The following paper was presented by Dr. William Tighe at the 2011 Anglican Use Conference, which took place at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Arlington, Texas.
The Genesis of Anglicanorum Coetibus
The title which is given to my presentation in the conference program, “The History of the Movement,” is very convenient for my purposes, since it gives so very little away and allows me under its rubric to speak about almost whatever I please. In fact, what I will be (mostly) speaking about is the background and origins of Anglicanorum Coetibus (AC), its genesis in other words. And here I must make a disclaimer: a good deal of what I shall say involves speculation, informed speculation to be sure, but if a skeptic should dismiss it, or parts of it, as “guesswork” I would be hard-pressed to rebut him — but one reason for this is that some of the information on which I shall build my conclusions has reached me over the years with injunctions of confidentiality about its sources. Also, as much due to considerations of length and the avoidance of excessive complexity, as for any other reasons, I shall not discuss, except passingly, events subsequent to the appearance of AC in October/November 2009, and the thorny and contentious issues connected with its implementation.
How far back should such an account go? Should one treat the various phases and reports of the ARCIC process from 1970 (or 1967, if one includes the preliminaries) onwards, and the high expectations of an imminent “sacramental reconciliation” between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church that accompanied this process until well into the 1980s, or even later? I think not, except to note that for a brief time there seems to have been a real possibility that Rome would reconsider its 1896 condemnation of Anglican Orders in the bull Apostolicae Curae, a possibility dashed by the Anglicans’ acceptance of the pretended ordination of women. Should one discuss in detail the insistence on the part of the Roman authorities from 1973 onwards that the pretended ordination of women to the priesthood (and, later, episcopate) would form an insuperable obstacle to the realization of this goal? Not really, save to note two or three important aspects of this matter: first, that this “Roman caution” was for a long time expressed, however definitely, in a very low-key manner; secondly, that down at least to the end of the second phase of the ARCIC process around 2007 both the Anglicans and Catholics involved in the process seem to have colluded (at least corporately) in avoiding any discussion of the question of the pretended ordination of women itself or of its bearing on the ARCIC process, despite the fact that from the time of the end of the first round of that process in 1981 it appears to have been realized, and desired from the “Roman” side at least, that the issue would need to be addressed (even though ARCIC has never to this day addressed itself to the issue); and, thirdly, and (for my subject most importantly) that in its ecumenical dealings with the Anglican Communion Rome always regarded the Church of England as the “bellwether” Anglican church, that is, the one whose actions in Rome’s eyes represented the Anglican Communion as a whole. Thus, as regards the pretended ordination of women, while Rome stated as early as 1973 that the acceptance of this innovation would make the hopes with which the ARCIC process began incapable of realization, the fact that women were purportedly ordained to the priesthood by the Anglican Diocese of Hong Kong in 1971, the Anglican churches of Canada and New Zealand in 1976, the Episcopal Church in 1977 (after earlier uncanonical ordinations in 1974 and 1975), and so forth, and even the first purported consecration of a woman as an Anglican bishop in 1989 in the Episcopal Church, seems to have left Rome “unfazed;” and even though Rome sought for the English bishops to make a “wide and generous response” to those Anglicans, especially clergymen, who would seek admission to, and frequently ordination in, the Catholic Church after the Church of England General Synod’s rather unexpected approval of the measure opening its priesthood to women in 1992, it seemed at first at least half inclined to believe that the ARCIC process could continue with “business as usual.”
