Letter from Australia

THE NEED FOR EPISCOPAL CARE

AT A MEETING HELD over Low Weekend in Brisbane Forward in Faith Australia was officially launched. Attendance at the Conference, of both lay and clerical delegates was heartening considering the distances involved. Over 130 members of the former AAM (Australia) and Traditional Anglicans in Queensland - both of which had voted to amalgamate in the new body - were present.

Australians like value for money. Bishop John Broadhurst and I, and the other speakers, were worked hard and long in a conference which addressed many of the issues affecting opponents of women's ordination in a Church which has a bewilderingly complex structure and constitution. Of particular interest was a detailed and carefully though-out presentation by a Sydney member of the Australian General Synod, Dr Ann Young. Dr Young is also one of the small group of the Synod now engaged in considering the shape of legislation to permit the consecration of women to the episcopate, and the provisions which might be made to accommodate those who are opposed.

There seems little doubt that women will be admitted to the bench of Australian bishops in the near future. Pressure is building up in various quarters, there is no Act of Synod (as in England) to slow the process, and the Constitution of the Australian Church positively encourages unilateral action (such as was taken in the matter of ordination to the priesthood by the Archbishop of Perth). The only real and relevant question, therefore, is what provision will be made for opponents in those dioceses which adopt the innovation. (Australian dioceses, it needs to be remembered, have to adopt and ratify for themselves canons of the National Church in their respective diocesan Synods).

Five possibilities are presently on offer, of which two might be thought to be generally acceptable to FiF Australia. The first and most radical stands in the name of Dr Doyle, a Sydney evangelical.

Doyle's proposals may well be thought by some to involve a calculated and unacceptable degree of anarchism. Sydney is, for various reasons, disaffected from the National Church. It is by far the wealthiest and most numerous Archdiocese and it is at odds with most of the rest of the Australian Church on a number of matters. Sydney Evangelicals believe (and are now beginning to say outright) that they have taken a self denying ordinance on certain matters in which (as they see it ) the Gospel gives them liberty (like lay celebration) in order to maintain the unity of the Anglicans on the continent. Their trust and good will, they believe, has now been betrayed by those who have manipulated the Constitution to introduce women priests, which Sydney, for the most part, views as plainly unbiblical. The liberal tail is wagging the ecclesiastical dog, and Sydney is left with the bill.

The Doyle proposals, viewed in this light, look rather naughty. They suggest that parishes should be able (by a vote not unlike that of English parishes for the ministry of a PEV) to associate themselves freely with any Australian diocese of their choice. Evangelical parishes opposed to women priests in , say, the diocese of Brisbane (Queensland), could enter the diocese of Sydney (New South Wales); and similar Catholic parishes in the diocese of Perth (Western Australia) could join the diocese of Ballarat (Victoria).

The winner in this curious contest of loyalties would of course be the largest, wealthiest and most homogeneous diocese - Sydney! It is in such a light that the proposal will probably be regarded by some of the other primates (especially if, like Peter Hollingworth of Brisbane) they have already felt the cold wind of Continuing Anglicanism.

But from the point of view of opponents of women's ordination the Doyle proposals have much to commend them. Dr Doyle describes them as 'Real Alternative Episcopal Oversight', and that is truly what they provide. Unlike the PEV system as it has emerged in England, they would provide real bishops - both sacramentally and juridically. The proposals would not be open to the many (largely unfounded) accusations which have arisen in England from the unnatural and untheological division of those functions. The bishops in question, moreover, would be able (as the PEVs in England are not) to determine for themselves and their (extended dioceses) the degree of impairment of Communion which would exist between themselves and the rest of the Australian episcopate. They could together take up ecumenical discussion with Rome and Orthodoxy independently of the rest of the Australian Anglican Church. - or indeed, of the rest of the Anglican Communion For such a prize an aggrandized Sydney with lay celebration would be a small price to pay.

The other possible proposal presently on the table involves the provision of PEVs on something like the English model, by the Archbishops of the individual provinces or by the Australian Primate himself. The suggestion is less attractive than it at first seems. In England the provision of PEVs, or their local equivalents, was part of a trade-off which allowed women priests to be licensed to benefices in every diocese, regardless of the will of the diocesan or of the diocesan synod. Such a deal may well be being brokered behind the scenes in Australia, and should be resisted vigourously. Such a step would fatally weaken the independence of dioceses and put another institutional machine into the hands of the revisionists.

This arrangement, what is more, would require (as the PEV system in England requires) the consecration of the Episcopal Visitors by the Archbishops or the Primate. Whilst for the time being (in the absence of women bishops) this is acceptable in England, it would not be so in Australia, where the possible consecrators would, in every case bar one, be in unimpaired communion with women in the episcopate.

PEVs in Australia, however are not so compromised as to be beyond redemption. If a refinement of the suggestion could result in PEVs authorised by the Primate or Archbishops, but consecrated by the group of bishops opposed to women's ordination and consecration, they might well provide an acceptable solution. They could then guarantee to the parishes the ecclesial integrity they require, whilst allaying the fears of dissolution into Anglicanism's constituent parts (see Aidan Nichols 'The Hind and the Panther') which the Doyle proposals arouse.

Both these suggestions, however, are subject to what the Australians themselves constantly refer to as 'the tyranny of distance'. Australia, as one who has just flown the length and breadth of it in a very short time has every reason to know, is a big place. It has dioceses the size of Western Europe and parishes the size of Wales. How could a system of Alternative Episcopacy work in a land so extended and often so in hospitable?

The answer seems to be less complicated than those who ask the question imagine. It is simply that God is calling faithful Anglicans to explore new ways of being Church and new ways of being Bishop. That may sound like one of those talks by a bright-eyed young diocesan apparatchick you once heard in a windswept Church Hall when you had nothing better to do of an evening; but it is true! In England the PEV system has given birth to a new kind of episcopal caring , one which its recipients will not easily relinquish. In Australia new treasures undoubtedly await when, there too, bishopping can be liberated from the power politics of the present situation and become once more a means of spiritual empowerment for the missionary people of God.

 

Geoffrey Kirk is Secretary of Forward in Faith and has been in Australia for the inauguration of Forward in Faith (Australia)

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