Ancient relic of St Thomas a Becket returns to UK for first time in 800 years

Ancient relic of St Thomas a Becket returns to UK for first time in 800 years

Source: Ancient relic of St Thomas a Becket returns to UK for first time in 800 years

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Corpus Christi & Babette’s Feast

Corpus Christi 2016 – Father Philip Chester, St. Matthews’ Westminster

Sunday by Sunday we gather at St Matthew’s break bread and share a cup of wine as we celebrate God’s presence among us.  The doors are open so that all may come in, gather around the table to receive the new life of Christ into their lives. This new life of Christ – exciting, maybe; disturbing – probably; and certainly not for the faint-hearted – not if we’re to carry that new life into the world that so longs for it – even though it mostly doesn’t know what it’s longing for.

One of my favourite images of this new life can be found in Gabriel Axel’s film Babette’s Feast, which we showed as part of our Lent course this year. On a small island in Denmark in the late nineteenth-century, two sisters – Martine and Phillipa, whose father is the local pastor, are at the centre of a puritanical community for whom the material world of God’s creation is merely a source of temptation and distraction from God.  Martine meets Laurens Loewenhielm, a dashing young if a shade unsuitable officer. Laurens falls in love with her, but because of her father, and the life Laurens was to lead, Martine knew that she could never love him and he left the island, apparently for ever.

The following year, Achille Papin, a Parisian opera singer heard Phillipa singing in church while he was staying on the island.  Entranced by her voice he offered to give her singing lessons in the hope that she would one day sing in Paris.  They kissed during one of her lessons and Phillipa told her father that she no longer wished to have lessons with him, and soon Papin left the island.

The life of these isolated disciples went on uneventfully until fifteen years later Babette arrives on the island, a refugee from the war in France. Commended by Papin to Martine and Phillipa she worked as their cook and maid, sharing their poor and simple lifestyle and diet.  During her stay on the island a friend had regularly bought a ticket to the Lottery – yes, even in nineteenth-century France!  For her, it was more than ‘maybe, just maybe’ – she won.

The sisters and their congregation were alarmed at the prospect of Babette returning to France with her new-found wealth.  But Babette wished to share her fortune with them.  She asked that she might prepare a banquet to celebrate with them.  The sisters reluctantly agreed.  Shipments of extraordinary ingredients – wine, fowl, and even a live sea turtle – arrived.  As the day of the banquet drew near, one of the members of the church asked permission to bring her nephew, now General Loewenhielm.

There were twelve gathered around the table, with Babette in the kitchen.  Only the General recognised the quality of the food and drink.  He reflected on his life of lust for power, his lack of love and his selfishness.

But during the meal old fractured relationships began to be healed, and a profound sense of peace came over the congregation.

When everyone had had their fill the sisters went to the kitchen to thank Babette for her generosity and hard work.  They were amazed when Babette tells them that she will not return to Paris, but that she has spent her whole fortune on this great feast. She revealed to them her true identity as the great chef from the Café Anglais known throughout Paris for her culinary genius, but hidden these years on this life denying island.

It’s easy to live our lives on life denying islands of our own creation. Or we can open ourselves to the fullness of life for which God made us, giving and receiving selflessly, allowing fractured relationships to be healed and building with one another a community of peace and goodwill in which all can find a home. As Babette’s feast for that congregation, so the Eucharist for us week by week in St Matthew’s establishes a community.

When we allow ourselves to be found around his table we find the fullness of life that can be found in no other place, at no other time and in no other way.  And finding it, we can do no other than share with others what he has shared with us.

Fr Philip Chester


One of my favourite London churches is that of St.Matthew’s, Westminster, in the heart of London’s West-End and within a censor’s aromatic reach of the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral. Its Anglo-Catholic liturgical celebrations include the ministry of women clergy – as well as that of an eclectic congregation – whose spirituality (apart from the use of women clergy) would not be very different from that of the nearby congregation of  our R.C. sisters and brothers in Christ.

The lovely story (and film) of Babette’s Feast is a well-known paradigm of true Christian hospitality, compared here to the radical hos[pitality of Jesus Christ’s welcome of all people in the Great Feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and blood of Christ – wherein all are welcomed to partake, and become an integral part, of the Body of Christ in the world:

“Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast – not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the Unleavened Bread of sincerity and truth, Alleluia!”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand




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SEC slighted at Scots Church Assembly

The Columba Declaration – where are we now?

by Kelvin

I was present this morning at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the Church of Scotland’s acceptance of the Columba Declaration – the agreement that has been made between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England which has cause a huge amount of concern to Scottish Episcopalians.

It was good to be in the Assembly Hall – there’s an atmosphere there that can’t be replicated online. I’ve enjoyed dropping into the business of the Church of Scotland for years, since the time I was doing a degree at New College which is adjacent to the hall itself. The singing of the Assembly is spine-tingling and this morning there was a brilliant homily from the Moderator of the Assembly on the bible reading of the day which was of the two men who went up to the temple to pray.