It was only in July 2006, almost three years after the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a pseudogamously partnered man as Bishop of New Hampshire that Walter, Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), the Vatican’s “ecumenical office,” delivered an urgent address to the House of Bishops of the Church of England imploring them to proceed no further with measures allowing for the appointment of woman bishops, as such a measure would render impossible the realization of previous Anglican and Catholic ecumenical aspirations. (I shall return to this episode further on in this presentation.) Cardinal Kasper had a reputation, perhaps not undeserved, for being interested primarily in cultivating ecumenical relations with representatives of the historic Protestant churches, such as those that made up the Lutheran World Federation or the Anglican Communion, to give two examples, and rather less with conservative or dissident groups stemming from those traditions, and reacting to their perceived liberalism, such as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, or the various “jurisdictions” that make up “Continuing Anglicanism,” and this address to the Church of England’s bishops was almost the “last hurrah” of this type of Catholic ecumenism. Almost — for there was to be a last farewell to it at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
All this said, the remainder of my presentation shall tell “three stories:” the story of the Traditional Anglican Communion’s approaches to Rome; the story of England’s Forward-in-Faith organization and its dealings, or the dealings of some of its member bishops and clergy, with Rome; and, finally, and perhaps most significantly, the almost completely unpublicized story of the secret discussions between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome and some English Anglican bishops in 2008 and 2009.
The Traditional Anglican Communion
This first story concerns the approaches that those particular Continuing Anglican churches that make up the “Traditional Anglican Communion” (TAC) made to Rome over the course of roughly fifteen years, and which culminated with its Portsmouth Synod in October 2007, at which the bishops of that communion solemnly endorsed the Catechism of the Catholic Church and that catechism’s Compendium and ended by petitioning Rome for full corporate reunion, a petition that was conveyed to Rome immediately afterwards by some of the TAC’s bishops and presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Let us therefore review some history. The idea for organizing a “Traditional Anglican Communion,” and its provisional formation, dates back to February 3, 1989; its formal organization to a meeting of its bishops in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on September 29, 1990. Archbishop Louis Falk, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in America (ACA) — originally known as the “Anglican Catholic Church” but altered after its union in 1991 with the “American Episcopal Church;” a group of bishops opposing this union and the conditional reconsecrations of its bishops at Deerfield Beach, Florida, subsequently took for themselves the name “Anglican Catholic Church” — from 1983 to 2005 and again from 2008 to 2010, was the TAC’s first primate from 1990 to 2002, when he was succeeded by its current primate, Archbishop John Hepworth, who had become an assistant bishop in the Anglican Catholic Church of Australia in 1996, and its diocesan bishop in 1998. Beginning around 1993 or 1994 Archbishop Falk, acting on behalf of the TAC, made overtures to Rome for contacts and discussions; these were directed to the PCPCU, which then had as its President, from December 1989 to March 2001, the Australian Edward, Cardinal Cassidy. It was the “second-in-command” at the PCPCU, its Secretary from April 1983 to March 1999, the Frenchman the late Bishop Pierre Duprey (d. 2007), however, who was the person principally responsible for conducting these discussions on the Catholic side. (Duprey was succeeded at his retirement as Secretary by the German bishop Walter Kasper, who two years later, upon the retirement of Cardinal Cassidy, was himself elevated to the cardinalate and became President of the PCPCU, serving in that position from March 2001 until his retirement in July 2010.)
Archbishop Falk’s letter to the PCPCU in 1994 was followed by a series of contacts and conversations. On May 6, 1994, Archbishop Falk together with Bishops Crawley and Clavier of the TAC, together the then Frs. John Hepworth, Louis Campese and Wellborn Hudson (all of whom subsequently became bishops in the TAC; Bishops Hudson and Crawley are now retired) met with Bishop Duprey for their initial meeting (online accounts dating this meeting to 1991 are mistaken). Cardinal Cassidy was not present at this meeting and, I have been informed, at any subsequent ones. In any case, my impressions, gleaned over the years form conversations with persons informed about these matters, is that these early conversations were pleasant but not particularly substantial. The PCPCU under both Cassidy and Kasper seems to have been disinclined, to put it mildly, to risk the friendly and agreeable relations that it forged with “Canterbury Communion Anglicans,” as well as groups such as main-line Lutheran World Federation member churches, by dealing substantively with bodies that it may have seen as “splinter groups” from these denominational families. (I mention the Lutherans because there is a story to be told about how in the mid-1990s, about the time of the millennium of Christianity in Norway in 1995, when Cardinal Cassidy was the Catholic Church‘s representative at its celebration in Norway, a group of “Catholic-minded” Church of Norway Lutherans, many of whom in 1999 left the State Church there and formed the “Nordic Catholic Church,” a body now in sacramental fellowship with the Polish National Catholic Church of the USA and Canada, were repeatedly spurned when they made approaches both to the Catholic Church in Norway and to the PCPCU to alert it to the triumph of forces favoring the acceptance of homosexual partnerships in that body and the ordination of persons living in such partnerships.) While these conversations never came to a formal end during Cardinal Cassidy’s tenure of his position a the PCPCU, they seem to have gone nowhere.
