Letter To SEC Bishops on Equal Marriage

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church

by Kelvin (Holdsworth)

Last weekend I signed the following letter which was sent to the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was organised by a group of clergy in the diocese of Edinburgh. The fifty or so signatories were those who happened to learn of this over a couple of days last weekend. There will no doubt be others who would have wanted to sign it who simply didn’t hear about it.

I expect that others may also post this on their own blogs. I’m not going to comment on it as I think it speaks for itself, other than to thank those who organised it for doing so. They and those who signed it restore my hope at this time.

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath, Revd Philip Blackledge, Revd Maurice Houston, Revd Canon John McLuckie, Revd Canon Ian Paton, Revd Kate Reynolds, Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft, Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader) , Revd Jim Benton-Evans, Revd Cedric L. Blakey, Revd Andrew Bowyer, Revd Canon Bill Brockie, Revd Tony Bryer, Revd Steve Butler, Revd Christine Barclay, Revd Lynsay M Downes, Revd Markus Dünzkofer, Revd Canon Anne Dyer, Revd Janet Dyer, Revd Jennifer Edie, Revd John L Evans, Revd Samantha Ferguson, The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood, Kennedy Fraser, Revd Kirstin Freeman, Revd Frances Forshaw, Revd Ruth Green, Revd Bob Gould, Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, Revd Ruth Innes, Revd Ken Webb, Rev’d Canon Mel Langille, Revd Kenny Macaulay, Revd Simon Mackenzie, Revd Duncan MacLaren, Very Revd Nikki McNelly, Very Revd Jim Mein, Revd Nicola Moll, Revd Bryan Owen, Revd Canon Clifford Piper, Revd Donald Reid, Revd Colin Reed, Revd Canon John Richardson, Revd Malcolm Richardson, The Revd Gareth J M Saunders, Very Revd Alison J Simpson, Very Revd Andrew Swift, Kate Sainsbury (lay reader), Patsy Thomson (lay reader), Prof Revd Annalu Waller

Kelvin | December 18, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Tags: December 2014 Statement


In a rather brave initiative, the Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, Father Kelvin Holdsworth has published this Letter to the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church – signed by him & 50 of his fellow clergy – protesting against the recent Statement made by the Bishops of SEC setting out their opposition to Equal Marriage in that Church.

Considering the fact that SEC was once considered to be a more generous institution that scorned homophobic attitudes in the Church; the Bishops’ Statement certainly has caused dis-ease among those clergy who had been looking forward to a more open attitude from their Church towards, at least, the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships. The fact that the Bishops’ Statement seemed to pre-empt any forward movement on this issue, that might be brought about through further discussion with those most affected by the present stand-off, seems to have been the catalyst for this reaction by the clergy.

One hopes that the Scottish Bishops might be moved to take a more eirenic view of the Scottish Parliamentary Legislation that allows for Same-Sex Marriage by this petition from a group of clergy. The outcome of their action might well affect the attitudes and action of other Provinces of the Church – for instance, our own Province of ACANZP. At the very least, one could be hopeful of a form of Church Blessing for faithful Same-Sex Unions.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Announcement: First Woman Bishop in Church of England

The Revd Libby Lane Announced as Bishop of Stockport

Posted on: December 17, 2014 10:12 AM – ACNS

The Revd Libby Lane
Photo Credit: Kippa Matthews
Related Categories: Chester, England, women bishops

Downing street have today announced that the new Bishop of Stockport – and the first woman bishop in the Church of England – will be the Revd Libby Lane, currently Vicar of St Peter’s, Hale, and St Elizabeth’s, Ashley.

As Bishop of Stockport she will serve as a suffragan (assistant) bishop in the Diocese of Chester. She will be consecrated as the 8th Bishop of Stockport at a ceremony at York Minister on Monday 26 January 2015.

Libby Lane was ordained as a priest in 1994 and has served a number of parish and chaplaincy roles in the North of England in the Dioceses of Blackburn, York and Chester. For the past 8 years she has served as Vicar of St. Peter’s Hale and St. Elizabeth’s Ashley.

