Tuesday July 13, 2010

General Synod Gives Anglican Trads in England No Option on Female Bishops

By Peter J. Smith

YORK, England, July 13, 2010 ( – Despite the best efforts of the leading shepherds of the Church of England (CoE), hard-line liberals at this weekend’s General Synod in York refused to compromise on the issue of women bishops – a decision that may prove to be the straw that breaks the back of the CoE.

Desperate to avoid a schism that would rend the CoE asunder and send further shock waves through the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Archbishop John Sentamu of York proposed a measure at the synod that would have exempted traditional Anglicans from oversight by female bishops. However, after two hours of debate, the liberal faction of the General Synod defeated the amendment offered by the pair to the forthcoming draft document on women bishops.

The amendment fell short of the two-thirds majority required to pass, with 216 people voting in favor, 191 voting against, and nine abstaining.

The Guardian reports that while most of the laity and the bishops were in favor of the amendment, the majority of the clergy rejected it. Nearly 40% of the Anglican clergy are now women – 5,000 have been ordained since 1994 – giving them considerable influence in the direction of the CoE.

For the past five years, the Church of England has moved slowly toward legalizing the ordination of female bishops. The move has been heavily resisted by conservative groups within the Church, who say it violates orthodox Christian teaching established by Jesus Christ that only men can fulfill that office, serving as symbols of Christ the bridegroom, whose bride is the Church.

The open clash between the liberal and traditional factions of the Church of England is an unfolding nightmare for Archbishop Williams. With the dominant liberal faction in the CoE unwilling to yield, he faces the possibility of permanent schism in the mother church of the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Sentamu pleaded for unity, arguing that Anglicanism “has always been the middle way.”

“We must be magnanimous and meet people half-way,” he said. “The Church of England must cater for everyone.”

But repeated compromises – such as a moratorium on the ordination of homosexual bishops and proposals for a “dual magisterium” to keep both groups within the Church – have failed. No one latched onto the idea of a dual magisterium, and the moratorium has quickly died. The U.S. Episcopal Church cast the moratorium aside to elect Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, an open lesbian, as bishop of Los Angeles earlier this year. And the CoE seemed poised to violate the moratorium with the recent nomination of homosexual Dr. Jeffery John, who claims to live in a chaste civil union, to the bishopric of Southwark. Anglican conservatives, however, were successful in torpedoing his candidacy after word of it was leaked to the press about a week ago.

In the next step in the march toward women bishops, the draft document on the issue approved by the General Synod last week must be sent to all the dioceses in the CoE. Each diocesan synod must then vote on the document, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority. The document can only pass if a majority of dioceses approve it. Then the General Synod must vote on the final document in 2012, after which that final resolution must be submitted to Parliament for its approval. If it fails at any stage, then the process of women’s ordination to the episcopacy would have to start over.

But with the liberal faction inexorable in its commitment to the ordination of women bishops – as well as to homosexual bishops – traditional-minded Anglicans may have to look outside the CoE for leadership, or even to Rome, in order to save their Anglican identity.

The Daily Telegraph reports that 70 traditional Anglican clergy met on Saturday with a Catholic bishop to discuss the possibility of finding an Anglican home with Rome.

Last year, Benedict XVI offered Anglicans a personal ordinate, which would allow them to keep their Anglican customs and identity with some minor changes, within the Catholic Church. Both the Vatican and traditional Anglican leaders confirmed that the apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” was issued in response to repeated requests for such a provision by traditional Anglicans.

Anglicans who do not come to the conclusion that the Thames flows into the Tiber, will likely look to gain alternative oversight from other more traditional Anglican bishops. That may force some of them to seek episcopal oversight outside of England. One possibility is oversight from Anglican provinces in Africa, which is the mainstay of Anglican orthodoxy.

The Telegraph reports that Canon David Houlding, a prebendary at St. Paul’s cathedral, believes that 200 traditional-minded clergy and thousands of followers could leave what remains of the CoE if they lose this fight.

“People’s patience is running out and many will now be asking whether they should try and practice their Catholic faith in the Church of England,” Houlding said. ”The vote was a severe blow to the archbishop [Rowan Williams] and it has pushed us closer to the door.”


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