The conversations resumed after Cardinal Kasper took the helm, although only after a dramatic behind-the-scenes intervention on the part of Francis, Cardinal Arinze. In Holy Week of 2001, Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1984 to 2002, and subsequently Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments until his retirement in 2008, was giving a retreat for a congregation of nuns in the vicinity of Tuscon, Arizona, and a local retired marine colonel, Jim Horn, one-time President of the House of Laity of the ACA, but by then a “revert” to the Catholicism of his youth, together with a local Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Lombardo, arranged for the Archbishop Falk and the cardinal to meet. In fact, they spent much of Good Friday 2001 together, and after that meeting the cardinal wrote a report for the PCPCU in Rome strongly supportive of the TAC and its desire for talks with Rome aimed at reunion. However, two years passed without a response from the PCPCU, and in the end the cardinal intervened behind the scenes to overcome the reluctance of some staff members of that body to deal with the TAC, as well as to bring the matter to the late pope’s personal attention; there may have been an unanticipated early retirement or two at the PCPCU in connection with this affair. In that same year, 2003, the pope transferred the responsibility for conducting discussions with the TAC from the PCPCU to the CDF, then headed by Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, but with the stipulation that the PCPCU be kept informed about the progress of the conversations.
Things then picked up speed. There were various meetings in Rome, usually involving Archbishop Hepworth and other TAC bishops, with, initially, Cardinal Law (then Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Anglican Use parishes in the United States) and, subsequently, clerics connected with the CDF: in October 2003, when Archbishop Rigali of Philadelphia was elevated to the cardinalate; in April 2005, just after the death of Pope John Paul II and before the election of his successor; and perhaps others unknown to me. When the TAC Synod of Bishops, meeting in Portsmouth, England, from October 1 to 5, 2007, all signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of that catechism and a petition to Rome for the reunion of the TAC with the Catholic Church, and a delegation of three TAC bishops, Archbishop Hepworth and Bishops Mercer and Wilkinson, presented the petition to the CDF on October 9, 2007, one may argue that the process was set in motion that resulted in AC two years later. Cardinal Levada himself wrote warmly acknowledging the TAC bishops’ petition on July 5, 2008, and after the publication of AC he wrote again on December 16, 2009 to all the TAC bishops who had signed the petition confirming that AC was the response to it. “This provision,” the cardinal wrote, referring to Anglicanorum Coetibus, “constitutes the definitive response of the Holy See not only to your original request, but also to the many others of a similar nature which have been submitted over the last years” — phrasing which refutes the nonsensical arguments advanced by the three American ACA bishops who have decided to ignore, if not reject, the offer made in AC, despite two of these three bishops having signed the documents the TAC bishops carried to Rome after the Portsmouth Synod, that AC is not a specific response to their petition. (One of these three “refusenik” bishops signed the documents a the Portsmouth Synod, another a few weeks later at his Episcopal consecration.) Take note also of the phrase in the cardinal’s letter, “many others of a similar nature which have been submitted over the last years.” Finally, it may be worth mentioning in passing that low-key but high-level contacts seem to have been maintained between the TAC and the CDF over the two years between October 2007 and October 2009, and these may have had some influence on the shaping of particular provisions of AC.