She is one of eight clergy women from the Church of England elected as Participant Observers in the House of Bishops, as the representative from the dioceses of the North West

Speaking at Stockport town hall where she was announced as the new Bihsop of Stockport Libby Lane said: “I am grateful for, though somewhat daunted by, the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester. This is unexpected and very exciting. On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God.

“The church faces wonderful opportunities, to proclaim afresh, in this generation, the Good News of Jesus and to build His Kingdom. The Church of England is called to serve all the people of this country, and being present in every community, we communicate our faith best when our lives build up the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable. I am excited by the possibilities and challenges ahead.”

Responding to news of the announcement the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, said: “It is with great joy that on January 26, 2015 – the feast of Timothy and Titus, companions of Paul – I will be in York Minster, presiding over the consecration of the Revd Libby Lane as Bishop Suffragan of Stockport. Libby brings a wealth of experience in parish ministry, in hospital and FE chaplaincy, in vocations work and the nurture of ordinands. I am delighted that she will exercise her episcopal ministry with joy, prayerfulness, and trust in God.

“When the General Synod rejected the previous proposals in November 2012, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote to ‘pour some balm on (my) wounded heart’.  That year, he encouraged me, his province was finally celebrating the election of two women bishops. ‘Be comforted’, he said, ‘it will come.’

“When I wrote to him last weekend to offer my prayers for his battle with prostate cancer, he replied with these words: ‘Wonderful that you over there will soon have women bishops. Yippee! I know you have pushed for this for a long time. Yippee again!’

“Praise be to God in the highest heaven, and peace to all in England!”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said: ““I am absolutely delighted that Libby has been appointed to succeed Bishop Robert Atwell as Bishop of Stockport. Her Christ-centred life, calmness and clear determination to serve the church and the community make her a wonderful choice.

“She will be bishop in a diocese that has been outstanding in its development of people, and she will make a major contribution. She and her family will be in my prayers during the initial excitement, and the pressures of moving”.

The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, said: “Libby has had a varied and distinguished ministry, and is currently a first-rate parish priest. She has already demonstrated her ability to contribute nationally through her representative role in the House of Bishops, on behalf of the north-west England dioceses.

“As the first woman bishop in the Church of England she will face many challenges as well as enjoying many opportunities to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that she has the gifts and determination to be an outstanding bishop.

“I am delighted at her designation as Bishop of Stockport after a lengthy process of discernment across the Church of England and beyond.”

The nomination of Libby as the new Bishop of Stockport was approved by the Queen and announced today (Wednesday 17 December 2014). Libby succeeds the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, who is now the Bishop of Exeter.


Biographical Details:

Libby Lane has been the Vicar of St Peter’s Hale and St Elizabeth’s Ashley, in the Diocese of Chester, since April 2007, and from January 2010 has also been Dean of Women in Ministry for the diocese. After school in Manchester and University at Oxford, she trained for ministry at Cranmer Hall in Durham. She was ordained a deacon in 1993 and a priest in 1994, serving her curacy in Blackburn, Lancashire.

Prior to moving to Hale, Libby was Team Vicar in the Stockport South West Team, and Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of Chester, advising and supporting those considering a vocation to ministry in the church. She continues to be a Bishop’s Selection Advisor.

Libby has served in the Diocese of York, as Chaplain in hospital and further education, and as Family Life Officer for the Committee for Social Responsibility in the Diocese of Chester.

She is one of eight clergy women from the Church of England elected as Participant Observers in the House of Bishops, as the representative from the dioceses of the North West.

Her husband, George, is also a priest; they were one of the first married couples in the Church of England to be ordained together. George is Coordinating Chaplain at Manchester Airport, licensed in the Diocese of Manchester. They have two grown up children in higher education.

Her interests include being a school governor, encouraging social action initiatives, learning to play the saxophone, supporting Manchester United, reading and doing cryptic crosswords.


We have reached a significant mile-stone in the ministerial history of the Church of England! With this announcement from Downing Street of the selection of the Revd. Libby Lane, a Vicar in the diocese of Chester, U.K., the Mother Church of England will have its very first Woman Bishop – not a diocesan, but a suffragan to the Bishop of Chester. Her husband George is also a priest. They were one of the first married couples to be ordained together in the English Province of the Anglican Communion.