I enjoy the way the Church of Scotland does its business. Utter courtesy is the order of the day and there’s always the most powerful attempt to ensure that all voices are heard.

I’ve often commented that a good Church of Scotland moderator would enable one of our synods to get through its business in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days and more people would feel that their opinion had been part of the discussion.

When I was an ecumenical corresponding member of a Church of Scotland Presbytery I gradually got used to the cadences and the humour and gentle stamping of feet to indicate agreement. I also realised to my surprise that the things which presbyterian  friends have often thought odd about Episcopal worship – bowing, standing and sitting every verse-end, a daring splash of lace and a smattering of Latin within the context of an experience that is both highly serious and highly camp are all present in the way the Church of Scotland does business.

This morning was a hugely important symbolic occasion. The Archbishop of Canterbury was present and had been invited to contribute to the debate. This was also an opportunity to try to put some of the ill-feeling to rest that has been stirred up in Scotland by the Columba Declaration.

I have to say that having read my social media timelines since coming home, it is very obvious that this hasn’t been achieved. Whatever was said in public in the Assembly today, there is still a level of outrage being expressed by Scottish Episcopalians which has led both journalists and people from out of Scotland to express considerable surprise to me about in the last 24 hours. How can it be, they ask, that things are going on in public church gatherings which have this extraordinary levels of grievance attached to them online? My only answer is that those with the power in the equation simply don’t care about the members of the Scottish Episcopal Church enough to have paused long enough to try to put things right.

Full marks to Justin Welby though for trying. He got up at the Assembly and apologised for the hurt that had been caused to Scottish Episcopalians by the manner in which this had all been handled. Indeed, he said that he took personal responsibility for that.

This was highly commendable and might have worked if we had not known since Christmas that it was the Church of Scotland’s media office which leaked the details to the press with the express permission of “someone high up” in the Church of Scotland’s Ecumenical Relations Committee. (I know this because I was personally told so by the person who did it within 24 hours of it happening).

That’s been known for months and talked about for months, tweeted about for months and discussed for months. We know that the way in which this was handled wasn’t Justin Welby’s responsibility. Bless him for trying to pour Episcopal oil on troubled waters, but Justin Welby was trying to take responsibility for things that he is known to have had nothing whatsoever to do with.

Here I think it is important to distinguish what has caused the trouble for Scottish Episcopalians. There are two issues. The first is the leaking of the report just before Christmas – this was unfortunate and made a bad situation much worse but it was a mistake and we can all move on from that. Indeed, I don’t think Scottish Episcopalians are that bothered by that now. The apology for that mess should have come from the Church of Scotland today though it was clear that the Church of Scotland was in triumphalist mode and there was little chance of any kind of apology from that quarter. But at the end of a rather long day, I think all we can do is shrug and acknowledge that it shouldn’t have happened that way. People make mistakes and I don’t think there’s any point dwelling on this any more.

The second issue is the fact of the agreement itself. This is much more problematic and this is the trouble that just won’t go away. The Scottish Episcopalians I know and whom I see posting at length online about this simply do not believe it is appropriate for the Church of England to be interfering in another Province. And that is, to so very many of us, exactly what this is.

For that, the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t apologise. And that’s the nub of the problem. Who cares about how it was announced? The fact that it was announced at allis what everyone I know seems to care about.

It is important to acknowledge that there are very real differences in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury is seen here in Scotland from that in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

This was a very public event with a public gallery but I only saw three Episcopalians whom I recognised there today. There were far more empty seats than Anglicans present.

Having got to know, for example, the Episcopal Church in the USA, my sense is that there they love and adore the idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury and indeed they pray for him at services. This means that when he is seen to misbehave towards America there is not so much anger as bewilderment that the one whom they have loved (and the England that he represents) has not returned the favour (or even favor). The pain of the US church is the pain of unrequited love.

Here in Scotland we are innately suspicious of the idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and very rarely pray for him in services) and when he behaves badly it confirms all our expectations. This tends to brew up into our righteous anger which gets very readily trumpeted abroad. We don’t do Archbishops generally. We don’t have one of our own and woe betide any Primus that doesn’t understand that from the get go.

I suspect the US position is a lot more painful in reality. Our pain here in Scotland is more easily expressed and has a historical context and many historical and contemporary myths about England and Scotland from which we can draw, in expressing our indignation. That indignation has once again been pouring out, even as there have been attempts to move on today at the General Assembly.

