Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Theological illiteracy, or is it wilful blindness?

Once again the Governing Body of the Church in Wales is to discuss the possible options for proceeding towards the ordination of women to the episcopate.
Once again the consultation documents (downloadable here) fail to recognise the nature of our objections to the proposed innovation.
May I respectfully point out - once again - that the substitution for a 'woman bishop' simply of  'a male bishop' to carry out her sacramental functions with regard to those who are unable to accept the ordination of women and the exercise of their sacramental ministry (which, without mincing words, we regard as being probably no sacramental ministry at all) is discriminatory to say the very least and one would hope prove unacceptable to both sides in this seemingly endless debate.
The only satisfactory provision for those who remain in conscience opposed to the ordination of women is through the agency of a male bishop who accepts and upholds the traditional teaching of (I quote from the document) 'the Church Catholic' in relation to the apostolic ministry. It's not what the biologists might call the primary sexual characteristics of a male bishop  that matter here, but the orthodox faith that he holds in his mind and his heart.
Interestingly, this was the Archbishop of Canterbury's recognition and acceptance of the same point at the February 2012 meeting of the Church of England's General Synod - it's a shame no one in Wales appears to have read it:
"..The difficulty many feel is that to leave the phrase ‘male bishop’ in the draft Measure insufficiently recognises where that particular point comes in the argument people are trying to make.  It doesn’t go to the root of it.  In other words the theological conviction is not about male bishops as such:  it arises from certain other convictions.  And one of my questions about the draft Measure is whether anything can be done there, and / or in the Code of Practice, to overcome the resistance that is felt to that phrase, and to do better justice to what it rests upon.." 
It would be good in Wales to encounter an opponent who has the same grasp of our essential position... or, should we say, one who is prepared to be honest enough to recognise it. 

On the one hand, it was good to see this principle reaffirmed, even with the civil law disclaimer (now what could that imply?): 
"In 1996, the Church in Wales, acting within this context, passed a canon to enable the ordination of women to the priesthood.  In the preamble to the canon, the text stated that “the Bench of Bishops [was] unanimously committed to collegial action in order to secure a continuing place in the life of the Church in Wales for people of differing conscientious convictions on the issue”, and that “the Church in Wales, subject to the provisions of civil law relating to sex discrimination, wishes to respect those who in conscience cannot accept that women be ordained as priests”.
Yet on the other hand, if the Bench of Bishops is as serious as it claims in its commitment to 'inclusivity' for the orthodox, one has to ask the question - again - as to why the ministry of a Provincial Assistant Bishop was taken away from us without prior consultation and in clear contravention of the spirit prevailing in the province after the 1996 vote. After such unilateral action, it is well-nigh impossible to re-establish a relationship of trust with those responsible.

And again, it displays a staggering lack of awareness of our concerns about the final destruction of sacramental certainty, once women bishops are consecrated, for these 'provisions' to be put on the table: 
"With respect to Confirmation.  Where a diocesan bishop receives a request from a member of the Church in Wales to receive Confirmation from a male bishop, the diocesan bishop must either provide for a male bishop to take a Service of Confirmation in the diocese, or for a candidate to be presented at a Confirmation in another Welsh diocese where a male bishop is presiding.                                                                                                                           With respect to Ordination.  A candidate for ordination who wishes, in the exercise of his or her conscience, to be ordained by a male bishop may make application to the diocesan bishop who shall then issue letters dimissory to a male bishop of the diocesan bishop’s choice." 
(Sigh) Let's ask the obvious question: what about 'a male bishop' himself ordained by a woman?  Or are these assurances not meant to last that long?

And to end, for now, it's hard to judge whether the closing comments of the discussion document are notable more for their failure to address the real theological issues or for their self-congratulatory tone. Judge for yourself:  
"The Bench of Bishops believes that by offering such a statement of respect for conscience they are discharging their duty to collegial action to secure a continuing place for people of differing conscientious convictions.  Those exceptions are based on conscience, and limited to sacramental ministry.  The authority of any woman bishop is respected, and duties are laid on all bishops equally to make provision where questions of conscience on this matter arise."
I'm afraid that, however this is dressed up, the acceptance of these inadequate safeguards - which in reality are no safeguards at all - would inevitably  mean the further - and irrevocable - dismantling of any theologically recognisable and 'comprehensive' vision of the Church in Wales that might still, even now, exist. 
If there is a way forward together, this procedural document does not form the basis for it.


  1. >>Theological illiteracy, or is it wilful blindness?<<
    Not either/or Father but both

  2. No, you are right, of course, it's not 'either or,' but 'both and.'
    Yet, my own view is that if our opponents resolutely refuse to hear what we are saying, firstly they do not have to address the real issues and, secondly, they can pretend that they are dealing with a misogynistic group of ecclesiastical and moral dinosaurs. If they take on board what we are actually saying (that is, that we are not against women's ordination as such but resolutely in favour of an authentic apostolic ministry) then they have to take on board the radical rupture they have brought about in departing from apostolic norms and practices.


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