Forward-in-Faith/UK (FIF or FIF/UK)
The second story we need to tell concerns the dealings of the Forward-in-Faith/UK organization with Rome. Forward-in-Faith (which in the late 1990s gained two sister or step-sister organizations, Forward-in-Faith/Australia, or FIF/OZ, and Forward-in-Faith/North America, or FIF/NA, the former “Episcopal Synod of America” and before that name-change in 1991, the “Evangelical and Catholic Mission,” formed by opponents of the Episcopal Church’s approval of the pretended ordination of women in 1977) emerged in 1993, in the aftermath of the Church of England’s General Synod vote on November 11, 1992 to approve a measure to allow women purportedly to be ordained to the priesthood. Both proponents and opponents expected the measure to fail to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority in the House of Laity of that synod, but in the event it passed by three votes thanks to a number of “Evangelical” members of that house changing their votes as a result of the emotional rhetoric of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the “Evangelical” George Carey, pleading for its passage — such are the fruits of “church democracy.” In the face of fears that the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament — a
committee with membership drawn from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons which must declare any legislation concerning the Church of England to be “expedient” before it can be debated and voted on by the two parliamentary houses — might declare the measure “inexpedient,” the General Synod enacted in 1993 the so-called “Act of Synod” which provided guarantees for clergy and parishes declaring their opposition to receiving the ministrations of female clergy and of bishops purporting to ordain such clergy, and also set up a system of Provincial Episcopal Visitors, popularly known as “flying bishops,” to minister to such clergy and parishes. (These bishops were given the titles of defunct English Episcopal sees from pre-1066 Anglo-Saxon England, Beverley for the PEV in the Province of York in the north, and Ebbsfleet and Richborough in the Province of Canterbury in the south; in addition, the Bishop of London later, in 1995, made one of his suffragan or assistant bishops, the Bishop of Fulham, from 1996 John Broadhurst, the equivalent of a “flying bishop” for the London diocese.) By the time that the first women were purportedly ordained to the priesthood in March 1994, FIF was up and running, as were the provisions of the Act of Synod. In the light of the events of recent years connected with the debate over a measure to open the episcopate of the Church of England to women, and which would abolish the provisions of the Act of Synod, it is worth noting that both Archbishop Carey of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, John Habgood, stated a the time that the intention of the Church of England in enacting the Act of Synod was that its provisions should remain in force “indefinitely” or “as long as needed,” whereas in fact it now seems doubtful that it will last more than one or two more years before being repealed as part of the measure allowing for woman bishops.
FIF was cautious in its dealings with Rome in its first decade or more, for its membership was, after all, committed to staying in the Church of England for the time being, so long as it was possible for what was termed “the orthodox integrity” to exist within the Church of England in a manner compatible with the “Catholic principles” embraced by the great preponderance of its membership. There were some low-key contacts, nevertheless, especially Bishop Broadhurst’s visit to Rome in 1997, but it was not until the General Synod decided in July 2005 to begin the process of preparing legislation to allow for woman bishops that it began to be appear that those Anglicans of a Catholic mind in the Church of England might not have a long-term future there. Between April and July 2008, a period in which the drafting group for the legislation produced its report, the House of Bishops of the Church of England commented on the various options available for the form and specific provisions of the legislation, and the General Synod voted on July 7 of that year for safeguards falling short of the minimum required to guarantee the position of those of “the orthodox integrity,” dramatic events occurred. In late April 2008 – I do not have the exact dates – the then Bishop of Ebbsfleet, now Msgr. Andrew Burnham, was to visit Rome. Before his trip he succeeded in arranging to visit both the PCPCU and the CDF for conversations, and, once that door had been opened, he was joined by the then Bishop of Richborough, nor Msgr. Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the English Ordinariat, happily with us at this meeting. I know nothing about the substance of these conversations, but they brought home to the Vatican that there was a definite English Anglican constituency that would be likely to respond affirmatively to a generous initiative on Rome’s part.