What I saw today was an attempt to try to make things right. It was largely unsuccessful. It was difficult not to listen and hear under the surface of so much that was said a desperation from presbyterian brothers and sisters to be recognised as a “real church”. One spoke with some pathos about the fact that Anglicans had simply not been able to recognise a Church of Scotland communion service as being the equivalent of a Eucharist celebrated by an Episcopally ordained priest. (This one won’t go away with the Columba Declaration either – most Episcopalians I know would take that view whilst being perfectly happy to share in the  bread and wine if invited to within the context of the Church of Scotland).

That hurts for our Presbyterian brothers and sisters and that hurt is just as real and has to be taken just as seriously as any hurt that Episcopalians have been feeling for the last six months.

In the course of today’s events at the General Assembly, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church were both sitting in the gallery for honoured guests at the beginning of proceedings. The Archbishop was then invited onto the Assembly floor where he had a voice and quite literally a place at the table. The Primus was left in the gallery and in course of the debate, people around him disappeared. It was as though whoever was in charge of the choreography had tried to recreate the slight to the Scottish Episcopal Church symbolically for all to see. The players enacted their parts. The Scottish Episcopal Church was isolated and patronised with invitations to join in by sending someone to join the ongoing conversations. The Church of England was invited to the feast.

The Columba Declaration is a major piece of ecumenical work that has been brought about at the cost of more ecumenical goodwill than I ever really thought Scotland had to lose. Looking at my social media timelines over the last 24 hours, it is very obvious that it will poison the wells of ecumenical relations for many years to come. Something has been broken and I struggle to see how it can be repaired.


The Provost of Glasgow’s Episcopal Cathedral of St.Mary, Fr.Kelvin  Holdsworth,     present at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, though pleased with the way in which the Assembly expeditiously conducted its business, was obviously not pleased with the way in which the Scottish Episcopal Church’s (SEC’s) Primus, was ignored – in favour of inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak on matters pertaining to the movement towards a Covenant between the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Church of England.

This apparent slight towards the Head of the Scottish Episcopal Church (equivalent of the Church of England in Scotland) stems from the fact that the Covenant arrangement between the C.o.S. and the C.o.E. were instigated between the two executive partners, with no consultation with the Episcopal Church of Scotland, which is the local Province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The real problem here was that there was no apology from either side (C.o.S. or C.o.E) for their behind the scenes attempt to secure a covenantal relationship between their two Church – without consulting the local Provincial Church of the Anglican Communion, T.E.C. Neither was there any attempt, at this General Assembly of the C.o.S. to invite the Primate of the Episcopal Church to contribute to the proceedings.

This high-handed treatment of the Episcopal Church of Scotland – with an attempt to achieve ecclesial unity on its own provincial ground – between the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, without local consultation with SEC, must indeed seem, not only a snub but also a deliberate sidelining of our Anglican partner Church in  Scotland – the Church whose episcopate was instrumental in providing the basis for an episcopal (Anglican) presence in North America – when the Church of England had refused to provide such a provenance.

A very good reason, one might suspect, for SEC to join TEC in a new brand of Anglican presence in the world – in common with those provinces of the Communion who wish to go forward on the matter of Same-Sex Unions and the banning of sexism & homophobia.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, new Zealand

see also:

·        Anglo-Scottish ecumenical agreement approved by Church of Scotland

The General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has this morning approved the Columba Declaration – an ecumenical agreement between it and the Church of England; and – in identical terms approved by the C of E’s General Synod in February – instructed the creation of an ecumenical “contact group” which would include representatives of the two churches and also the Scottish Episcopal Church.

See also: Archbishop Justin Welby’s speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

The text of Archbishop Justin Welby’s speech to the the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.



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Evangelical Protest over ‘S/S Marriage Blessing’

Oxford Clergywoman conducts celebration of same sex marriage – updated

May 23, 2016

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, 52, is an assistant priest at St Michael and All Angels Summertown in the Diocese of Oxford, and acts as the Bishop’s Advisor for Special Projects, including inter-faith initiatives. She is an Associate Faculty Member of the Theology Department at Oxford University, and has a long Oxford pedigree, having been previously on the staff of the University Church of St Mary’s.

On 7th May, according to reports in Cape Town’s City Press, she officiated at a same-sex marriage in South Africa. Oxford has a long-standing relationship with the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa. Rev Bannister-Parker lived there for a while in 2008, helping the Church to develop its HIV/AIDS ministry.

Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, the daughter of Desmond Tutu who has long been an advocate for the Anglican Church to welcome fully same sex relationships and bless gay marriage, was ordained in the Episcopal Church USA and now works as the Executive Director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

Marceline van Furth is Professor of paediatric infectious diseases at Vrije University in the Netherlands, and “Desmond Tutu Chair of Diversity” which has been working with the Foundation on fundraising and special projects. The Foundation’s aims include the support of “Healthy intimate partner relationships… happy families and safe, flourishing communities.”