The fact that Libby was one of the eight women selected by the House of Bishops to be present at Bishop’s Meetings as ‘Observers’ would have marked her out as one of those women destined to be among the first to be ordained a bishop. This paragraph in the communique, from the Anglican Church News Service (ACNS), gives us some insight into her qualification for service as a Bishop in the Church:

“Prior to moving to Hale, Libby was Team Vicar in the Stockport South West Team, and Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of Chester, advising and supporting those considering a vocation to ministry in the church. She continues to be a Bishop’s Selection Advisor.”

The fact that the Church of England is now ready to give to women episcopal authority – even though not yet as Diocesan Bishops – augurs well for her relationship with other Provinces, like us in Aotearoa/New Zealand, who removed this barrier to women’s full participation in the leadership of our Churches years ago.

Notwithstanding this movement towards the equality of women and men in the leadership of the Church of England, there will still be those in the Church – even in leadership – who refuse to accept the authority of women as either bishops or clergy. However, the situation in the C. of E. was such that General Synod had no alternative but to allow this anomaly  – the provision of ‘Alternative Oversight’ for the dissenters – in order to ensure passage of the relevant legislation enabling Women to share episcopal oversight in situations where it is accepted.

Let’s hope that this first opening to a Women Bishop in the Church of England will signal a more general acceptance of the role of women in the mission of Christ’s Church, thus dispelling the general assumption of a tradition of unresolved misogyny .

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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S.S.W.& S.H. Response to Women Bishops in the C. of E.

The Society announces a process for priests to register

The Society under the patronage of St Wilfred and St Hilda has announced a process whereby priests in sympathy with the society can register. This is explained by Colin Podmore in this article, which also appears in the Advent newsletter. The following is taken from the website of the Bishop of Beverley:

Priests of The Society
Colin Podmore encourages priests to sign up and make the Society Declaration.

Catholics believe that both women and men are called to different ministries in the Church. But for theological reasons, we are unable to receive the sacramental ministry of women as priests (presiding at the Eucharist) or bishops (ordaining priests to preside at the Eucharist).

So when the Church of England has women bishops, how can we know that a priest has been ordained by a bishop whose sacramental ministry of ordination we do recognise? How can we be confident that when he celebrates the Eucharist, we really do receive the sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood?

The need to offer an easy answer to that question of ‘sacramental assurance’ is one of the reasons why our bishops have formed The Society. As it says on the Society website, the Society provides ‘ministry, sacraments and oversight which we can receive with confidence’.

Priests are now invited to make a Declaration which says that they:

  • believe and teach the catholic faith
  • are currently entitled to minister as a priest in the Church of England*
  • have been ordained by a male bishop in the apostolic succession of bishops at whose ordination male bishops presided
  • will themselves not receive or join in the sacramental ministry of women priests and bishops or those whom they have ordained
  • will place themselves personally under the oversight of a Bishop of The Society (although they will remain under the legal jurisdiction of their diocesan bishop).

When the relevant Bishop of the Society receives a Declaration from a priest, he will welcome him as a Priest of The Society. The Welcome Letter will serve as proof that the priest is someone whose sacramental ministry we can receive with confidence.

Of course, there will still be validly ordained priests who are not Priests of The Society. Clergy (and, during vacancies, churchwardens) will need to ask some delicate questions about their orders before inviting them to say mass. With Priests of The Society, that research will not be necessary.

Catholic parishes naturally want as their priest someone who is in full communion not only with his bishop, but with all the priests whom that bishop has ordained, and who will support the resolutions passed by the PCC. When advertising for, or interviewing, potential new parish priests, asking them whether they are Priests of The Society will be an easy way of finding out where they stand.

Being a Priest of The Society costs nothing, although the bishops hope that priests and people of The Society will join Forward in Faith, because it is the membership organization which administers The Society on their behalf, and helps to pay for it. Being a priest of The Society involves only the basic obligations of relating to one of our bishops, and looking to him for sacramental ministry we can no longer find elsewhere.

So if a priest has not made the Declaration and become a Priest of The Society, why not?

There is further information on this page, which is copied below the fold.