The “larger picture” of Anglican/Catholic relations at this time gave further impetus to such debates as may have been taking place in Rome about how to deal with the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, and distressed “Catholic-minded” Anglican groups. As far back as June 5, 2006 Cardinal Kasper of the PCPCU had addressed the House of Bishops of the Church of England requesting, almost pleading, with them not to proceed further with legislation to allow for woman bishops, and indicating as well that their decision on this matter would be taken by Rome as a token of whether the Church of England considered itself to be, in whatever sense, a “Catholic church” or, on the contrary, a “church of the Reformation.” But on 8 and 10 July of that year the English General Synod voted to proceed with the proposed legislation, and on the 21st there was released to the public a response that two Church of England bishops, the moderate, if theologically eccentric, Evangelical Tom Wright of Durham (now retired) and the liberal “Affirming Catholic” David Stancliffe of Salisbury (also now retired) — we may recall here Archdeacon George Austin’s quip about what were the distinctive beliefs of Affirming Catholics, “girls on the altar, boys in bed and ’Mother’ on the Throne of God” — which attempted politely to demur at Cardinal Kasper’s request, and to rebut his arguments; in effect, they answered tacitly Cardinal Kasper’s larger question by affirming that the Church of England is, should be, and always will be a “merely Protestant” church, even if one which merited the rather supercilious 19th Century English Roman Catholic phrase about Anglicanism as “decorated Protestantism.” In the Fall of 2008 there took place the decennial Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. Rome appears to have thought that the issue of woman bishops would loom large on the conference’s agenda, although in fact it had been dealt with — that is to say, evaded (“decision by evasion” may well be the distinctive Liberal Anglican contribution to Modernist Christianity) — at the 1998 conference, and in 2008 there was no will to revisit the issue, and so sent a high-powered delegation to it. The Indian Ivan, Cardinal Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from May 2006 to May 2011, gave a discourse on the “missionary mandate” of Christianity, in the course of which he uttered phrases which appeared to insinuate that churches of the Anglican Communion were risking a “spiritual Alzheimer’s” disease and “ecclesial Parkinson’s” disease, while Cardinal Kasper, speaking in a more forthright manner than ever before, harshly criticized the Anglican Communion for its actions in regard to woman’s ordination and especially woman bishops (and also, although rather more obliquely, on homosexuality), ending by stating that “the ordination of women to the episcopate effectively and definitively blocks a possible recognition of Anglican Orders by the Catholic Church.”
At some point in the last months of 2008 an encounter between a Church of England priest under the episcopal oversight of the then Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, with Christoph, Cardinal Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, led to remarkable results. I have heard various and contradictory details of where this happened and how it happened, but it appears that as a result of that meeting Cardinal Schoenborn conceived an interest in the position and plight of the Catholic-minded “orthodox opposition” within the Church of England, and expressed an interest in making the acquaintance of Bishop Broadhurst. Bishop Broadhurst took up the matter with the Council (governing body) of FIF/UK, and the end result was that Cardinal Schoenborn invited four clerical members of FIF/UK to Vienna for two days of conversation in January 2009. These Anglicans were John Broadhurst, then Bishop of Fulham, Keith Newton, then Bishop of Richborough, Geoffrey Kirk, then, as now, Vicar of Lewisham, Kent, and then also Secretary of FIF/UK, and Joanthan Baker, then Principal of Pusey House, Oxford, and now himself Secretary of FIF/UK as well as the newly-consecrated Bishop of Ebbsfleet. Joachim, Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, was to have been present as well, but had to cancel a the last moment. The conversations are said to have been far-ranging and thorough, and to have given the Catholic side a good understanding of the unique features of English Anglo-Catholicism. After the meeting, Cardinal Schoenborn flew off to Rome, among other purposes to report on it to the pope (who all along, since before being elevated to the apostolic throne, and down to the present, has taken a sustained personal interest in these Anglican matters). Rather unlike the situation of the TAC, though, it appears that FIF/UK had no ongoing “input” into the process that eventuated in AC. One may contrast the TAC’s “making overtures” to Rome with FIF/UK’s “seeking contacts” with Rome in these years.
