Sunday, 11 November 2012

Wales: praise where praise is not due

Can it really be that difficult to find out what is happening across the Welsh border? 
I say this because surprising plaudits are being given to the process agreed by the Church in Wales which, its leadership hopes, will lead, after a previous failure to pass a bill, to the ordination of women to the episcopate.  Following on from the comments of the Catholic Group, this is Southwark General Synod representative Tom Sutcliffe:
"There is a much simpler way of proceeding and it is what we should adopt if this Measure is defeated. We should follow what looks like being the Welsh Anglican way, which I believe will suit us much better too. A simple Measure will be proposed to allow women to be eligible for the episcopate in future, but it will be stated that that Measure cannot come into operation until a second Measure making proper and full arrangements for those who cannot accept women bishops has been passed and has come into operation..." [full text here from Anglican Mainstream]
No doubt the members of the Welsh hierarchy are basking in the approval of those who regard their Governing Body's  process as potentially a better way forward. What they are not saying is that in Wales itself  they have repeatedly ruled out the reappointment of a Provincial Assistant Bishop, and that the only form of provision they are prepared to contemplate is the entirely sexist and unacceptable proposal of providing traditionalists simply with 'a male bishop' who will perform (on behalf of a female diocesan) certain sacramental functions for those unable to accept the ministry of a woman bishop. For many, that amounts to no provision at all as it attempts to satisfy a theological objection with a purely biological solution, the acceptance of which would undermine the very arguments opponents have been consistently putting forward. 
Whatever provisions the Welsh Bishops may have in mind for traditionalists, up to this point they cannot be described fairly or objectively as "proper and full arrangements," unless, of course one accepts, with Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty, that words can mean exactly what we choose them to mean.
So, it's time for the Welsh Bench to "fess up," as they say, and not take credit for a constructive solution to current intractable problems, where credit is certainly not deserved and where, in fact,  a much harder line is currently being taken with traditionalist opponents than in the Church of England itself. 
Unless, of course, they are prepared - at long last - to change their minds ...?

But the lesson for those who are so eagerly commending the Welsh process for the English situation is that, actually, it can guarantee nothing. When it comes to the second measure, the same arguments - on both sides - will be deployed about what constitutes adequate provision for traditionalists, but without, then, the possibility of using a 'no' vote on the substantive measure if such provision is deemed to be inadequate. The danger for the traditionalist minority is clear: unless the precise meaning of 'adequate provision' is clearly understood by everyone and defined in the first measure, when it comes to the second measure opponents will still be at the mercy of a two-thirds majority and words will still mean exactly what that majority chooses them to mean. Of course, in the Church of England  after a defeat, the proponents of women bishops may be more willing to grant their opponents what they need to survive; the Welsh experience, unfortunately, does not hold out much hope that this will be the case. 

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