More than 1,300 clergy, including 11 serving bishops, have written to the archbishops of Canterbury and York to say that they will defect from the Church of England if women are consecrated bishops.
As the wider Anglican Communion fragments over homosexuality, England’s established Church is moving towards its own crisis with a crucial vote on women bishops this weekend.
In a letter to Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, seen by The Times, the signatories give warning that they will consider leaving the Church if two crucial votes are passed to introduce female bishops.
When women were admitted to the priesthood almost 20 years ago Rome suggested to the English bishops the introduction here of an Anglican Rite: the use of Anglican liturgical forms, suitably amended to reflect Catholic theology, married clergy, a slightly modified form of Canon Law. Cardinal Hume, though he spoke, maybe unguardedly, about the reconversion of England rejected the idea, presumably on the advice of the then Catholic chair of ARCIC Bishop Murphy O'Connor. The reasons at the time were
- Most Anglican clergy who would seek communion with the Holy See were already using the Roman Rite.
- There was a need for proper theological formation of convert clergy.
- A separate Anglican Rite would create confusion in the minds ordinary Catholics.
- A separate Rite would be seriously divisive in the Church in England
- Married clergy couldbe admitted to the priest by another pastoral provision.
I am sure that underneath this thinking there was a concern to monitor closely those clergy who would convert, to weed those of "doubtful moral life" and the misogynistic. The problem was that congregations tended to stay in the C of E and conversions were mainly clerical. I am sure that some bishops at the time were more than a little fearful of the damage that might be done to Ecumenical dialogue and possibly some were terrified of radically orthodox converts.
Things have moved on, Paul VI's understanding of England as "special ecumenical territory" is no more, or at least has changed beyond recognition. Cardinal Kaspar has been invited to speak at the next Lambeth Conference he says it is time for the Anglican Communion to decide if it is catholic or protestant, apostolic or liberal.
I am sure that there are not 1300 Anglican clergy who will be knocking on the Cardinals. Many of these 1300 will find their way into Protestant Charismatic churches or unite themselves outide of the C of E to foreign Anglican bishops. However, now must be the time for the bishops of England and Wales to ensure that generous provision is made Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. They have to make known their plan. They have to learn from the mistakes made two decades ago and they have to think of the needs of lay Anglicans as well. The model of the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost, might not be a bad one.
The other model is Pope Benedict going in search of the Orthodox, the FSSPX and those attached to the traditional liturgical. My big anxiety is, some, at least, of our bishops have shown themselves unable to grasp the generosity of Benedictine pluralism and principle of subsidiarity that is so much part of it.
Above all they have to think about the sign that is given Anglicans here, in its homeland, because the sign given here is sign to Anglicans throughout the world.