Women Bishops & The End of Anglo-Catholicism.

The Synod, where the Church of England continue to reject explicitly any jurisdiction of the Holy See over them, and move continually further away from the beliefs held by the whole of Christendom in an unbroken and immemorial tradition. Well done chaps.
There's an 'open letter' in the Independent today which purportedly puts the Biblical case for women bishops.

Of course as a Catholic, this does not, nor can it ever affect me. Pope John Paul II declared the question closed in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, stating:
"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance…I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." - John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, cf. Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 31.
This teaching on the restriction of ordination to men is nothing to do with misogyny. It is an historical reality that masculinity was integral to the person-hood of both Jesus and the men He called as Apostles. 

The Church has always understood that we are different but equal. Maleness and femaleness are two different ways of expressing common humanity (see CCC 355, 383, 369–72, 1605, 2333). Despite the common academic phrase "gender roles", which implies that the phenomenon of the sexes is a mere surface phenomenon or accident, the Roman Catholic Church has consistently taught that there is an ontological difference between humanity expressed as male humanity and humanity expressed as female humanity (see Gaudium et Spes 12,4)   While many functions are interchangeable between men and women, some are not, because maleness and femaleness are not interchangeable. Just as water is necessary for a valid baptism, and wheaten bread and grape wine are necessary for a valid Eucharist (not because of their superiority over other materials, but because they are what Jesus used or authorised), only men can be validly ordained, regardless of any issues of equality (see Mulieris Dignitatem 26-27).

Blessed Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, explained how the priesthood is a special role specially instituted by Christ when he chose twelve men out of his group of male and female followers. John Paul notes that Jesus chose the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13–14; Jn 6:70) after a night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Similarly, he notes how the Apostles themselves were demonstrably very careful in the choice of their successors. The priesthood is
"...specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7–8; 28:16–20; Mk 3:13–16; 16:14–15)."
Pope Paul VI, quoted by Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, wrote,
"[The Church] holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of  choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."
Concerning the "constant practice of the Church", in antiquity the Church Fathers Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all wrote that the ordination of women was impossible and the Council of Laodicea (363-364 A.D.) specifically prohibited ordaining women to the Presbyterate. In the period between the Reformation and the Second Vatican Council, mainstream theologians continued to oppose the ordination of women, appealing to a mixture of scripture, Church tradition and natural law.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued and published on May 29, 2008, in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, a decree signed by Cardinal William Levada, on the existing impossibility of women priests by asserting that women "priests" and the bishops who ordain them would be automatically excommunicated "lata sententia" (A latae sententiae penalty is one that follows ipso facto or automatically, by force of the law itself, when a law is contravened; a penalty that binds a guilty party only after it has been imposed on the person is known as a ferendae sententiae (meaning "sentence to be passed") penalty.)

Many argue that the reason it has become an issue for Anglicans is because of a difference in sacramental understanding of the nature of the blessed sacrament. This, surely constitutes a dreadful reality for believing Anglo-Catholics?

To be quite clear, I think if you are prepared to break with Tradition and Scripture to the extent where you are happy with a women "priests", surely you must have women bishops? I mean why ever not?

The problem for Anglicans is ever authority. Who decides whether women bishops are allowed and whether or not they can change something that has been the same since Jesus' time? The answer I hear back is that the authority is the Bible.

It appears, quite seriously, that the whole argument is based on one line from St. Paul's apoplectic letter to the Galatians, Chapter 3, verse 28:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
On the face of it, it looks promising, but the context reveals it isn't even remotely related to the topic it is being used as a proof text for. Paul is not talking about Orders in the Church. What about other places in "Paul" where he talks of women as subservient? One could equally quote Paul's Letter to Timothy, 2:12, as a counter text:
"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence."
To be completely honest, this verse seems much more appropriate and relevant to the actual subject at hand than the Galatians quote, which is speaking about something completely different! This is why Catholics don't use proof texts, but look to the sensus plenior in order to understand what is being taught by the Bible. We can all pick out specific bits from Scripture and quote them out of context to prove our point. Didn't the devil do this in Mt 4:1-11?

CCFather has written a really good post on this.

One of the best points he makes therein is that
"The likelihood of Christ being constrained by the customs of his time is less than the likelihood of our being misled by the sensibilities of our time."
As a friend pointed out, this is capable of application to a wide range of issues, not just this one. Many errors these days arise from the preconception - often unrealised and admitted - that God needs to adapt to our way of thinking rather than the other way round. And this is the crux. Where's your humility? Does it really matter that much? As Br. Stephen of the Norbetines put it today:
"if you want to believe what the Catholic Church teaches and live within its sacramental system and its communion of grace (and I hope - and know in most cases - that you do), the ONLY answer is to be reconciled to the Church of which your Baptism already destined you to be a part, by formerly entering into a state of communion with the Vicar of Christ. You cannot "be a Catholic" as a member of the Church of England, as Newman and countless other blessed examples have shown. Leave that institution of error and disunity and find the unity and truth you seek where they truly subsist. Yes, you need to want more than just a male bishop... but why be content with being sheep without a Shepherd? Why look for the living among the dead? That same Good Shepherd is calling you back into his flock, and he's got his eye on all those wolves that prowl outside of his sheepfold, and they're not getting in. "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam." Truth Himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true."
 As Damian Thompson states in his Telegraph blog today:
"What this boils down to is the effective disappearance of traditional Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England."


  1. and my response to that would be "HURRAH!". I have always regarded Anglo-Catholicism as an attempt to have your cake and eat it (call yourself Catholic and still stay where you started) and the arguments never convinced me. Whenever I read of some agreement with the Anglicans I always want to ask "WHICH Anglicans??". The view of the Eucharist in Anglo-Catholics is very near ours (minus, of course, the vital component of accepting the authority of the Church, which means their orders are invalid and rather scuppers any claims they make) that of the Evangelicals is that the Eucharist is a meeting to recall and be thankful for the sacrifice Christ made for our salvation (very much in the same way that on Rememberance Sunday we recall the sacrifice of those who died to defend our freedom). With the latter it is very much in the past. Neither is the priest "another Christ; because the authority and succession is not important and has not been preserved they are not connected over the centuries as ours are. An Anglican minister is primarily a minister of the word, especially for Evangelicals for whom the richness of the Sunday feast is determined by the quality of the sermon. Thus you will often be asked if you had a good service (which makes no sense if you've just come back from Mass!) and I'm not sure I've escaped the "Did he have a good message?" which was my mother's usual enquiry. I have a fond picture of Dad waiting by the pearly gates to greet my mother, with a look of mild astonishment and "You'll never guess what ..... Annie was right!"

  2. Thanks Ann Marie, some excellent points there I think!

  3. Thanks Mark for your post - absolutely spot on, especially with regards to picking and choosing certain bits of the Bible - something I've found atheists like to do a lot as well!

    For those of us who were brought up in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the CoE, it is very sad to see it dying, and although the vote today went 'our way', nobody has really won. The fact that we have Women 'Priests' does inevitably lead us to the reality of Women 'Bishops'. I cannot accept either, but others in the same Church as me have no problem with it. Where does that leave me, and others like me? Seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church in my case, but for others I know it is not so easy to let go.

    The biggest issue for the Anglo-Catholics is our belief that we have not moved away from the core beliefs of the CoE, they have moved away from us. By isolating ourselves from the reality of Women Priests, we have tried to maintain a corner of the CoE which could preserve the 'catholicism' of the Church. I know, I know, Apostolic Succession, authority etc ;-P But if you're brought up an Anglo-Catholic these things aren't thought about in the same way as in the Catholic Church!

    I'm rambling, but what it basically boils down to is this: when we had Women Priests it was obviously a huge blow to any likelihood of the future reconciliation of the CoE with the One Universal Church, but we could still cling on to the hope that things could be reversed. With Women Bishops that hope would be dashed because whatever 'Provision' we had would not be sufficient. Within a generation we would not know who was a 'validly ordained' (in A-C terms) Priest.

    The thing is that it's easy for Catholics to look at the Anglican Church and rejoice that those hypocritical Anglo-Catholics are finally having to put their money where their mouth is, or else admit they care more about their buildings than they do about their integrity... But really, it isn't that simple. The Church helped me a lot when I was a child, and I had a real attachment to both the building and the congregation. That feeling of being in a small resistance army binds people very tightly together.

    At the moment I attend Mass at my local Catholic Church, and when I visit my parents attend Mass at the Anglo-Catholic parish they frequent. I see the problems and contradictions of Anglo-Catholicism very clearly, and indeed the Catholic Church is starting to feel more home to me than the A-C Church in many ways. But walking away does feel like a betrayal, and I haven't even really started yet.

    Sorry for making this personal, but I think it's useful to see things from the A-C perspective as well!

    1. 'the Catholic Church is starting to feel more home to me than the A-C Church...'
      Be assured, that should you wish to explore reception into full communion with the Catholic Church that you will be warmly welcomed and receive a 'ministry of encouragement' from Catholic clergy. As an ex AC and now a Catholic priest, I can empathise.
      Betrayal, as you word it, is not how you should feel at all my friend.
      I could comment further but this evening should be a time of prayerful reflection for the Synod, also for ex Anglicans such as myself who remain good friends with some of those on both sides of the voting camp. God bless you in your discernment. Father Jeff.

    2. Hallo again, T the T!

      I think it is right and just (dignum et justum est) that you should feel loyalty to the CoE for all it has done for you in nurturing your faith, and I also recognise what you say about being in a small resistance army!

      However, if (when) you reach the Tiber and take the plunge, cold and uncomfortable though the passage may be, I dare bet that you will discover that you are coming home: that nearly all that you love in the CoE is also in the Roman Mother-Church - and I include in that the feeling of being in a small resistance army, at times!

      There is a long and distinguished line of your Catholic-minded predecessors who hung on in there with the CoE as long as their consciences allowed them, but eventually had to walk away. I can imagine that the walking away could feel like a betrayal, but in many ways it is the CoE that has walked away from you: just to stand where you stand is to be further and further from its centre.

      I am not promising you an easy life if you do join us - take up your cross and all that - but on the other hand, the yoke is easy and the burden light, when Our Lord walks with you. What I can promise you is the prayers and support of myself and many many others.

    3. Hello to both of you and thank you so much for your replies. It is a bit daunting at the moment and I just want to make sure that I'm not leaving the CoE merely as a protest, but because I genuinely believe that it's the right thing to do. Lots of reading and thinking and praying to do, none of which I've been in the habit of doing lately, so it's going to be a challenge! Thank you so much for your support.

      I don't want to derail the conversation about Mark's post too much so I will finish by saying that I liked the last quotation from Br. Stephen. I would say that one of the main things which sends people (back) to the Catholic Church is the feeling that whilst others compromise and fudge, the Catholic Church is unafraid to hold onto - and preach - the truth, no matter how unfashionable. Looking at the CoE tearing itself apart whilst trying to remake God in the image of a secular liberal, it is not exactly a demonstration of the unity which surely should go hand in hand with truth. Anglo-Catholicism might be dying, but I get the feeling that so too is the CoE more generally. Prayers for all concerned in the Synod today - there really was no good solution.

    4. One of the things that really struck me was that before the vote everyone involved seemed to be saying how much they'd prayed for the 'right outcome' and that the 'Holy Spirit would guide the Church'. The reaction doesn't display much faith in that result does it? Now they're all busily trying to find a way of over-turning it.

      I feel attached to the C of E, have many close and dear friends there, have been on joint pilgrimages etc in the days when unification seemed more imminent, but now I weep for it and them. Watching this debacle, I feel so happy to be Catholic.


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