The Third Group, or “the Dog that Did not Bark”
At this point, when I first began to prepare this presentation, I feared that I would have to make an attempt at adjudicating the relative importance of the Roman dealings of the TAC, on the one hand, and of FIF/UK, on the other. However, I can avoid this thankless, and potentially offensive, task by telling instead a third Anglo-Roman story, one which has gone almost completely unnoticed by the media, due most likely to its lack of success, or seeming lack of any concrete results, but which may have been more influential in hastening – hastening by Vatican standards, at least – the production of AC, as well as accounting for some of its features. I am referring to an approach to Rome by a number of Church of England diocesan bishops in early 2008, an approach which resulted in eighteen months of clandestine meetings and conversations, and which seemingly led some Roman authorities to believe that two or three Church of England bishops would accept the offer proffered to them (and others) in AC. Since this third story has received almost no publicity, and one may even wonder (in the light of what will follow) whether elements of the British media have deliberately avoided publicizing it, I have prepared two documents for distribution, documents to which I have given the respective titles of “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit B.”
“Exhibit A” consists of two paragraphs from the address, “Five Hundred Years after St. John Fisher: Benedict’s Ecumenical Initiatives to Anglicans” that Cardinal Levada delivered at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada on March 6, 2010. An official text of this address has never been made public, but an unofficial transcript can be found online at this web address.
It is portions of paragraphs 13 and 21 of that address that are of peculiar interest in the context of the subject of this paper. The paragraphs state:
A more general analysis of the work of ARCIC II goes beyond the scope of this talk, not to mention the time available. But there’s one statement, “Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church”, that addresses the question of homosexuality, which, in the past decade, has become another church-dividing issue in the Anglican Communion and potentially between the two Communions, and thus also touches our topic, since it motivated the need seen by some Anglicans to request the possibility of corporate union with the Catholic Church, to which Anglicanorum coetibus is a response.
As we met with Anglican consultants in the preparation of Anglicanorum coetibus, these bishops and theologians themselves proposed the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the norm of faith for the corporate groups of Anglicans who might avail themselves this new instrument for full corporate union with the Catholic Church. Thus, I would also characterize the Catechism as an ecumenical initiative of Pope Benedict XVI and of his predecessor.
I have bolded the portions of each paragraph to which I wish to draw your attention.
In paragraph 13 Cardinal Levada tells us that it was “the question of homosexuality” that “motivated … some Anglicans” to request “corporate union” with the Catholic Church and that (as we are left to infer) it was the approach of these particular Anglicans that brought the process of producing AC to a position of high priority, while in paragraph 21 he tells us that in the process of preparing AC there were consultations between the CDF and Anglican “bishops and theologians.”
Now this is curious information. What “constituency” would have been motivated by “the question of homosexuality?” Not the TAC, since this “question” was not, and never had been an issue for them, and had nothing whatsoever to do with their petition to the Holy See; and not FIF/UK either, since that “question” was not a factor in their origins (and indeed when FIF/UK declared some years after the organization’s foundation their corporate adhesion to the traditional and magisterial Catholic teaching on the subject of homosexual practice it met with some dislike from certain of its individual members and sympathizers) and not an issue on which they have been particularly energetic in their advocacy of Catholic Truth. And what “constituency” could have engaged in an ongoing “consultation”involving “bishops and theologians” during the genesis of AC between, say, October 2007 and October 2009? Again, not TAC, since the contacts between it and the CDF in that period, contacts which may have involved no more than two individuals from either side, were kept very low-key indeed; and not FIF/UK either, since more than one person in the best positions to be informed about these matters have told me that there were no consultations involving FIF/UK and the CDF in this period, beyond the meetings in April 2008 and January 2009, which in any case hardly merit the description of “consultations.” At this point I wish to draw your attention to “Exhibit B.”
“Exhibit B” is an article dated July 5, 2008 by the then Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Wynne-Jones, and which appeared the following day; it can be found online at this web address.
