan bishops are bishops. Introduce doubt to that certainty, and the London Plan no longer works.

Impair that recognition, and it is more London Bridge than London Plan. And in the event of a collapse, then the delegated authority simply reverts back to the diocesan bishop, who, of course, is acknowledged by all to be a bishop.

So that is the outline. What is the detail? What are the benefits? How do we get them? We looked carefully at them, and were under-whelmed. Consecrated Women? proposes a permeable province allowing easy movement into and from it. Rather than parishes simply being able to opt from one bishop to another, TEA proposes a complicated procedure involving up to four different bishops. Consecrated Women? proposes simply transferring jurisdiction from one bishop to another. TEA proposes some functions being transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury and, from him, delegated to the new PRB (provincial regional bishop) with others remaining with the diocesan.

Consecrated Women? proposes that entry is achieved in much the same way as petitioning under the present Act of Synod. Guildford proposes a more complicated procedure which is presumably why, patronizingly, the diocesan bishop is required to check that we have followed it. A parish in TEA would still be subject to the faculty jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. So in cases of dispute, the parish would be subject to the discipline of the diocesan, although discipline is one of the functions which would be transferred to the PRB by TEA.

It is entirely understandable that TEA requires that the PRB co-operates with the diocesan bishop, but we were surprised to see that the diocesan bishop is not required to co-operate with the PRB.

Since the unity of the members of the House of Bishops and their collegiality are at the heart of this debate, it is sad that Guildford singularly fails adequately to address either. The premise of their solution is that jurisdiction for a parish should pass from the diocesan to the Archbishop of Canterbury for onward delegation of episcopal function. All does not come right with the world simply because the Archbishop is a man.

If he accepts women into the College of Bishops, either by consecrating them or being in communion with them, then his actions fracture that unity. Is it proposed that he should not consecrate women to the office of bishop? What happens when he is consecrated by a woman bishop? These points are simply not addressed.

In defence of the group, the point is made that in the whole of the twentieth century, only nine people were appointed to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury. Statistically, it might be thought to be a long while before the office is opened to a woman. Yet this issue needs to be addressed, and addressed now. On this important point in the debate, Guildford offers us nothing. Nor is it explained why it is necessary to transfer anything to the Archbishop, for exactly the same problems arise with him as with any other bishop; a question asked not just by us, but also by the Modern Churchpersons’ Union.

This is not the only gap: there are others. There will have to be some type of a relationship with the General Synod. Consecrated Women? proposes a provincial synod which can adopt legislation. Will the General Synod want TEA parishes represented? Will anyone from a TEA parish find sufficient support even to be elected?

On how a parish would relate to the Synod, Guildford offers a footnote, pointing out that the question needs to be considered in due course. Next, the PEVs can all speak from experience about priests opting in and out of their care. Currently, the validity of the orders of male priests ordained by male bishops cannot be in doubt. Come the consecration of women bishops, the same just cannot be said.

There are diocesan bishops in the Church of England already privately expressing the view that men ordained by women bishops seeking the pastoral care of the PRB will require conditional ordination. On this controversial and important point, Guildford proposes nothing. Then, the PRBs will need to be appointed and consecrated. Who will appoint them? Will it be Charlotte, Archbishop of Canterbury? Who will consecrate them? Again, Guildford cannot help. We need to be clear about how they will relate to the House of Bishops, because we cannot expect more of our bishops than we would accept for ourselves.

How could we insist that they had to demonstrate a degree of communion which we would find impossible ourselves? And, finally, what happens when a majority in each house of the General Synod decides that enough is enough, and votes to abolish TEA? Nobody knows.

It has been said in some quarters that the lawyers’ group response is negative. It is difficult to be otherwise. Were this the response to Consecrated Women? for which we have been patiently waiting for eighteen months, perhaps it would have been more positive. Perhaps it would have been able to wrestle with the answers to the questions and difficulties which we have posed.

That report, edited by Fr Jonathan Baker, has clearly set out the theological issues and it proposes a structural solution giving clear boundaries. When the lawyers first gathered in 2002 to think about what was necessary to keep us within the Church of England come the ordination of women bishops, there was no enthusiasm for a new province.

Surely, we thought, our problems could be solved without one; and anyway, would it not need an Act of Parliament? But as we met, and talked and thought and prayed, each of us, over the passage of time, became convinced that we needed a structure to protect us; we needed it to be in the form of a Measure so that it could not be changed over our heads; we needed to have bishops who could select and train ordinands; and we needed to be able to relate to others as an ecclesial body. That is all, for us to be able to move forward in love. It has been set out, and spelt out, and argued.

Those arguments deserve proper consideration and careful answers. This debate is too important for these arguments and requests to be ignored. But they are. Debate needs intelligent and fair dialogue. The Bishop of Guildford is consulting. He has seen our response. We await his, hoping that it answers ours better than the first report. Why? Let me finish with just one example.

The Guildford Report tells us that one of the advantages of TEA is that it does not create a new province. Were that to be advanced in my court, it would be dismissed out of hand. After all, as an argument it is about as persuasive as the argument that wine is better than gin because it is wine.

The lawyers group text can be found at <>

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