Continue reading “The Society announces a process for priests to register”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 at 9:48pm GMT


Thanks to Simon Sarmiento, of ‘Thinking Anglicans’ for this release from The Society of SS.Wilfrid & Hilda, a society promoting the provision of ‘Sacramental Assurance’ in the Church of England, which presumes to safeguard its membership from the ‘taint’ of Women’s Ministry.

From the proposed Declaration, which has to be signed by intending member clergy, it will be clearly seen that their intention will be to avoid any sacramental ministrations from any person – including clergy and bishops – who have been connected in any way with the ordination of a woman into the ordained ministry – as priest or bishop of the Church of England.

From the links provided, one can read the latest publication of the Society – which closely follows the agenda of ‘Forward in Faith’ (F.i.F.) an Anglican Communion-wide association of clergy and laity who insist on a male-only cadre of the ordained in their Anglican churches –  confirming the fear of its members that Women’s Ordination has introduced the possibility of a defective sacramentality, rendering both the women concerned and their ordaining authorities to be considered, by the Society, as invalid ministers of the Sacraments of the Church.

This initiative on the part of F.i.F. and the Society of SS Wilfrid & Hilda – though within their rights as partners in the General Synod decision to allow the Ordination of women as Bishops in the Church of England – will serve to highlight the profound nature of the gap between those who accept, and those few who reject, the ministry of Women in the C.of E. This is not a new attitude on the part of F.i.F., whose membership has previously been provided with the ministry of ‘Flying Bishops’, whose episcopal authority was seen to be ‘untainted’ by their participation in the ordination of women. However, with the passage of legislation allowing women to be ordained bishops in the Church of England, F.i.F. and its associates have secured special measures to avoid oversight by a woman.

This division cannot but render the collegiality of the bishops to be null and void – on the grounds of the divided perception of  the validity of the ministry of a certain class of bishop in the Church of England. The true irony in the case of Anglo-Catholics who are seen here to reject the ministry of a woman bishop, is that their view of collegiality in this situation is fatally flawed. Collegiality among its bishops is one of the basic requirements of the Church Catholic. One cannot but question the Anglican-catholicity of this stance.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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In Memoriam: S.E.C. Bishop Michael Hare-Duke,

Generous Episcopacy: The Rt Rev Michael Hare-Duke RIP

by Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow

I gather from a twitter correspondent that the Rt Rev Michael Hare-Duke has died. Bishop Michael was the bishop with whom I first tested my vocation. Having been a bishop since 1969, he saw and influenced the entire modern story of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Where to begin with memories?

The time I sat in his study as he asked me about my vocation whilst his beloved dog, Tobermory pushed twelve full bottles of whisky from one side of the room to the other and back again. And again. And again.

The time he was in hospital and Ba, to whom he was married, turned up on my doorstep late at night announcing a full scale emergency. It turned out that the emergency was not his health but that he was dictating faxes from his hospital bed and Ba was struggling to send a message to the Crown Prince of Jordan.

The time and time again when he penned articles for newspapers in absolute certainty that mission in his diocese depended on people like him offering leadership, inspiration and puckish humour to the whole of society not just the people of the pews.

The time and time again his words have brought people to God and God to the people, as he was one of the triumvirate of poet-priests who wrote the bulk of the modern Scottish Eucharistic rite.

The extraordinary influence in the world of mental health that Michael had.

The gay couples he was blessing 40 years ago.

The unpredictable, chaotic, sometimes infuriating but human and humane episcopacy that he inhabited and made his own, which must today remind so many in the Scottish Episcopal Church of more generous times.

I’ve no idea how they are going to celebrate Bishop Michael at his funeral next Tuesday 23 December 2014, which will be in St Ninian’s Cathedral at 10 am. At one point the then cathedral organist kept the Fauré requiem in the repertoire specifically so it would be ready for Bishop Michael’s funeral. (A fact that led one of my predecessors as Precentor there to remark that a few choruses of Hooray and Up She Rises might well be just as appropriate).

I have a particularly strong memory of him over-consecrating vastly one Maundy Thursday. Whole chalices of consecrated wine were left over.

Not a bad way to remember him.

The world was richer for him and poorer at his passing.

