By Hilary White
YORK, England, July 7, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “There can be no future for Christianity in Europe without Rome,” an Anglican bishop told the Sunday Telegraph this weekend, after it was revealed that a group of “senior” bishops from the Church of England has been in secret negotiations with the highest levels of the Vatican to discuss the current crisis in Anglicanism over the acceptance of homosexuality and female bishops. Bishops from both the Church of England’s “evangelical” or protestant and “high” or “Catholic” wings are said to have been involved in the talks that some believe may presage a mass return of Anglicans to the Catholic fold.
Meanwhile, the news has just been released that the General Synod of the Church of England voted tonight to accept the consecration of women as bishops, a move that is likely to result in the exodus of a large number of clergy and a permanent split in the Church that is the officially established religion under British law. The ongoing dissolution of the Church of England, of which Queen Elizabeth is the head, may result in significant constitutional and legal changes to the make-up of Britain. Some fear that it may result in Britain becoming officially a secular nation.
The news comes just days before the start of the Lambeth Conference, the once-in-ten-years gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world set for July 16 to August 4. This year’s conference is being boycotted by many bishops over support by the liberalised western Anglican leadership for acceptance of homosexuality. Thus far, five out of the total of 38 Anglican primates and a large number of territorial bishops have said they will not attend. An alternate conference of traditionally Christian Anglican bishops and laity met in June in Jerusalem to discuss ways forward.
Some at the General Synod had suggested the creation of “super bishops” in an extra-geographical diocese who would have jurisdiction over those members of the Church who refuse to accept female bishops. It is not known now whether this arrangement will be honoured. Anglican officials are expected to draw up legislation to bring in women bishops by 2014 at the earliest, Ruth Gledhill reports in the Times.
In anticipation of the move to consecrate female bishops, 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.
While women have been raised to the Anglican episcopate in the US, the Church of England has only ordained female diocesan clergy. 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.
Gledhill 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.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while favouring some accommodation towards the traditionalists, said, “I am deeply unhappy with schemes or solutions which involve the structural humiliation of women, who are elected to the episcopate and end up haggling about the limits to their authority.”
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 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 liberalised 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.
Damien Thompson, a ‘blogger for the Telegraph and editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, wrote, “The Pope’s closest advisers are not in a mood to allow the bishops the same freedom this time. They are already cross at the poor English response to the Motu Proprio liberating the Latin liturgy – and have conveyed their displeasure to the relevant bishops in no uncertain terms.”
“The Anglican traditionalists know that they cannot trust a Catholic bishop not to shop them to Rowan Williams. So the liberal RC hierarchy has been – quite properly – kept in the dark.”