The two women were married  in a civil ceremony, in Holland, as reported in January. Like the Church of England, the Anglican Church in South Africa is deeply divided on the issue of Christian faith and human sexuality, and remains opposed to same sex marriage, although there is an ongoing conversation about the issue. The Archbishop of South Africa, Thabo Makgoba did not want to comment on the marriage in January, and accused Western media of “using African Christians as proxies in their own culture wars”. However at the time an Anglican insider was quoted as saying that even though Ms Tutu-van Furth was not ‘canonically resident’ in South Africa, the publicising of her marriage there would have implications for the church as she lives in Cape Town.

On 7th May the couple held a second church-style ‘wedding’ at Richard Branson’s wine estate in Franschhoek. The report says that Ms van Furth is an atheist and had to get “out of her comfort zone” by reading 1 Corinthians 13 during the ceremony. Both women have been previously married to men, and have children who were present at the occasion. They are not planning to live together. Revd Bannister-Parker was quoted as saying “this union is so special”.

Questions are now being asked about the participants in this story. A licensed clergywoman in the Church of England has conducted what looks very much like a same-sex marriage or certainly a blessing of a civil marriage, even though it is in a different Province. Many clergy travel overseas to conduct the increasingly lavish weddings of their parishioners or relatives – when they do so, are they bound by the canons of the Church of England? Were Revd Bannister-Parker’s actions approved by her parish Rector and by the Diocese of Oxford, given the high profile nature of the ceremony? Is there any connection between the Tutu Foundation funds and the Diocese of Oxford’s “Special Projects”?

Currently, the Diocese of Oxford is awaiting the arrival of a new Bishop after more than 18 months of vacancy. Despite the orthodox beliefs of acting Bishop Colin Fletcher (Suffragan of Dorchester), and his noble efforts in running the Diocese in addition to his own region, there have been plenty of opportunities for liberal activists to take advantage of his work load and temporary position. Oxford has become a centre for a campaign to change the Church’s understanding of sexuality and marriage, as evidenced by the recent high profile contributions of Alan Wilson, (Bishop of Buckingham), Martyn Percy (Dean of Christ Church), Jayne Ozanne, (Member of General Synod and regular media contributor), and the strong revisionist presence in the Oxford team at the Shared Conversations.

What message are being sent by this event? A same-sex marriage reported in the media, celebrated by a clergywoman/academic from privileged North Oxford, gives the impression that the Diocese of Oxford and indeed the Church of England now blesses gay relationships, even if official spokesmen deny it (see below). This party in the Cape Winelands held on an estate owned by a very rich and influential businessman, suggests that those with privileged positions and connections with the powerful can ride roughshod over the agreed teaching of the Church for two thousand years, and indeed the recent clear pronouncements of Anglican Primates after the January conference in Canterbury.

As someone who has served for several years in the townships of South Africa and an outer estate of low-cost housing in the English midlands, I would question whether this public action will help the poor and marginalised of the world. For disadvantaged communities, loving, faithful marriage between a man and a woman is a major buttress and support against poverty, and the best environment to raise children in safety and security. With this Cape Town ceremony, it appears that the church has instead been made complicit in undermining one of the major gifts of God to human flourishing.

Today the media reports that Revd Tutu-van Furth has resigned as a licenced priest in the Diocese of Cape Town, as the Province does not accept clergy in same-sex marriages. Rev Bannister-Parker should do the decent thing and do the same, having acted in a manner contrary to her ordination vows where she promised to uphold the doctrines of the Church and abide by the teachings of Scripture.

Latest update: Anglican Mainstream has received this message from the Diocese of Oxford’s Communications Department:

I’d like to correct your report on the marriage of Mpho Tutu, please. Your report on Anglican Mainstream is simply factually inaccurate. I imagine it’s based on an equally inaccurate newspaper report from South Africa.

To be quite clear:

  1. The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker accepted the invitation of Mpho Tutu to lead a celebration of her marriage to Marceline van Furth in her capacity as a friend of the family.
  2. She did so with the permission of both the Bishop of Saldanha Bay, the Rt Revd Raphael Hess, and the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher.
  3. Contrary to some press reports, it should be made clear that the event was NOT a wedding, and nor was it a blessing of the couple. It was simply a celebration of a wedding that took place in the Netherlands in December last year.

Please would you make this clear in your article which is currently misleading.

Thank you. Kind regards, Sarah Meyrick
Diocesan Director of Communications


I am using the context and format of this protest Letter from the Oxford Anglican diocese in the U.K., to point to the innacuracies of the mis-named ‘Anglican Mainstream’ blog article by Andrew Symes – contained in the above piece about a private celebration of the already existing Same-Sex Marriage of the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The aim of the article was probably to embarrass both; her famous father – retired  Archbishop of Capetown and well-known supporter of LGBT people in the Church – and the Diocese of Oxford, presumed by Mainstream to be currently ‘running riot’ in the absence of a diocesan bishop. 

