Friday, 15 October 2010


The situation which now faces Anglo-Catholics as the process gathers pace to allow the consecration of women bishops is unique. We have never faced a crisis of this magnitude before. This is the defining crisis. Yet many still point to 1991 and its aftermath, or to 1845 and what happened in the years after Newman's conversion, for comparable examples offering the hope that life can go on as before.
The situations are not even remotely analogous. After Bl John Henry Newman's succession from the Church of England in 1845 many were convinced that all was still to play for: the provinces of Canterbury and York could still be recalled to their Catholic inheritance. After the General Synod vote in 1991 there was still hope that under the Act of Synod it might be possible to preserve and develop a Catholic identity within the Church of England and from that position (ecclesiola in ecclesia) move towards a different ecumenical future than that desired by the C of E's main body. (The situation in the Church in Wales was of course much less secure, but many of us had hoped for a similar outcome.)
Neither of these hopes now remains as even the remotest possibility.
I recently came across this quotation from Henry Manning, written in 1839 just before he became Archdeacon of Chichester:
"...The English Church  is a real substantive Catholic Body capable of development and all perfection - able to lick up and absorb all that is true and beautiful in all Christendom into itself ....."

Which of us now (without the risk of being thought insane) would be able to recognise Manning's description of the Church of our baptism much less echo his (then) hopes for her future development? Given the inevitability of women bishops, of what kind of development is our Church now capable?
Of course, within a few short years Manning himself had changed his mind in the aftermath of the Gorham Judgement and we know the rest of the story.
But Manning's comments quoted above show a typical prescience: this, the attempt to "to lick up and absorb all that is true and beautiful in all Christendom into itself," was precisely what was attempted within the broad Catholic tradition in Anglicanism over the next one hundred years, and not without a considerable degree of success. Yet in the end, this catholicising movement, or series of parallel  movements, has run into precisely the difficulty which sent both Manning (and, to a large extent Newman a few years before him) to Rome: the built-in, institutional inability of the Anglican system to resist the demands of the State and the intellectual fashions of contemporary culture - an inability which dangerously undermines all its claims to catholicity and apostolicity.
That is the rock on which we are now shipwrecked, the reef which has always lain under the surface but which the storms surrounding the 'postmodern' equality and rights agenda have now exposed once again. It is on this rock that find ourselves asking all the hard questions which many of us have, until recently, studiously avoided.


This reaction has been posted on his blog by The Revd John Richardson, a leading conservative Evangelical commentator:

"It may be readily seen that whilst there is a similarity to what is currently available under the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure and the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, the provisions have been substantially diluted.

Of particular note, I suggest, is that although the diocesan bishop has a 'duty' to make arrangements (section 2), and although the bishop has to take account of the Code of Practice, the arrangements made are entirely local and may be reviewed at the bishop's discretion at any time. Moreover, the Code of Practice may be applied differently in different circumstances, and may itself be altered by the House of Bishops.

This is dilution to homeopathic percentages."

 It remains to be seen what the newly appointed working party on the Code of Practice will do, either to try to strengthen the provisions or dilute them even further.

1 comment:

  1. In a few words, Father, you have summed up the present position. Looking at the constitution of the Drafting Committee for the Code of Practice I have no hope whatsoever that anything positive will emerge for Catholics. As far as I can see it is game, set and match to the liberal/women's agenda. Perhaps the best thing to do is to accept defeat and move on to the Ordinariate as soon as it is possible for Anglo-Catholics to do so. By the way I think the new society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda are a total waste of time and energy


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