Letter from Australia
WHAT IS THEIR PLAN FOR US?
The aftermath of the Australian General Synod is not giving members of Forward in Faith much joy. Our opponents are angry that the deals they thought had been struck fell apart, ensuring that even if the appropriate legislation is passed at the next General Synod (and that is not a foregone conclusion), it will be at least six years from now before women bishops can become a reality.
Significantly, as happened in the few years leading up to 1992 when overseas women priests were paraded before the faithful in order to break down ‘innate prejudices’, women bishops from other provinces are to make their presence felt. Bishop Victoria Matthews from Edmonton in Canada is in Australia at present, and has been a great hit wherever she has gone, while Bishop Penny Jamieson of Dunedin, New Zealand, will be here in a few months time as one of the keynote speakers at the Brisbane Clergy School. (It would be better for us if we had visits from Babs Harris and Calamity Jane!)
Some of our opponents are now quite openly foreshadowing the possibility of a woman bishop being brought in from elsewhere (or even an Australian woman priest being sent to another province for a short-term job, being consecrated, and then returning in due course!) so as to have a woman (assistant?) bishop while at the same time avoiding the charge of having acted unlawfully.
Meanwhile, there is a backlash against any form of alternative episcopal oversight. Muriel Porter is on the warpath again. She and a handful of bishops around the country have been speaking of the need to separate women bishops from alternative oversight and have General Synod deal with them as quite different issues. This was reflected in a motion passed by last month's meeting of the Melbourne Diocesan Synod and supported by Archbishop Peter Watson. Likewise, Bishop Richard Appleby, Administrator of Brisbane Diocese, – following the line of ‘yes, but not yet’ as far as women bishops are concerned – wrote in the Brisbane diocesan paper that he simply ‘cannot even consider’ alternative episcopal oversight, because it would destroy the integrity of the bishop's ministry as a ‘focus of unity’ for the whole diocese. Furthermore, he said it would legislate for schism. He and others are unable to see that that's exactly what the supporters of women priests did in 1992.
It is unfortunate that a high level of misinformation has been generated by the recent review of the Act of Synod in England, as well as by the essays in Act of Synod: Act of Folly, edited by Monica Furlong. More and more Australian bishops are reading these documents and becoming instant experts on what a ‘disaster’ the PEV experiment in England has been! Most have never met a real live PEV or examined first hand how the system works.
Their resident authority seems to be the Bishop of North Queensland, who spent a few months in the UK last year reading New Directions and interviewing our enemies for a paper he wrote for the House of Bishops. There is nothing in the paper to suggest that his ‘research’ included visits to Forward in Faith parishes, or interviews with people like Bishop Broadhurst, Anne Williams, Father Kirk, the Lows, Stephen Parkinson and the PEVs! The really astonishing thing in the Bishop's paper is the idea that a ten per cent minority is too small to require special consideration. What does he think should happen to that minority? He obviously believes that the theologically orthodox parishes will either give in or die out if alternative episcopal oversight is not provided. In other words, they will be exterminated if they won't be brought to heel. Sounds like ethnic cleansing to me!
But it raises a bigger question to do with the integrity of the bishops themselves. In the years preceding 1992, all manner of statements were made about ‘pastoral care for minorities’. Nobody's conscience was to be violated. There was to be room in this Church for both views regarding the ordination of women to exist (that is, an ‘open process of reception’). Dioceses could vote this way or that, but minorities of orthodox believers within liberal dioceses would be respected. Were the bishops sincere in this? Or did they devise pastoral sounding platitudes in order to win the last few swinging voters, knowing full well that if and when they won, they would make it impossible for us to survive?
The treatment of the orthodox since 1992 would indicate the latter to be the case. Furthermore, any concessions that have been won from liberal bishops since then have been grudgingly given after persistent supplication. Nothing has actually been offered at their own initiative. On the contrary, they seem to go out of their way to undermine our existence, and I speak as one whose parish was singled out in Bishop Woods' paper for taking what in England would be regarded as an unremarkable stand. Ordinary parishioners – including some who have recently been converted to Christ – have been told by liberal bishops at social functions and other events that they shouldn't be going to ‘that place, All Saints’. Theological students tell us how frequently the staff of the Diocesan seminary speak against our continued existence. Recently a certain Archbishop treated one of our young men with contempt in front of a range of other people at a selection conference. That same Archbishop is supposed to have said that he won't license clergy who are members of Forward in Faith. We have asked him to confirm or deny this. No reply has been received.
If the liberal bishops have no intention of making it possible for us to flourish in the church of our baptism, then let them say so plainly. Let them announce to the world that the ethnic cleansing of this church has begun, and then, as part of this process, those bishops would then have a morally obligation to negotiate with parishes a process whereby at least some could retain their church buildings, freeing up each parish community to prayerfully decide whether to try and become part of another Province (such as Singapore), the Roman Catholic Church, or even to join up with Bishop Hepworth and the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia.
Before 1992, it was clear that if the ordination of women came about there would be two streams of sacramental life in the Anglican Church of Australia. That has happened, and it is not our fault. It has been done to us, not by us. The situation will become even more serious when there are women bishops. In the absence of clear assurances from the bishops that they will support a form of alternative episcopal oversight that is acceptable to us, what do we tell our young people? What do we say to young men who feel called to the priesthood and who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women as being of God?
Come on, bishops. Be fair!
David Chislett is Rector of All Saints', Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, in the Diocese of Brisbane.
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