Heaven seems a deliciously more giddy prospect


I was interested in this piece by Fr.Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, on the recent death of Bishop Michael Hare-Duke (a distant relative of my wife), who was once a Bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church and a well-known Anglo-Catholic and Liberal influence during the time of his episcopate.

His death will be mourned by many an Episcopalian – both clerical and lay – who benefitted greatly from his eirenic, if at some times erratic. ministry as their bishop. The Scottish Episcopal Church may never have produced a more insightful and generous-hearted prelate. Family stories about him have long been cherished – especially of his ‘upper-class English – or should one say pure-Scottish – accent. He was known to have addressed one of his younger relatives in this way: “Oh Peter, do be a lamb, and do this for me!”.

A Blessed Soul, now in Paradise. May he rest in peace and rise one day in glory. Amen

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Church Times Editorial: Bishops with MBAs?

A pooling of talents

IN THE current series of Reith Lectures, Dr Atul Gawande describes his development of a checklist for hospital procedures. Many conditions require care from a multi-disciplinary team. The introduction of a simple checklist, often managed by a junior member of a surgical team, has been shown in pilots to reduce complications by 35 per cent, and deaths by 47 per cent. A key factor in the success of the checklist is humility: a team has to recognise that even the most expert can fail.

A key paradox in the Green report, which introduces the Church of England to “talent management” and is reviewed here by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is that, under the new system, 150 individuals will be picked out to be taught about collaborative ministry. Better than its not being taught, of course, but hardly inviting the students to model the teaching. The basic premise of the Green report is sound and necessary: a training system that is more robust ought to give the Church the confidence to promote those whose lives hitherto have not provided them with management experience. Historically, this is truer of women and those from certain minority-ethnic backgrounds, but also, although the report avoids saying so, those with a less privileged upbringing. There are two concerns. One is that the criteria listed for inclusion in the talent pool – evidence-based documentation of outstanding performance, an “agility and capacity for intense and rapid change” – seem to be both demanding and conventional, so that we doubt that those who do not “fit in” will make it out of the changing room. The other concern is that, even if those who plunge into the pool do turn out to be more varied than before, when they emerge they will all look the same.

As Dr Gawande demonstrates, there are other models of management and leadership: ones that require a humility that is unlikely to be engendered by an invitation to join an elite leadership pool. Had Lord Green’s steering group looked at the Church’s systems rather than its individuals, they might have concluded that a pool of talent exists already in the Church, and that it is not necessary to train individual leaders to hold every skill. When diocesan bishops, say, function as part of a diocesan team, they will draw on any expertise that they lack: finance, human resources, and so on. In such a system, the concept of leadership runs counter to the alpha-male model depicted in the Green report. Here the bishop is an enabler, challenger, or encourager. It is probably notable that, while the word “leader” occurs 171 times in the report, the word “pastor” or “pastoral” does not appear once.

There is clear value in a checklist for ministerial training. It is wise stewardship to ensure that the right skills are nurtured, and that people are encouraged to apply for the right posts. The present ad hoc system, which relies too heavily on being noticed or finding favour, is inadequate. It is wise, too, to borrow best practice from secular institutions; but it needs to be applicable to an institution that, uniquely, follows a founder whose evidence-based record of leadership involved abandonment and death.


” It is probably notable that, while the word “leader” occurs 171 times in the report, the word “pastor” or “pastoral” does not appear once.”

And herein, in my opinion, lies the basic flaw in this scheme to subject 150 ‘whizz-kids’ among the ranks of the clergy of the Church of England, to undertake a management style of training for future leadership in the Church.

What sort of leaders will they turn out to be? A like-minded set of bureaucrats, whose business management acumen exceeds that of their pastoral capability? Will the scheme produce an elite crop of MBAs (Comm.Theol), but with little or no understanding of the faith content of the mission of the Church?

My immediate question is this; Does the Church need business management graduates to actually be ordained to the priesthood or the episcopate, in order to provide logistical management of the Church’s assets – whether they be finance, property or even staff-related? Surely the Church, amongst its faithful laity, already contains people of the necessary strategic, business, financial and personnel-management skills? Or, if not – in particular places – perhaps this training could be given to non-ministerial diocesan staff.