According to this article “a group of conservative bishops” of the Church of England met with “members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” for “highly confidential discussions.” Those interested in these matters should read this article carefully, as possibly it is more remarkable for what it does not say, and what it avoids saying, as for what it does say, which is remarkable enough. What does it not say? Well, for starters it does not give any date for the meeting, if indeed we are to infer from it that there was only one meeting — “have held secret talks,” as the subtitle runs, seems deliberately ambiguous — and there is nothing in it to warrant the conclusion that the meeting (or meetings) occurred (or began) shortly before the July 5 date of the article. And we must remember that the article appeared just one day before the crucial General Synod vote on July 7 — the Synod’s July 2008 session ran from Friday, July 4 to Tuesday, July 8 — that the woman bishops’ legislation to be drafted would not contain adequate safeguards for the opponents of the purported ordination of women and would, in fact, do away with the most important safeguards that had been embodies in the “Act of Synod” of 1993. And what does it avoid saying? To quote from the article itself, “The names of the bishops are known to The Sunday Telegraph, but they have asked for anonymity because the talks are of such a sensitive and potentially explosive nature.” We may well marvel at such rare journalistic discretion.
Perhaps it may not be amiss to indulge in a little informed speculation (what a delightful word is “informed” in this context, since it can mean so many different things) about these meetings and the identities of the bishops concerned, especially since the “explosive nature” about which the article’s author expressed such concern seems rather to have become in reality a “damp squib.” There appear, in fact, to have been a number of meetings and “consultations” between what we may term a subcommittee of the CDF and a subcommittee of these Anglican “bishops and theologians” stretching over a period of nearly 18 months. They began before, perhaps some good time before, the meeting in Rome in April 2008 of the then Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough with members of the PCPCU and CDF, and they appear to have continued well into 2009 until not so long before the announcement of AC on October 20 of that year. Who were the bishops? Eight names have come up again and again in the course of my attempts (beginning, I might add, over two years ago) to uncover more about this matter, and I shall name them here. I will list them in the alphabetical order of the names of their episcopal sees, except for the first two, who appear to have been particularly important in these discussions. They are: the Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, an orthodox Anglo-Catholic opposed to women’s ordination (WO), as well as to the acceptance of pseudogamous sexual partnerships (SS); the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, thought to be more of an Evangelical than an Anglo-Catholic, but by birth and upbringing in his native Pakistan a Roman Catholic, strongly opposed to SS; who ordained women as Bishop of Rochester, but is reported since to have come to the view that WO was a “mistake;” the Bishop of Blackburn, Nicholas Reade, an orthodox Anglo-Catholic opposed to both WO and SS; the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, an Evangelical and one who ordains women, but who has voted against proceeding with legislation for woman bishops, and opposed to SS, an unlikely member of this group but one who has expressed esteem for the firm stand of the Catholic Church in the face of contemporary challenges and has called it the only institution that seems able to stand firm in the face of Western secularism; the Bishop of Europe, Geoffrey Rowell, a scholarly, orthodox and Orthodoxophile Anglo-Catholic, opposed to both WO and SS; the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, a moderate high-churchman, opposed to SS and who quietly and without any publicity ceased ordaining women to the priesthood some two or three years ago; the recently-retired Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, a churchman of much the same views as the Bishop of Exeter, but who remains a supporter of WO, while being a strong and outspoken opponent of SS — in 2008, he said, in relation to the exclusion of Christians in same-sex relationships from positions of church leadership: "I see no future for the Anglican Communion as we know it, or for the Church of England as we know it, if either deserts this teaching;" and finally the Bishop of Beverley, Martyn Jarrett, the PEV or “flying bishop” for the Province of York, who to the surprise of some has not followed his southern counterparts into the English Ordinariat. I spoke recently with one of these bishops, whom I will not name, because of his courtesy in speaking to me about these matters, a conversation which witnesses to the extreme secrecy with which these “consultations” have continued to be shrouded. At the time of our conversation I was working with the assumption that the Sunday Telegraph article was referring to one single meeting, not to a series of meetings, and when I asked the bishop if he could tell me the date of “that meeting” he told me that if he had been present at “that meeting” he could have told me nothing about it, “even its date,” but that as he had not been present at it he did not know its date, and so could not give me the information I