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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

Developments from 2008-JUL to the present time

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2008-JUL-07: Letter from over 1,300 male clergy to the archbishops:

LifeSiteNews reports that:

"More than 1,300 clergy, including 11 serving bishops, have written to the archbishops of Canterbury and York saying they will leave the Church of England if women are consecrated bishops. Three sitting diocesan bishops have also written to the Archbishop of Canterbury supporting the threat and two other bishops have said they are preparing to leave the Church."

"[Ruth] Gledhill [of the Times] quotes the Rev. Prebendary David Houlding, a leading Anglo-Catholic, who said:

'It's getting worse - it's going downhill very badly. It's quite clear there is a pincer movement and we are being squeezed out. We are being pushed by a particular liberal agenda and we are going to have women bishops at the exclusion of any other view'." 12

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Allegations of secret negotiations with the Vatican:

LifeSiteNews reports that:

"The news that a group of 'senior' Anglican bishops are in talks with Rome during the crisis came as a surprise to representatives of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, attending the Synod as observers. Gledhill reported that Monsignor Andrew Faley, ecumenical officer of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, had 'no information' that such talks had taken place. The Telegraph reports that the Rowan Williams was also not told of the talks that are reported to have been with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's highest doctrinal authority after the Pope himself."

"The talks come with a backdrop of a difficult history. In 1992, when the Church of England voted to ordain female clergy, a similar crisis ensued in which a large number of Anglican ministers applied to Rome to create a provision to retain the traditional Anglican style of worship but seek communion with the See of Rome. At that time, under Pope John Paul II, some 'Anglican Use' parishes were established in the US, but the episcopate of the Catholic Church of England and Wales obstructed the solution. Hopes were dashed when the Catholic bishops of England and Wales announced that converts would only be accepted individually, not en masse, and there would be no provision made for the retention of 500 year-old Anglican liturgical traditions."

"It was noted that the heavily liberalized Catholic leadership did not relish the thought of a massive influx of doctrinally and liturgically traditional and highly educated clergy into their midst."

"But since the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made unprecedented moves to reconcile traditionalists in the Catholic Church, and who was strongly supportive of the Anglican traditionalists before his election, hope has been revived that a path may be cleared." 12

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2008-JUL-07: General Synod confirms female consecration in principle:

Those caucasians opposed to female consecration to the episcopate campaigned for special arrangements so that they would not have to accept a woman as their bishop. They offered two options:

  • The creation of separate dioceses to be led only by male bishops, or

  • Provision of "superbishops" (a.k.a. "complementary bishops" to traditionalist parishes. These would be male bishops who could be asked to come into a diocese that was led by a woman bishop and offer leadership to the minority who cannot accept oversight by their own bishop. A parish would be able to bypass their own bishop and ask for a superbishop. The latter would take control of the spiritual and disciplinary leadership of the rebel parishes. However, the diocesan bishops would continue to control parish finances and Church schools. The superbishops would be selected from among the ranks of Anglo-Catholic traditionalists. The superbishops would replace the "flying bishops" who have been available since the CoE started ordaining women priests; the flying bishops can be invited into a diocese which has women priests to minister to parishes which do not recognize the legitimacy of female ordination.

    Some traditionalists reject the latter compromise because the superbishops would still have to be supervised by archbishops who would be seen as tainted because they had consecrated women bishops. 6,11

Muriel Porter, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. was unsympathetic to the attempt to derail gender equality in the episcopate. She wrote:

"... these suggestions were dismissed by the synod, which instead has opted for pastoral provisions similar to those now available in Australia where there are women bishops. These are low-key arrangements designed to treat with respect those who oppose women in church leadership, without undermining the authority of women bishops."

"The arrangements the English opponents wanted would have been deeply humiliating to women, creating in effect a second-class tier of bishops. In a modern pluralist society such as England is in the 21st century, this would surely be intolerable."

"If anyone suggested that Anglican worshippers could be protected from any contact with black bishops, for instance, both the vast majority of churchgoers and wider society generally would be rightly alarmed and appalled. But the proponents of discrimination against women seem to think they are immune to criticism because of their outdated views about the Bible and church tradition." 7

Her article received 100 comments from readers by JUL-11; some were quite vitriolic.

The synod confirmed its mid-2006 synod decision to consecrate women as bishops. The voting numbers were:

  • Bishops: 28 for; 12 against; 1 abstention.
  • Clergy: 124 for; 44 against; 4 abstentions.
  • Laity: 111 for; 68 against; 2 abstention.

Draft legislation and a Code of Practice will be presented at the 2009-FEB synod to implement the decision. 7 However, if the level of support for women bishops remains constant, the legislation will fail. The laity support was nine votes short of the two-thirds majority required to pass legislation. 7 This should make for a lively synod in February as supporters of women's restrictions battle with supporters of women's equality. The nature of the CoE will hang in the balance.

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2008-JUL-08: Response to the synod vote from the Vatican

A letter from the Vatican issued on 2008-JUL-08 stated:

"We have regretfully learned of the Church of England vote to pave the way for the introduction of legislation which will lead to the ordaining of women to the Episcopacy."

"The Catholic position on the issue was clearly expressed by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Such a decision signifies a breaking away from the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium, and therefore is a further obstacle for the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England."

"This decision will have consequences on the future of dialogue, which had up until now born fruit, as Cardinal Kasper had clearly explained when he spoke on June 5 2006 to all of the bishops of the Church of England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury."