My real point here is that I believe clergy are called into a specific ministry of pastoral and missional service. As the Church Times editorial suggests; bishops and other leaders in the Church need to be more open to consultation with those among the laity who are better experienced in such matters. It will be a sorry situation when clergy leadership consists more in management expertise than in pastoral care and the mission of the Gospel of Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Will the Voice of the Faithful Laity be heard at next R.C. Synod?

Will the bishops be any more open about their second consultation on family?
12 December 2014 by Michael Phelan

So the Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to seek input from Catholics at “all levels” about how the Church should respond to sometimes difficult questions of modern family life, such as divorce and remarriage. It was reported this week that bishops have been asked to respond in mercy and avoid basing their pastoral care solely on current Catholic doctrine.

This comes a year after the English and Welsh bishops’ conference decided to publish widely the Vatican consultative questionnaire on the family, in preparation for last October’s extraordinary synod and next year’s ordinary synod on the family. Catholics welcomed this move even though the questionnaire had been amateurishly constructed and was therefore not at all academically respectable. But the bishops – unlike their counterparts in Germany and Austria – suppressed the responses to the questionnaire, leaving many Catholics with the impression that our answers were not as our bishops would have wished them to be.

Reading the recent interview of bishops’ conference president Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ with The Tablet’s acting editor, Elena Curti, I found it difficult to understand whether the bishops are going to follow their initial procedure of wide consultation or just rely on parish clergy without speaking to parishioners. Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that consulting the laity is a branch of evidence that needs to be taken into account in matters of doctrine.

I am concerned at this possible lack of consultation “at all levels” in England and Wales. We know from the failure of the majority of the lay faithful to “receive” the teaching of Humanae Vitae how important it is that the teaching of the Church needs to be exercised by the People of God as a whole, as set out in Vatican II – that is by the Pope, bishops, clergy, and lay faithful. As we know, Pope Paul VI had removed the debate on responsible parenthood and contraception, married priests, and women priests from the Second Vatican Council agenda. He then went against the decision of the committee that had been set up by his predecessor and himself on responsible parenthood and
which through prayer and the Eucharist came to disagree with the Church’s position on artificial contraception.

Although Humanae Vitae was good in parts, its promulgation damaged the standing of the magisterium when it was not “received” fully by the laity. Surveys have shown that large numbers of practising Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception, and remarriage.

Pope Francis has brought out Christ’s loving message of mercy and forgiveness and in Evangelii Gaudium has offered pastors guidance on
interpreting traditional teaching on marriage and family life.

The need to consult with the laity on family matters is more important than on other questions of doctrine and morals, because it is lay Catholics who have families, not celibate bishops and clergy. Modern IT and broadcasting give the Church every opportunity to be collegial in consulting with the faithful in matters of doctrine, particularly on the family.

Many Catholics are well aware of the developments in church teaching over the centuries on slavery, usury, just war, sexual activity in marriage not being just for procreation, and capital punishment. I hope that our English and Welsh ordinary synod bishops, Vincent Nichols and Peter Doyle, will bear in mind God’s compassion, forgiveness and mercy when looking at family life for the forthcoming synod.


“Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that consulting the laity is a branch of evidence that needs to be taken into account in matters of doctrine.”

In the light of this observation, in this blog article by Michael Phelan in the latest issue of The Tablet’, it may well be thought – at least by the Titular Head of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Pope Francis, that, on matters of the human family, families themselves need to have the most wide-spread input into any doctrinal discussion in the future on this vital subject. Celibate bishops and clergy have little practical experience of what it might be like to live out the moral imperatives of being a normal family.

Let’s hope that the English Bishops of the R.C. Church will be more forthcoming in allowing, not only clergy, but also the faithful laity, to have some input into the expected discussion that lead up to the next Ordinary Synod of Bishop at the Vatican next year.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Pope Francis mobilises the Laity

From the editor’s desk : ‘The Tablet’.

Pope Francis mobilises the laity
11 December 2014

At the Wednesday audience this week, Pope Francis began a series of highly significant talks on family life, in preparation for next autumn’s synod of bishops. This coincides with the publication of its preliminary documents, the lineamenta; and follows last autumn’s specially convened synod meeting when challenges were made to established Catholic teaching and practice, on issues ranging from homosexuality to the admission of remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. The fact that Francis favours emphasising God’s mercy rather than the narrow application of doctrine has not made him popular in certain quarters – including, at the ultra-conservative fringe, those who question the whole process and even his legitimacy as Pope.

