Tuesday, 24 February 2009

“Safe to receive?”

The Bishop of Monmouth’s Ad Clerum for Lent contains within it an explanation of the process by which one bishop informs another that a cleric (a wonderful mediaevalism, although ‘clerk’ would be even better, if not inclusive enough for contemporary Anglican tastes) is ‘safe to receive' and can be commended to another diocese. In addition to the eminently sensible and probably legally required information as to CRB checks and disciplinary issues, one of the necessary qualifications in order to be recommended is that of attendance at “deanery and diocesan events (clergy chapter, diocesan conference etc.”) I’m not sure I like the "etc." particularly; if one has to jump through hoops it’s as well to know where one has to jump; but the question of attendance at deanery and diocesan events is a pertinent one.
I don’t for one moment think the Bishop of Monmouth (who personally I like, and who is an honourable and genuinely decent man in every way) is trying to make a point here about those of our integrity who might wish to leave the diocese for pastures new, but the issue of attendance at the said deanery and diocesan events is something of a problem - a huge difficulty, in fact, for many of those who are opposed to women’s ordination.
It’s the old question, which we thought had been at least provisionally answered by alternative or additional episcopal oversight, of how far can one collude in a process which assumes the validity and interchangeability of all those in holy orders?
Of course, one could argue that Anglicanism is now within itself an exercise in ecumenism and attempt to treat chapter meetings and diocesan synods accordingly, but, like it or not, that is not the way they are regarded by the hierarchy, and these bodies themselves (deanery chapters and diocesan conferences) are increasingly important in the process of decision-making within the Province, particularly given the melt-down we seem to be experiencing in Wales in terms of finances and church attendance and the subsequent pastoral reorganisation deemed to be necessary.
[To digress just a little, the local deanery of Netherwent refused even to consider the needs of traditionalists when pastoral reorganistion was discussed a few years ago, and some of us feel so bruised as a result of that series of encounters that we are reluctant to become involved again.]
Personally, I found it easier to attend deanery chapters (even when completely isolated theologically) and diocesan conferences when one could at least point to the fact that for pastoral and sacramental purposes one was under the care of the Provincial Assistant Bishop (part of a kind of embryonic personal prelature within the Welsh Church, one could say.)
None of that, we know painfully well, is at all satisfactory in terms of Catholic ecclesiology, yet we live in an era within our communion of a wild and desperate experimentation not seen since the 16th Century, and anomalies abound; the PAB was an experimental response to the greater experiment within the Anglican laboratory of the ordination of women.
With the abrupt removal of the code of practice which gave us that episcopal care our link to the life of the deanery, diocese and province has been severed. If diocesan bishops propose to deal with that problem simply as a matter of discipline and impose sanctions on those who do not conform (even in terms of the withholding of a reference or commendation) then we have entered yet another stage in the “long defeat” we have been fighting for a generation. The solution to the problem is simple: the appointment of a Provincial Assistant Bishop or a differently-named equivalent, but that would require such a dramatic change of heart (and loss of face?) on the part of the diocesan bishops that it would seem extremely unlikely to say the least.
Not being “safe to receive” could well in time become a badge of honour along the lines of the inhibitions imposed on our Anglo-Catholic forebears; on the other hand, it demonstrates yet again the wilful refusal (no, let's be charitable, and say failure of understanding) of those in authority to come to terms with the real issues which now confront us as Anglican Catholics.

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