COMMENT
JULY 2000

 

The Kidderminster confirmation has come and gone; but the battle continues. In the blue corner the Reverend Charles Raven insisting on an orthodox bishop to minister to his flock. In the red corner the Bishop of Worcester, Peter Selby, insisting on his authority and oversight. The presenting issue is the bishop's attitude to homosexuality and his lack of solidarity with the Archbishop and the overwhelming majority on this matter in the Lambeth resolution.

Opinion in both catholic and evangelical circles is divided on the wisdom of Mr Raven's particular approach. Some are fiercely supportive of his principled stand, others equally critical of his ecclesiology and methodology. All of this is to miss the point. The question is not about the future of Charles Raven. (After all, Mr Raven's employment prospects are unlikely to survive the end of his team vicar contract such is the unforgiving nature of the episcopal club.) The question is Peter Selby!

How did Selby ever get to be Bishop of Worcester? Like too many of his colleagues his CV is unsoiled by the experience of any incumbency, and his inside track career of successive diocesan jobs culminated in becoming Bishop of Kingston. His eight years there revealed, to any who were in doubt, that he was a doctrinal, political and ethical maverick. When he moved to a university job no one was surprised, and many were relieved that a personally likeable man was where he could appropriately express his peculiar views.

When the gentle and pastoral liberal Philip Goodrich retired from Worcester in 1997, it is inconceivable that Worcester would have lobbied for the appointment of Peter Selby, or anyone remotely like him. But, as so often happens in the extraordinary machinations of the Crown Appointments Commission, Selby's availability at the end of his university stint and need for a job coincided with the Worcester vacancy; and the rest is history.

Like all bishops Selby will have made certain promises to the Archbishop in the fireside chat at Lambeth. As he approaches retirement the Archbishop must increasingly wonder what the cash value of these assurances is. But it is no good apologists for the Archbishop and the Commission briefing in dark corners that this was all a ghastly error, and nobody knew how heterodox dear Peter was. They knew as well as anybody what Selby's position was on most issues. He has, after all, never been a shrinking violet.

This is a further nail in the coffin of the corrupt and corrupting appointments system in which orthodox candidates are regularly vetoed while the long succession of increasingly bizarre and disastrous liberal appointments continues unabated.

Christina Rees, spokesperson for WATCH, announced that her privately funded research had shown that 80 per cent of people are in favour of women bishops. Because the research is, as yet, not available to anyone else, one can only accept Mrs Rees' word for this remarkable result.

As the work has been performed by the same organisation that, independently, demonstrated that 20 per cent of English Anglicans were Anglo-Catholics and de facto opposed to feminist innovations, this must mean that everyone else is in favour. Although this may come as a shock to many biblical evangelicals (and not a few liberal evangelicals who thought they were only in favour of women curates) this happy result is marvellous news for the unity of the rest of the Church of England.

Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury should consider making Christina the first candidate for consecration, as an obvious focus for that unity. Or 80 per cent of her, at any rate.

The Blackburn Report, reviewing the working of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod after five years, has finally appeared and is to be debated at York. It has been a remarkable exercise. Mounds of written evidence were submitted by the great, the good and the not so good, and countless interviews were conducted (at one of which the 'tone' of this magazine - not, we would have thought, part of the Working Party's remit - was a principal topic of discussion!).

Accounts of mounting difficulties in the House of Bishops (with the Bishops of Salisbury and Chester leading the attack) had suggested a more controversial document than the one which reached Synod members at the end of June. But the status of the document should be noted. It comes (as they say in Synodical circles) with only the authority of the Working Party which produced it.

That means, of course that it is not (as many expected) a further exercise in episcopal collegiality. Bishops (like anyone else) will be free to speak against its proposals in the Synod, and ignore its recommendations whatever the Synod thinks about them. We will be watching the 'open process of reception' on which the Blackburn Commission's proposals now enter with mounting interest.

The twenty-two recommendations, however, are for the most part anodyne enough. They begin by pointing out, what this paper has repeatedly stated: that if diocesan and regional arrangements (rather than the PEVs) are ever to become the norm of Extended Episcopal Care, then the Crown Appointments Commission and the bishops will need to make appropriate appointments of traditionalists.

It remains to be seen whether such a change of policy will be forthcoming. The titanic struggle over the Chichester succession could well prove a test case in the 'reception' of the recommendations.

The only contentious passage comes at para 9.8: 'The process of consultation for extended episcopal ministry, under S.7 of the Act, should include everyone on the electoral role'

This attempt to impose what is in effect direct election of the PEV by a two-thirds majority of the entire franchise (coming, as it does, from a body whose own appointments system is byzantine in the extreme - and currently under much-needed review) will be greeted with the utmost suspicion. It is wholly unconstitutional, and quite improper for one house of the Synod to seek, unilaterally, (effectively) to change legislation. This suggestion should be ignored by PCCs (who can continue to appeal to the Act itself in doing so).

The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod requires no 'consultation' with all members of the electoral role (through an 'extraordinary parochial meeting' or by any other means); and could not, in any case, require members of a PCC to vote according to any advice so given.

Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for the House of Bishops to draw up a Code of Practice regulating its own conduct, it cannot expect others to be obliged by anything more - or less - than the law.

 

 

 

The Blackburn Report, reviewing the working of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod after five years, has finally appeared and is to be debated at York. It has been a remarkable exercise. Mounds of written evidence were submitted by the great, the good and the not so good, and countless interviews were conducted (at one of which the 'tone' of this magazine - not, we would have thought, part of the Working Party's remit - was a principal topic of discussion!).

Accounts of mounting difficulties in the House of Bishops (with the Bishops of Salisbury and Chester leading the attack) had suggested a more controversial document than the one which reached Synod members at the end of June. But the status of the document should be noted. It comes (as they say in Synodical circles) with only the authority of the Working Party which produced it.

That means, of course that it is not (as many expected) a further exercise in episcopal collegiality. Bishops (like anyone else) will be free to speak against its proposals in the Synod, and ignore its recommendations whatever the Synod thinks about them. We will be watching the 'open process of reception' on which the Blackburn Commission's proposals now enter with mounting interest.

The twenty-two recommendations, however, are for the most part anodyne enough. They begin by pointing out, what this paper has repeatedly stated: that if diocesan and regional arrangements (rather than the PEVs) are ever to become the norm of Extended Episcopal Care, then the Crown Appointments Commission and the bishops will need to make appropriate appointments of traditionalists.

It remains to be seen whether such a change of policy will be forthcoming. The titanic struggle over the Chichester succession could well prove a test case in the 'reception' of the recommendations.

The only contentious passage comes at para 9.8: 'The process of consultation for extended episcopal ministry, under S.7 of the Act, should include everyone on the electoral role'

This attempt to impose what is in effect direct election of the PEV by a two-thirds majority of the entire franchise (coming, as it does, from a body whose own appointments system is byzantine in the extreme - and currently under much-needed review) will be greeted with the utmost suspicion. It is wholly unconstitutional, and quite improper for one house of the Synod to seek, unilaterally, (effectively) to change legislation. This suggestion should be ignored by PCCs (who can continue to appeal to the Act itself in doing so).

The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod requires no 'consultation' with all members of the electoral role (through an 'extraordinary parochial meeting' or by any other means); and could not, in any case, require members of a PCC to vote according to any advice so given.

Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for the House of Bishops to draw up a Code of Practice regulating its own conduct, it cannot expect others to be obliged by anything more - or less - than the law.

 

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