So when he said in his first talk that at last autumn’s synod meeting “Everything happened ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’, that is, in the presence of the Pope – that is a guarantee of freedom and trust for all, and a guarantee of orthodoxy,” he is reminding his critics that the Pope, not them, has the right to decide what is and what is not orthodox. He gave his explicit backing to the text of the lineamenta, which in turn endorses the final report of last autumn’s event. Clearly the argument then still goes on. But the lineamenta insists that the argument has to restart where it left off, not return to first base and begin again.

That is a warning that he will be relentless in pursuing this process until it arrives at satisfactory answers – satisfactory to him. What is to be avoided, the lineamenta insists, is “a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine”. That will be incomprehensible to some conservatives, who seem determined to fight him every inch of the way.

One of his strongest allies, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, has given a frank account of last autumn’s extraordinary synod to Herder Korrespondenz magazine. Some cardinals praised President Vladimir Putin of Russia for championing family values, and wanted a similar authoritarian tone in the Church. Schönborn repeated words he had addressed to the synod, saying: “There is a certain temptation at the moment to dream of a powerful Church, a longing for political Catholicism which will impress people like in the 1930s. These cardinals get extremely worried when they think they see signs that the power of the papacy is diminishing and that the Pope is, as it were, descending from his throne.”

Opposition to Pope Francis is apparently being mounted not only in the Curia but also among senior Italian bishops. What is notable is that they were virtually all appointed or promoted by Pope John Paul II, and though nobody is explicitly saying so, much of what Pope Francis is trying to undo is the legacy of that papacy. In the remarks quoted by Cardinal Schönborn, “Putin” is almost code for “Wojtyla”. This Pope, however, understands that his most powerful allies are laypeople in ordinary parishes, who know about family life from the inside. So the synodical process he has initiated is an attempt to mobilise them in favour of reform. He is treating them like adults, and that is how they must respond.


This latest Editorial from ‘The Tablet’ emphasises the fact that the present Pope, Francis, is determined to bring the Roman Catholic Church into the contemporary world – by means of a divestment of political machination by Italian hierarchs, into a new and vital understanding of the Church as a more eclectic servant body, whose context is both in this world as well as of it – an incarnational structure cognisant of real human needs.

Perhaps the most telling part of this editorial is found in this excerpt:

“Opposition to Pope Francis is apparently being mounted not only in the Curia but also among senior Italian bishops. What is notable is that they were virtually all appointed or promoted by Pope John Paul II, and though nobody is explicitly saying so, much of what Pope Francis is trying to undo is the legacy of that papacy. In the remarks quoted by Cardinal Schönborn, “Putin” is almost code for “Wojtyla”. This Pope, however, understands that his most powerful allies are laypeople in ordinary parishes, who know about family life from the inside.

Part of the relevance of the mention of Putin here, is that some of the conservative bishops are siding with the Russian Leader’s rhetoric on the subject of family life, in which he has outlawed any form of relationships that are not modelled on the concept of heterosexual marriage and traditional family values. Cardinal Schönborn, strikingly, seems to be comparing Putin’s morality stance on marriage with that of Pope John Paul II, whose conservative initiatives are now being questioned by Pope Francis. 

No doubt, Pope Francis’ extensive pastoral experience among the ordinary people of the Latin American world has equipped him for the task of introducing a less formal way of Church leadership into the hierarchical situation of the Vatican. It is this, and the Pope’s readiness to discard the panoply of the Sacred Office, that has set the more conservative members of the Curia and the Italian bishops at odds with his leadership.

As a point of interest, the Church of England is currently about to set up a special management efficiency unit, calculated to target and train people for what seems like a theological MBA qualification leading to hierarchical preferment in that Church. How such a scheme will tally with what Pope Francis has in mind for the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church has yet to be seen. The biggest question about both initiatives might be to discern where the Holy Spirit might be leading in the rejuvenation of the Body of Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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