Mainstream’s attempt to misrepresent the true situation, which was not a litugical Marriage or a Marriage blessing – despite the fact that Archbishop Desmond offered a ‘father’s blessing’ to the couple (already civilly married, earlier)  can only be interpreted as an effort to draw attention to ‘Mainstream’s’ determination to do all they can to undermine the Church of England’s process towards a way forward to recognise legal same-sex marriage – and, in that mode, to also denigrate the family of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose eirenic stance on homosexuality is well-known.

Father Ron Smith, christchurch, New Zealand

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Pope Francis & Women Deacons

Mary E. Hunt – ‘Religion Dispatches’ 


Talk of Roman Catholic women deacons threatened to push Donald Trump off center stage for a nanosecond. Pope Francis’ seemingly spontaneous remarks in Rome on May 12, 2016 at the triennial meeting of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) about setting up a commission to study women deacons sparked wide-ranging responses but no promises of equal treatment of women.

Some clerics got their chasubles in a twist, their stoles in a knot, over the horrifying thought of women becoming deacons. Can a woman pope be far behind? No, in all likelihood, gentlemen, probably not. Some longtime proponents of women’s ordination cheered as if it were a done deal and they just needed to be measured for their vestments. Not likely, friends, and be careful what you pray for.

Let me offer a perspective that casts the whole question in a very different light.

First, there is precious little clarity as to what constitutes a deacon of the female variety. While there is widespread agreement that women have functioned as deacons when needed by the church, the issue is whether they were ordained or not, and if they were, if their ordination meant the same thing as men’s ordination. The term ‘deaconess’ is bandied about, a clearly feminine diminutive that might eventually, God forbid, give Francis a way out of a tough situation. All this before the bathroom wars. Who knew?

In the early 1970s Pope Paul VI asked the International Theological Commission (ITC) to study the question of women deacons. Decades later, bits and pieces of their work saw the light of day, then were suppressed, and now are being brought back for scrutiny. Women deacons are obviously a theological hot potato since they involve ordination.

Even Pope Francis confessed recently to the nuns that he was a bit foggy on the question. During his U.S. visit, he noted that the role of deacons was essentially made up by the church to fulfill certain needs. Women were allegedly involved in the baptism and care of other women and children when baptism was by immersion. Someone had to help women on and off with their clothes and deal with their naked bodies, hence the presence of women deacons. But as sprinkling holy water replaced the bath-like approach, women’s role shrunk like jeans in hot water.

Phyllis Zagano, a tireless researcher and lecturer who promotes the diaconate as an inside-the-box strategy for changing the Church, has parsed the various arguments and has recently published translations of some of the scholarly articles that ground this work.

According to Dr. Zagano:

“While ITC member Cipriano Vagaggini published research on the diaconate in an Italian journal in 1974, the ITC didn’t produce its own work on that subject until about 1997. Along with Vagaggini, that ITC document affirmed what Bishop Imesh had denied years earlier: history supports the argument that women could be sacramentally ordained. Yet while news reports appeared about the document, it was never published by the Vatican. Rumors abound that it had even been assigned a Vatican document number when publication was stopped.

Some years later, a new, longer version of the study document was published: “From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles.” Its conclusions are rather different. Here the ITC concluded that “deaconesses” are not the same as deacons, that the priesthood and episcopacy are distinct from the diaconate and, finally, that the question of women deacons should be left to the “ministry of discernment which the Lord has left to his church.”

In other words, women are welcome to serve per usual, but not become priests or bishops with decision-making responsibility. The whole matter was left to “discernment” which is to say it was left for the clerics to decide.

While the Eastern Church has kept a fairly consistent line on deacons including women in some cases, the Western Church had a change of tune over time. After centuries of the diaconate as one of the major orders, namely deacon, priest, bishop in ascending rank, what is called the transitional diaconate, Pope Paul VI instituted something called the permanent diaconate. In a 1967 Apostolic Letter entitled “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem: General Norms For Restoring The Permanent Diaconate In The Latin Church,”the same pope who nixed birth control responded to the shrinking clergy pool by calling for the ordination of men, many of them married, to preach, baptize, preside at marriages, etc., but not to celebrate the Eucharist or hear confessions. They were invited to be part of local committees but jurisdiction, that is, decision-making, was still reserved to priests.

Women were mentioned in the document only insofar as they pertained to their husbands’ fitness for ministry, a patriarchal ploy writ large. Married men are “not to be admitted unless there is certainty not only about the wife’s consent, but also about her blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband’s ministry.” (par. III. 11.).

Moreover, only married men “who while living many years in matrimony have shown that they are ruling well their own household and who have a wife and children leading a truly Christian life and noted for their good reputation.” (par. III. 13) are eligible. In practice, this has resulted in many women participating in the very same diaconal training as their husbands. However, when it comes to the finale, they are permitted only to carry their husbands’ stoles in the processions leading to the men’s ordination. The notion that women with or without “blameless Christian” husbands would become deacons was never on the table.