sought. In retrospect, what he said is entirely compatible with his having been involved in the process of consultations between those Anglican “bishops and theologians,” even if he did not attend the initial meeting, and he went on to give as his opinion that “that meeting” and what followed from it was indeed far more important in the genesis of AC than the actions of FIF/UK or of the TAC. Some of these bishops, including some opposed to WO, might have been motivated principally by their dread of the Church of England following in the footsteps of the Episcopal Church on issues of sexuality; Chester, Chichester, Exeter, and the retired bishops of Rochester and Winchester come to mind, while others, like Blackburn and Europe might have a more exclusive focus on the impact of woman bishops. But it seems that even at the time when AC was formally issued Rome had the expectation that some of those bishops with whom the CDF had been having consultations would accept the offer; and perhaps some of them may do so yet. I might add here that, in the light of what has happened since, one could do worse than to listen to the keynote addresses that the bishops of Chichester and Rochester delivered a the 2009 FIF annual national assembly just days after the October 20 announcement of AC. The Bishop of Chichester just the other day announced that he would be taking early retirement from his bishopric in April 2012, and it will be of some interest to see what he will do after his retirement. As an aside, I note that Article 11, Section 4 of the “Complementary Norms” issued by the CDF to accompany AC, which states:
A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate and who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church, may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office
may well have been intended specifically for such English Anglican diocesan bishops as might accept Rome’s offer. Up to the present time only one former Anglican bishop, the Ordinary of the English Ordinariat, Msgr. Newton, has received such permission.
Of course, it has all come to nothing, or at least not yet. Perhaps this was because there was a duality of purpose among the bishops participating in these “consultations,” and by this I mean not only a divergence between individual bishops, but even of individual bishops within themselves. I have been told that one or more of them have complained subsequently of the Vatican’s “lack of imagination” in not allowing in AC for married bishops, while others may have been more interested in using these conversations to strengthen their position and influence within the Church of England, particularly by bringing pressure to bear, implicitly if not explicitly, on the two archbishops to bestir themselves on behalf of their conservative brethren. If this last was their principal aim, or the aim of some of them, then they “have had their reward,” for in the July 2010 session of the Church of England’s General Synod the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York jointly moved an amendment to the draft woman bishop’s measure which would have had the effect of institutionalizing more generous (if still inadequate) provisions for the opponents of woman bishops — only to see the amendment defeated in the ensuing vote, after the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a speech commending the amendment but stating that synod members should not feel obligated to vote for it simply because it had been put forward by the two archbishops. One is reminded here of those cutting words of St. Augustine, aimed at the “pragmatic” Roman governing classes and officials of his day, Acceperunt mercedem suam vani vanam, paraphrased loosely as “Seeking to grasp their paltry reward, their hands but closed on empty air,” and see this incident as a perfect instantiation of the saint’s aphorism.
Still, we have to recall what I wrote a the beginning of the last paragraph, “or at least not yet.” It seems pretty certain that woman bishops will come in the Church of England, even if they fail to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority in the final vote on the current legislation in July 2012, and that with minimal and inadequate guarantees to secure the position of opponents; and it seems clear as well that the present leadership of the Church of England lacks both the will and perhaps the desire to bar the way to the acceptance of the same sort of revisionism in sexual ethics and teaching that have prevailed in other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Those English churchmen who wish to make provision for the future while time remains to do so have but to look, not so much to the Episcopal Church here in the United States and other Anglican Communion provinces such as Canada and New Zealand, as to the Scandinavian Lutheran state churches, and especially the Church of Sweden, to see what the future may hold, a kind of liberal “pink” church totalitarianism pushed on from behind by bien-pensant elite public opinion, the media and the so-called “nanny state.” It does not seem certain at all, on the other hand, how the English Ordinariat and other ordinariats yet to be erected, will fare once the initial rocky hurdles, foreseen and unforeseen, have been overcome. In England, as I have already noted above, there has been talk, among Anglicans and former Anglicans alike, of a “second wave” of clergy and people coming into the Church through the Ordinariat, and perhaps there will be several such waves. That will remain our hope, but there are pressing demands and tasks enough to deal with for now.