"The Cardinal has been invited once again to express the Catholic position at the next Lambeth Conference at the end of July." 9

Their reference to "all of the Churches" having continuously discriminated against women in the clergy until recently may be surprising to many readers, since all liberal and most mainline Christian denominations have had female clergy for decades. The letter is consistent with the document "Dominus Iesus" that was ratified by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000. It explains the Roman Catholic belief that all of the Christian denominations except for the Church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches have not preserved the Apostolic succession. Thus, they are not "churches in the proper sense." That belief was reinforced during 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI  in his document: "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church."

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2008-JUL-09: Response to the synod vote from Forward in Faith:

Many traditionalists were distressed at the synod vote. John Fulham, chairman of Forward in Faith wrote on JUL-09:

"Many of you have phoned me in the last twenty four hours, angry or distressed.  Several have suggested that we should declare war on those who seek to destroy us.  Particularly, the suggestion has been made that we stop paying Diocesan Quota.  I am open on this matter but think that now is not quite yet the time for such drastic gestures, for whatever we do needs its timing to be agreed by us all so that we can act together. Be assured of my commitment to our common life and of my determination to continue to seek a common way forward in faith for all of us." 10

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2008-JUL: Meeting of women bishops:

Eighteen women bishops gathered near Oxford for a two-day meeting prior to attending the Lambeth Conference of Bishops that is held every ten years. Included were 11 bishops from the U.S., three from Canada, two from Australia, and one each from Cuba and New Zealand. 7

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2009: Vatican sets up "Ordinariate" groups:

This is a structure set up by the Vatican in 2009 that would allow Anglican laity and clergy to leave the Anglican Communion, form separate groups affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, while still following Anglican liturgy and other practices, A new liturgy will be published by the Vatican for all Ordinariate groups, including the one in the UK.

Keith Newton, who heads up the UK Ordinariate, said:

"Every week somebody writes or e-mails asking how they can join the Ordinariate. They are often people I have never heard of before. ... For clergy it is a practical risk, meaning they abandon tied housing and a guaranteed stipend for a smaller income and uncertainty.” 13

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2011-JUN-04: UK: More than 50 Church of England priests becoming Roman Catholic priests:

Protesting equality for women and LGBT persons in the Church of England, a group of seven Anglican priests decided to abandon the Anglican Communion. They were ordained as Roman Catholic clergy on 2011-JUN-04 by the Most Rev. Peter Smith, Roman Catholic  Archbishop of Southwark. Subsequent groups will be ordained on successive weeks. More than 900 laity have preceeded them and become Catholics.

The new Catholic priests will lead former Anglican laity to worship as a separate Ordinariate groups in the UK. 13

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The path forward:

After the consecration of women as bishops is eventually implemented, the relationship between the Methodists and Anglicans in England will probably become closer. However, an additional strain would appear in the relationship of the Anglican and Roman Catholic church. To the Roman Catholic Church, even the ordination of women as deacons is forbidden. It is a hot-button item. Debate and dialogue on these topics by clergy in that Church is suppressed.

After the Church of England first ordained women as priests in 1992, 720 priests found the situation so intolerable that they felt compelled to leave the denomination. About 400 priests joined the Roman Catholic Church even though many if not most were married. The exodus opened up hundreds of posts for female Anglican priests to fill.

There are no firm data about how many will leave when women are allowed to be consecrated as bishops. Estimates range from a very few to 1,000. Allowing female bishops would mean that some male priests would be under the authority of a woman. Male conservative clergy might find this so unacceptable that they might abandon the church in droves.

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Notes and references:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. We use the word "allegedly" because most theologians believe that the Titus and Timothy epistles were not written by St. Paul. Rather, they were composed by an unknown forger who wrote in Paul's name during the 2nd century CE, some 35 to 85 years after Paul's death. These writings thus reflect the developing biases of the early Christian church, rather than Jesus or Paul's teachings. Many theologians also believe that the passage 1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 which requires women to remain silent in church was inserted into the original writing by an unknown person at an unknown date. If it is not part of Paul's original writing, it cannot be considered authoritative.
  2. "Women bishops for the Church of England," WATCH, 2006-JUL-08. at: http://www.watchwomen.com/ **
  3. From the King James Version of the Bible.
  4. Women priests in the Church of Wales -- a separate Anglican province -- took a similar stand. As a result, a recent motion to allow the consecration of women bishops was defeated.
  5. Women priests say 'no' to women bishops at any price," Times Online, 2008-MAY-14, at: http://timescolumns.typepad.com/
  6. Ruth Gledhill, "Church of England votes to ordain women bishops," The Times, 2008-JUL-08, at: http://wwrn.org/
  7. Muriel Porter, "Accepting women bishops," Australian Broadcast Corp., 2008-JUL-10, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  8. "Synod votes in favour of women as bishops, with a Code of Practice," WATCH news, Accessed 2008-JUL-11, at: http://watchwomen.com/ This will be a temporary listing.
  9. "Statement from Vatican," Forward in Faith, 2008-JUL-08, at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/
  10. John Fulham, "A Message from the Chairman of Forward in Faith," 2008-JUL-09. at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/
  11. "Church of England plans male 'superbishops' for rebel clergy who refuse to be led by women," Daily Mail, 2008-JUL-06, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
  12. Hilary White, "Anglicans to Catholics: Ready or Not, Here we Come. Church of England General Synod to touch off an exodus by approving women bishops," Life Site News, 2008-JUL-07, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  13. Daniel Blake, "54 Anglican Clergy to Defect to Catholic Church in Pentecost Ordinations," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-04, at: http://www.christianpost.com/

** This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright © 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUN-15
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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