The permanent diaconate has evolved in fifty years with 40,000 plus men (many of them in the U.S.) engaged in ministries of Word, liturgy, and charity. In real terms, this ranges from deacons as glorified altar boys in some places (for example, Argentina where Francis showed less interest in deacons than he appears to have now) to deacons running parishes, albeit not usually with the title of pastor. The functions necessary to be fulfilled seem to determine the role of the male deacon. Where there are still plenty of priests, deacons are relegated to decidedly second-class status. Where there is a priest shortage, they and women who cannot be ordained are put to work.

The pope’s “feminine genius” conundrum

Parallel to the diaconal growth is the steady increase in the number of women engaged in ministries of all sorts. Whether in campus ministry or prison work, in parishes where they now outnumber priests in the U.S., in religious communities or religious education, women around the world do an increasingly large share of the Roman Catholic Church’s ministry without being ordained or having decision-making power. No wonder it occurred to the nuns to mention this contradiction in conversation with the pope.

When Pope Francis met with the superiors general of thousands of women’s religious groups, he was faced with a reality that many in his institution prefer to ignore: rank sexism without reasonable explanation. The women raised rational and respectful questions with regard to their work and status. It is unclear if they spoke also on behalf of women not in religious communities, though one hopes so. Since they are doing ministerial work of the diaconal sort (prevented from priestly work by Canon Law), it was logical that the women would inquire about the obvious differences between their role and status and those of men, especially as it affects their ministerial effectiveness. What surprised some people was the frankness of the discussion. The tone, perhaps more than the content, is what is new. Women expect to be taken seriously and even popes have to listen.

They asked Francis about women preaching, something that deacons do. He replied that in prayer services, or Liturgy of the Word, it is not a problem. But when the Liturgy of the Word meets the Liturgy of the Eucharist and they become a Mass, it is another question because then Jesus is the presider and only men can image Jesus. The Church is female, the priest male. It is sort of like egg meets sperm and sperm wins. He seems to believe that the symbols work that way, a kind of primitive anthropology in this day and age. Good heavens. No wonder the women suggested that he set up a commission to study the question.

Though the soccer-loving pope joked that he felt like a goalie fielding questions from all sides, it is a good bet that he had indeed seen the questions in advance. In fact, the latter part of the conversation was based on written materials, adding evidence that he had indeed probably thought about all of his responses. It remains to be seen if and when the commission will be set up, who will be on it, and when it will deliver some response. Francis has been to enough meetings to know that the fastest way to slow something down is to appoint a committee. So he did, knowing that this slippery slope to women’s ordination is virtually inevitable unless the church wants to persist in contradiction.

My guess is that this matter will get fast-tracked for several reasons.

First, the Vatican knows it has a huge market-share problem related directly to its treatment of women. Imagine this or any pope three years from now meeting with these 900 nuns, much less with 900 of their closest secular (that is, not nuns) friends, and being asked the same question about women deacons and having no substantial answer. A pope could get away with that in the last century, but today’s ease of communication allows no such luxury. Besides, even in Rome there is now a dim realization unto healthy fear of women’s growing confidence and expectations of justice.

Second, the research on women deacons is largely done. What remains is the theo-political wrangling over which way the administrative matter of ordination will go. Zagano et al have pored through the evidence and concluded that it’s a good bet that women were deacons. Scriptural evidence in Romans 16:1 and I Timothy 3:11 has been worked over thoroughly. Phoebe was not a Girl Scout but a deacon. Consensus is elusive, but church laws have been made on flimsier data. Further study is unlikely to yield new information, simply more opinions about history. As investment brokers say, past performance is no guarantee of future results. So it is in the Roman Catholic Church.

Third, the real question at hand is whether women deacons will be ordained as men are, both to the transitional and to the permanent diaconate, or whether women will be siphoned off into a spurious order of deaconesses who have a title but no authority. Think of it as parallel ladders, one of which, ordination to the diaconate, is a direct route to the presbyterate, episcopacy, and, de facto, the papacy. The other, naming women as deaconesses but giving them no authority or jurisdiction, is the ladder that goes nowhere.

My expectation—and I have longed to be proven wrong by the kyriarchal church but it has not happened—is that Pope Francis will steer women up the ladder that goes nowhere in terms of decision-making or jurisdiction. That would be consistent with his vapid statement about not judging LGBTIQ Catholics and his tinkering with annulment processes that have not led to substantive changes in teaching. In so doing, he will be seen to be acting kindly toward women when in fact he will effectively coopt women’s ministry in the name of a dubious “feminine genius” that he insists is so valuable to the church. He will succeed in keeping women busy doing the daily maintenance tasks of the community, thus freeing up men to preach, teach, and make decisions. The pattern is predictable.

