In any conflict, it is the victors who write the
history. If, as David Waller suggests (see Lead Story p. 4), the revision
committee of the proposed legislation to ordain women as bishops is finding it
difficult to come up with a formula which will achieve the required synodical
majority, it would be as well to rehearse now - before opponents of the
development are blamed for the debacle -how we got where we are.
Though the queue is still forming of those who claim
to have written the Act of Synod, its principal author, and the man who secured
its passage in the Synod, was John Habgood. So far as one can tell Habgood
genuinely believed in the notion of'reception^ and sought, in the Act to give
it practical expression. He believed, on the Gamaliel principle, that given a
level playing field opposition to the innovation would either thrive or die.
The playing field was not, as almost every indicator
made plain, entirely level; but opposition (much to the dismay of many who had
voted for the Act) showed little sign of waning. The Church of England was
left, for the foreseeable future, with a mixed economy of orders. Habgood was
clear about the implications. In an interview with Liz Carnley he Spelled them
Liz Carney: So
while the two integrities exists, is there any possibility that a woman will be
John Habgood: I think that I'm
probably out of line here and I'm not in any case in any position to do
anything about it, but I would have argued against it.
LC: So, in the end, hasn't the Act of Synod
set a precedent which means that women won't be able to fulfil their ministry?
JH: There are lots of ways you can fulfill
your ministry without being a bishop.
LC: But isn't this natural justice? If you
allow women to be ordained as priests, in the course of events some women could
be ordained as bishops: hasn't this system denied them that right?
JH: Well, perhaps it has, but this is a part
of what has to be paid for maintaining the unity of the church.
If blame is to be laid for the predicament in which
the Church now finds itself, then the General Synod is the culprit. And if
women are not made bishops this time
round - or are made bishops with no adequate provision
for opponents - there is a real risk of ecclesial disobedience by one party or
the other. Uncanonically ordained women bishops have obtained elsewhere; and
the creation of new dioceses and even provinces is not unknown. The recent
history of The Episcopal Church is an extended cautionary tale.
In all this the position of opponents, and the agreed
policy of Forward in Faith, needs to be clearly restated. We are convinced that
a Church which ordains women to the priesthood has, to safeguard its own
integrity, to make provision for women bishops. We believe that in order to
honour its own solemn undertakings, the Synod must make adequate provision for
opponents to live and thrive within the Church of England. The minimum
requirement for such is bishops with jurisdiction.
Most English bishops have circulated to
their clergy a brief paper by the Archbishops of
These recommendations involve a Catholic understanding
of the eucharist which many (perhaps most) Anglicans do not share and, in the
case of the common cup, raise serious matters of principle. Concerns of
hygiene, it is true have led many protestant groups to introduce individual
communion cups or glasses; but this has not, for the most part been the
practice of the Church of England. The restoration of the cup to the laity,
moreover, was one of the significant changes of the Reformation and a matter of
We need not only guidelines about practical matters,
but also a clearer rationale for those guidelines. Who has the authority to
remove the chalice from the laity, and for what reason? If the Aids scare was
not a sufficient justification, why is swine flu considered to be so? And what
are the circumstances in which the common cup will be restored?
It is not unduly nice to seek some answers.