COMMENT JUNE 1999

WHEN THE EPISCOPAL husband of the divorced wife of one of his own priests assures you that a Communion (which also includes, as bishops in good standing, one thrice married with two living partners, who has just been acquitted by a Church Court for knowingly ordaining a practising homosexual, and another who has publicly and systematically denied virtually every tenet of the Christian Faith) is now ready to accept the gift of the Roman Primacy, you can be sure that something interesting is going on. But what?

There are at least three possibilities.

The first is that things have reached such a pretty pass in the Communion in question (that its own structures of authority have been so consistently flouted) that desperate measures are required. There is some evidence for this.

The recent meeting of Anglican Primates in Singapore to discuss possible intervention to support traditionalists in the Episcopal Church of the United States, provoked an unusually forthright call to unity from the Archbishop of Canterbury in South Carolina. But he cannot realistically expect anyone to heed it.

The Archbishop has the salutary experience of the Eames Commission to look back on. The nature of the Communion over which he presides is clear from the fact that the recommendations of his Commission have been heeded in no Province save his own, and least of all in the Province of the man who chaired it.

Dr Carey has survived the only Lambeth Conference of his archiepiscopate relatively unscathed (which must now rank as something of an achievement for an archbishop); and he can afford once more to relax into the fantasy world (always especially beguiling to establishment Anglicans) that you can have unity without doctrinal agreement.

On this interpretation the new ARCIC statement is genuinely meant; but proceeds from desperation and exhaustion, rather than conviction.

The second possibility is that, for the Anglican participants (who know that the ordination of women and Porvoo have effectively put an end to any real hopes of reunion; and who have always subconsciously been aware that Anglicans can never, in any case, deliver on agreements made - they have no means, that is to say, of ensuring that what is agreed, on the eucharist for example, will actually be taught in theological colleges and other institutions) the whole process has become merely an enjoyable intellectual game.

People who write books with titles like 'The Integrity of Anglicanism', do so, after all, at least in part because they enjoy the joke. Ecclesiology, you might say, is always and inevitably talking about things which do not (yet) exist; it is just that, for Anglicans, it is more so.

On this interpretation ARCIC has become more a social event than an ecumenical encounter. It is reassuring to both sides to meet together from time to time and discover that neither side hates the other anywhere near so much as they used to.

The third possibility - and by far the most sinister - is that the Anglicans involved (anaesthetised to the internal pain of their own fractured ecclesiology) actually think that they have a useful contribution to make, on the subject of authority, to what used to be called 'the Coming Great Church' .

Having failed to respond to the pleas for unity and restraint of two successive Popes, and unable, as a result, to accept the recent (and most modest) statement of the Roman Magisterium on the limits of its own authority (a statement which Anglicans would wholeheartedly have welcomed in relation, say, to the Immaculate Conception), they nevertheless want to submit themselves to some sort of 'primacy' made in their own image.

But they must surely be aware (for they are all intelligent men), that an extended 'primacy' over them (which, on current evidence, clearly could not expect or demand their actual obedience) would achieve nothing except to undermine the very real and immediate Primacy which the Roman Pontiff presently exercises over the Catholic faithful.

On this interpretation Anglicans are, at best, seeking (in a circumstance which above all others demands tact and reticence) to apply the cultural and ecclesial arrogance which has conspicuously marred some other of their ecumenical negotiations. At worst they are actively seeking to subvert the very gift which they are purporting to receive.

Things Anglican are seldom less complicated than at first they appear. It is therefore probable that an explanation of this extraordinary phenomenon involves all these possibilities and more.

 

AN ORDINARY clergyman’s stipend is a matter of public record. A bishop’s remuneration is listed, amongst other places, in Whitaker's (e.g. Canterbury 48k, York 42k, London 39k, Diocesans 26k. Figures 97/98 )

An ordinary clergyman’s expenses are a matter of public record and open to scrutiny in the annual parish accounts.

Bishops’ expenses are paid by the Church Commissioners and appear in their accounts only as a total figure. When that figure has more than doubled in a decade, from 4.3m to 8.8m, it is reasonable to ask how and why and who.

Instead of responding with the openness that would be required of a parish priest in this situation, the bishops and Commissioners instinctively reacted by circling the wagons. This is a private matter and any disclosure of detail would lead to misunderstanding and a bad press. Like the annual church attendance figures, the cost of our bishops should be known only by those with the highest security clearance i.e. themselves.

A diocesan who racks up expenses of 160,000 and a suffragan who spends in excess of 40,000 may have good reason - but it would be better for the health of the church if a policy of openness and transparent honesty were able to confirm that.

As we go to press the Archbishops have announced a “review”. This is to be welcomed. Their first recommendation must be that, like any other clergyman's, the bishops' expenses figures must be published.

IN APRIL we wrote: "The Bishop of Whitby and the Archdeacon of York must shortly be replaced. The appointment of two respected traditionalist men with strong pastoral records, theological intelligence, and a fearless commitment to orthodoxy would be the clearest possible indication that he [Dr Hope] is prepared to put his money where his mouth is."

Dr Hope has done just that, in two appointments about which the diocese of York has every reason to be proud and glad.

The question must now be why, if from his own province and area the Archbishop is able to find two men of such calibre, other diocesans repeatedly claim that there are no such men in the traditionalist constituency. The trick is obviously to look harder.

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