It is highly probable that even these crumbs will be given only to women in canonical religious communities—that is to sisters—who have already signaled by their vow of obedience some willingness to cooperate with the current system in exchange for public status as religious. This is a nightmare scenario insofar as it will divide women from one another. I regret to say it is not out of the question, but I urge women to guard against it by rejecting any offers that come only to some and with strings.

Fourth, the Pope has painted himself into a corner from which he wants to escape. As recently as the meeting with the UISG, Francis warned against “the danger of clericalism in the Church today” which problem he would only exacerbate by adding women to the clerical ranks. Having raised the question and promised a study on women deacons, the pope is on thin ice to step back from some substantive reform related to women. I doubt it will come on birth control or abortion. If he names women deaconesses and does not ordain women to the diaconate and eventually presbyterate, he proves himself to be yet another Catholic patriarch bent on keeping women in their place. If he ordains women to the diaconate and presbyterate, he reinforces and reinscribes the very clericalism he disdains. This is the conundrum he faces.

In for a dime, in for a dollar

If he asked my advice, I would say in for a dime, in for a dollar, Francis. I would urge him to take a step back from the gender question and return to the matter of function. Ministry is a function, something every baptized Christian is expected to do by virtue of baptism, not by virtue of ordination. There is ample evidence that the current hierarchical structure of ministry and decision-making is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a global church. The clerical sex abuse crisis and its cover-up is all one needs to examine to make that case. But everything from poor quality sermons to lack of pastoral care shows the need for change.

Francis would be well advised to put a moratorium on ordaining anyone, male, female or beyond the gender binaries. He would do well to set up a series of discussions on ministry and ecclesiology around the world. These would include well informed theologians, active ministers, committed church members a majority of whom would be young people, to imagine and construct together some new models of church to be lived out locally for a decade and then be evaluated. In the meantime, ministry, including Eucharist, would be the responsibility of the whole community.

Those churches could be linked virtually, governed democratically at the local level, and be seen as catholic in the fullest sense of the term. How ministry and decision-making are handled would be up to local groups according to their needs. The Vatican would find that many of its current functions are unnecessary so the institutional church could save precious resources on a bloated bureaucracy. Those could be redirected to feed, clothe, and shelter people with plenty left over for structural change work on a global scale.

To do so would bring about a new Pentecost and open a new chapter in catholic (lowercase “c”) history. Go for it, Francis. There is nothing to lose and a world of good to be gained.


Mary Hunt’s opinion is that supporters of women’s Ordination in the roman Catholic Church may just have been too hopeful of remarks made by Pope Francis, at a gathering of Religious in Rome, recently. Here is evidence of a former Pope’s hopes in this area”

“In the early 1970s, Pope Paul VI asked the International Theological Commission (ITC) to study the question of women deacons. Decades later, bits and pieces of their work saw the light of day, then were suppressed, and now are being brought back for scrutiny. Women deacons are obviously a theological hot potato since they involve ordination.”

Considering the fact that Pope Paul VI – before he was checked by the Roman Curia, was obviously keen to see women in the role of deacons in the Church. However, his efforts were stalled by the ruling powers at the Vatican.

The question now is, will Pope Francis’ effort to revive this ancient ministry of Women in the Catholic Church be, once again, ruled out of court by pressure from the Roman Curia?

Here is evidence of what may actually still be Rome’s official attitude towards the scriptural role of Women Deacons in the Early Church at the time of Saint Paul:

“Even Pope Francis confessed recently to the nuns that he was a bit foggy on the question. During his U.S. visit, he noted that the role of deacons was essentially made up by the church to fulfill certain needs. Women were allegedly involved in the baptism and care of other women and children when baptism was by immersion. Someone had to help women on and off with their clothes and deal with their naked bodies, hence the presence of women deacons. But as sprinkling holy water replaced the bath-like approach, women’s role shrunk like jeans in hot water.

This whole idea of holy women ministering only to women could well be seen as an extension of patriarchalism in the Church – a factor that, in today’s climate of gender equality, might seem inappropriate if not demeaning of women’s role in the Church. 

Whether or not  women will  ever be ordained Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has all the hallmarks of the one most likely to bring about that change.

Father Ron Smith

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SEC to consider Equal Marriage

Scottish Episcopalians consider equal marriage

While the [presbyterian] Church of Scotland is due to vote today on whether to allow its ministers to be in same-sex marriages, Harriet Sherwood also reports in the Guardian:Scottish churches push forward on gay rights that:

…The Scottish Episcopal Church is expected to take the first step in a two-stage process at its synod next month towards changing church law to allow same-sex weddings in church. If passed, a second vote would be required next year.

