Game over for the traditionalists
C of E finally to get women bishops
IN 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England voted for women priests and two years later the first crop were ordained. But conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics engineered a delay of 21 years before today’s vote for female bishops.
Damian Thompson, writing for the Spectator, said he doubted that the traditionalists would be shocked by today’s decision. Some have even been arguing that, although they were still opposed to the measure on principle, another “no” vote would be a disaster for the Church.
And he asked:
How will Pope Francis react? Some Anglicans suspect that he’s secretly pleased: they see him as a fellow liberal who would be open to ordaining women if only John Paul II hadn’t declared it to be a theological impossibility. They’re wrong. Francis talks about expanding the “ministry” of women, but when he’s pressed on the subject he makes jokes about bossy priests’ housekeepers and Adam’s rib. There’s definitely a streak of old-fashioned Latin American misogyny in the Holy Father.
On the other hand, the Pope won’t lose any sleep over this, since he doesn’t believe that Catholics and Protestants should waste time debating irreconcilable doctrinal differences. His message to the C of E’s new women bishops will be: join me in spreading the Gospel.
Conservative Anglo-Catholics now face a simple choice: stay in an established Church that has reaffirmed its liberal Protestantism by this vote, or seek full communion with Rome, either as ordinary Catholics or as members of a self-governing Ordinariate that celebrates Mass in Cranmerian English.
I hope they move to Rome, but I can understand why many Anglo-Catholics – especially those in gay partnerships – will find it easier to stay put. I just wish they’d ditch the pretence of being Roman Catholics in all but name.
Last week I saw their leader, Bishop Jonathan Baker of Fulham, swanning down Notting Hill Gate in a bright pink Roman soutane. I bet Jorge Bergoglio never wore such a garment in the streets of Buenos Aires. And it did make me think that, these days, Anglo-Catholicism is mostly about dressing up.
The Independent reported scenes of jubilation as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, won an overwhelming majority for his package of measures designed to win over the support of traditionalists whilst staving off a crisis after Parliament threatened to intervene.
There were cheers from supporters in Central Hall at the University of York where the three Houses of the Synod – Bishops, Clergy and Laity – had been locked in a day of impassioned debate.
Backers of the measures – the most controversial since the ordination of women priests was passed by a single vote two decades ago – celebrated with champagne and looked forward to the prospect of the first female bishop being appointed within a matter of months.
Archbishop Welby had been prepared to drive through the change in the event of a repeat of the shock no vote from the House of Laity which blocked the move two years ago.
In the end it was not necessary after months of mediation between opposing factions delivered 95 per cent of the votes of bishops, 87 per cent of clergy and 77 per cent of the laity – far and above the two thirds needed to bring about the historic change.
The Archbishop told the Synod that the Church had been embroiled in the “darkness of disagreement” and set on a “tortuous path” as it battled over the issue.
He warned that the future would be “hard work” and that Anglicans faced a “long period of culture change” ahead of them. Holding out an olive branch to opponents he said:
You don’t chuck out family or even make it difficult for them to be at home. You love them and seek their wellbeing even when you disagree.
There was immediate political support for the vote which was welcomed by all three party leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron, a practising Christian, described the news as a “great day for the Church and for equality”. Nick Clegg said it was a “watershed moment”.
Rebecca Swinson, the youngest member of the Archbishop’s Council, said the vote paved the way for young women to take a full role in Church life.
I’m really, really pleased. This is the start of something that is really great. I felt very angry last time but today we have managed to put some of that behind us.
Sufficient numbers of the house of Laity – which had blocked the measure last time by six votes – accepted the five ”guiding principles” thrashed in the last 18 months providing safeguards to allow the conservative minority to remain within the church.
The debate continued precariously close to the deadline as 85 Synod members sought to speak.
In an at times emotionally charged atmosphere liberals and traditionalists did their best to follow Archbishop Welby’s determination that should “disagree well”.
The deep scars of the decades-long debate were visible with gloomy warnings of long term schism and growing irrelevancy from opposing sides.
Prudence Dailey, a member of the House of Laity from Oxford who abstained said it had been “hard to forget the amount of bile, vitriol and disapprobation heaped upon the heads of us who voted against” in the defeated measure of 2012.
Samuel Margrave of Coventry said people have been “bullied” and suffered “abuse” after voting no. He claimed that the motion would mean:
The end of the Church as we know it.
The top photo was taken at an Anglican bash held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first ordinations of women priests.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn