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Friday, 9 November 2012

Where do we go from here?

After lengthy speculation, Downing Street has confirmed that Justin Welby is to be the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. God help him, he will need our prayers. FiF has welcomed the appointment which is encouraging but on the downside his appointment has also been welcomed by Christina Rees, ex-Chair of WATCH, which does not bode well since he will be expected to be malleable to their will. Watching his press conference at Lambeth Palace he gave the impression of being his own man with a strong sense of conviction but stressed the need to listen attentively with regard to LGTB issues suggesting a possible about face on the question of same sex unions. He also urged the General Synod to vote in favour of legislation allowing women to become bishops. While he spoke positively about those who took a different conscientious view, as with the bishops who have taken part in the Enough Waiting campaign, there was no suggestion of further compromise. 

Chosen to represent the Anglican Communion on the Crown Nominations Commission was the Archbishop of the neighbouring miniscule Province of Wales. Rightly or wrongly the delayed announcement had the stamp of Dr Morgan all over it. Stubborn in the extreme and not given to compromise, Dr Morgan is well know for his leanings towards secularised religion so he will be well pleased that Bishop Welby has been commented on mainly for his secular achievements rather than for his spirituality plus the fact that he is a strong supporter of the ordination of women as bishops. With characteristic insight the Rev Dr Peter Mullen provides a useful pen-picture of the new Archbishop here including the observation the Bishop Welby holds his views on women bishops "as a result of careful study of the scriptures and examination of the tradition" to which Dr Mullins rightly responds: "Well, that’s nice to know. But where does it leave those of us who examine scriptures and inhabit a tradition but come to conclusions at odds with those of Bishop Justin? For example, my examination of scripture reveals that it does not contain even so much as one solitary example of a woman bishop or, if it comes to that, a single woman priest."

What is clear is that to get on in the church today one has to be a supporter of the ordination of women - note the quick exit from the selection procedure of the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres. Bishop Welby says he wants provision for 'traditionalists' but what can that amount to when any so called concession is regarded by WATCH as demeaning to women. In a briefing booklet Women Bishops Legislation - Not Fit For Purpose, members of the Conservative Evangelical and Catholic groupings in the General Synod commend the proposal put before the Church in Wales:

 "We could look to the Church in Wales for an example to follow; having
rejected previous unsatisfactory legislation for women bishops, they are now
looking at a new process with two related pieces of church legislation, one to
provide for women bishops, and the other to provide for traditionalists (the
former cannot come into force until the latter has been agreed). This
approach has the potential to provide more equally for both those who
support women bishops and for those who do not."

It is dangerous to read too much into this proposal. It results from Dr Morgan's intransigence in refusing to appoint a new Provincial Assistant Bishop (PAB) to replace the Rt Rev David Thomas following his retirement. It is widely thought that the Governing Body of the Church in Wales voted against the ordination of women to the episcopate in Wales because of the Archbishop's refusal to re-appoint a PAB, a posture he maintained while bringing forward this cunning scheme. These are the two-stage proposals:

 1. The first Bill would deal with the following matters of principle:

Women may be ordained as bishops in the Church in Wales.

There will be a scheme of pastoral provision, to be approved by the Governing Body by means of a second Bill, making provision for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of a woman bishop. 

If this first Bill were to be passed and become a Canon, it would not come into force until such a second Bill is approved by the Governing Body and becomes a Canon.

    2. The second Bill would refer to the Canon enabling women to be ordained as bishops. We have purposely suggested that the scheme of pastoral provision be included – presumably as a schedule – in a second Bill in order to give as much confidence as possible to those for whom it provides that their genuinely held views are being taken seriously and that the church is being faithful to its declared intent in 1996. 

It is suggested that the two Canons would come into force on the same day.

Despite the apparent good intentions, since 'traditionalists' in Wales have already been denied pastoral provision based on their own spiritual needs, any new scheme will be based on what the Archbishop decides, not too unlike the position now facing the Church of England except that pastoral care continues to be provided by the Provincial Episcopal Visitors, but for how long once women bishops are approved? 

The minimal provision before the Church of England Synod looks generous when compared with anything that might be expected by 'traditionalists' in the Church in Wales. They have no alternative but to accept or reject the pastoral care offered by the Bench of Bishops all of whom hold contrary beliefs. Under the Archbishop's new plan the issue becomes one of sex rather than integrity. If the diocesan bishop is a woman, a male colleague from the Bench may be requested but since neither would be of the required integrity the procedure is pointless. In the longer term, as the church becomes increasingly feminised and the number of bishops is reduced under proposals detailed in the Church in Wales Review there may, in the future, be only female bishops on the Bench. In the meantime Dr Morgan and the other bishops will be hoping that resistance will die out. It has not so far, nor will it.

The people of Wales should demonstrate that they are not as gullible as implied in the proposals and reject the ruse as another cynical attempt to deny 'traditionalists' what they were promised when women were admitted to the priesthood. Likewise in England, the measure before Synod has become one of integrity and should be rejected.

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