Such a move would invite de facto sanctions by the international Anglican Communion similar to the measures imposed on the US Episcopal Church earlier this year after it permitted clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

David Chillingworth, the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said: “The canonical change would make it possible for our clergy to conduct same-sex marriages and to be in same-sex marriages – that’s the direction in which we’re moving.”

However, he added, “there is also a significant group of people who regard it as wrong, contrary to scripture and the fundamental teachings of the church”. He said his job was “to preserve the unity of the church”.

If the change to church law passed next year, he said, “we’re aware we will probably find ourselves in the same position as the US Episcopal Church. These are difficult issues; we are all in transition.”

ACNS has a more detailed report on this by Gavin Drake: Scottish Episcopal Church to debate changes to marriage canon.

…The current Canon, C31, begins by defining marriage by stating: “The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.”

The proposed amendment to Canon C31 would replace that wording with a new clause which says: “In the light of the fact that there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this Church, no cleric of this Church shall be obliged to conduct any marriage against their conscience. . .”

The full text of the report by the Doctrine Committee on the Theology of Marriage which has led to this debate can be found here.

This page contains links to all the documents for the June meeting of the Scottish General Synod.

Fulcrum has published a lengthy critique of the doctrine committee’s proposals by OliverO’Donovan available here, but also more conveniently as a PDF here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 21 May 2016
Thanks to Simon Sarmiento of ‘Thinking Anglicans’ for this link to the Scottish Episcopal Church’s (SEC’s) notice of intention to debate the prospect of changing their Marriage Canon to allow for the celebration of a Same-Sex  Couple’s Marriage in the Church.
Here is a report of the statement of ++ David Chillingworth’s (The Scottish Primus’s) opinion on what is about to take place at next month’s Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church:
“David Chillingworth, the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said: “The canonical change would make it possible for our clergy to conduct same-sex marriages and to be in same-sex marriages – that’s the direction in which we’re moving.” – However, he added, “there is also a significant group of people who regard it as wrong, contrary to scripture and the fundamental teachings of the church”. He said his job was “to preserve the unity of the church”.
While the Scottish Anglicans are thinking about the prospect of actually marrying Same-Sex couples in a Church ceremony; we in ACANZP (the Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific Islands) are more cautious, preferring to address the question of whether, or not, clergy in our Church should be permitted to bless an already contracted Civil Marriage of Same-Sex persons.
A pertinent question in both instances may be: whether by changing a canon to allow the Church to either ‘Bless’ a Same-Sex Civil Marriage or, alternatively, to Marry a Same-Sex couple in Church, the Church is actually substantively changing the doctrine of Marriage.
 Is altering a Canon of the Church – to suit a new circumstance in which a marriage may be performed in the Church – an actual alteration of the basic Doctrine of Marriage? Or, alternatively, is changing a Canon of the Church merely altering the rules under which a particular pastoral action of the Church may be amended?
These are matters currently being debated in ACANZP. Our next General Synod, in 2018, will hopefully have sorted out this issue in time to allow the Blessing of same-sex couples who have already become legally married in a civil ceremony. Whatever our Church in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands chooses to do; there will be no compulsion  on any priest or bishop in our Church to perform such a ceremony.
Our recent (2016) General Synod decided to put this question on the back burner in the meantime; with the archbishops charged with the appointment of a second ‘Special Commission’ to look into ways of accommodating the two different views: on whether, or not, our Church should Bless Same-Sex Unions. Hopefully, by the next General Synod (2018), the matter will be sorted in a way to suit both parties.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Call for Women on R.C. Commission

Sister calls for men and women to be on deacon commission

Sr Carmen Sammut resized

A leading religious sister has called for men and women to be on the Pope’s future commission to study the issue of women deacons.

Sr  Carmen Sammut, the president of the International Union of Superiors General (IUSG), also said sisters globally would be better equipped to carry out their work if they could become deacons.

“We are already doing so many things that resemble what a deacon would do, although it would help us to do a bit more service if we were ordained deacons,” she said.

Last week, at an IUSG meeting at the Vatican, Pope Francis agreed to set up a commission to look at the women deacons issue.

The Vatican was quick to say that the Pope, in doing this, was not intending that women should be ordained as deacons or priests.

Sr Sammut, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa, said the commission should include both sexes and should have a global perspective.

“Sometimes decisions are made here in Rome and it’s not only that they’re only men — no women — but also the other cultures are not very much included,” Sr Sammut said.

The IUSG, the Maltese sister said, also aims to have more say in decision-making in the Catholic Church.

This includes challenging the way leadership is tied to being a cleric and therefore excluding women.

“It’s not just a question of feminism, it’s a question of our being baptised, that gives us the duty and the right to be part of the decision-making processes,” said Sr Sammut.

Women religious have felt empowered under the papacy of Francis, she added.

This has allowed them to “walk with more courage” in what can often be a dangerous vocation in some parts of the world.




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