The Tablet Blog
Revd John Richardson, guest contributor
25 May 2012, 9:00
The position of a ‘traditionalist’ on the issue of women bishops in the Church of England today can be summed up briefly as uncomfortable but not impossible.
The chief problem is that many of the most ardent supporters of women bishops, whilst liberal in their theology, are decidedly illiberal in their attitude towards those with whom they disagree.
The first clears up an anomaly that could have meant that bishops and clergy who supported women’s ordination were appointed to minister in parishes which didn’t. The second specifies that ‘delegation’ by the diocesan bishop applies to another bishop’s authority to minister, not that the second bishop acts as a ‘delegate’. Given that this addresses some (though by no means all) of the traditionalists’ anxieties, you might have thought it would have been welcomed by those supporting the legislation.
Au contraire. As soon as even the existence of the amendments was announced, the pressure group WATCH issued a press release saying the bishops had “failed to listen to the voice of ordained women … and been swayed … into making concessions that can only undermine the ministry of women,” adding for good measure that: “Their decision to intervene in this way will significantly undermine the credibility of the House of Bishops.”
One small point, however: the WATCH statement was issued before the actual wording of the amendments was published.
Such a premature reaction looks close to paranoid. But more than that, in some circles there is not even an attempt to disguise the dislike of traditionalists. The highly popular Thinking Anglicans website, for example, is replete with words like “scandal” and phrases like “whingeing self-styled “traditionalists””. On another blog, even such minor amendments are described as “horrific” and “completely unacceptable.”
Now had they threatened the very existence of women bishops, one could understand the concern, if not the language. But they clearly do not. And this explains much of the traditionalists’ discomfort.
It is one thing to be disagreed with. It is quite another to be heartily disliked by people who seemingly lack a sense of perspective. Being with them in the same Church is uncomfortable enough. Imagining them in charge of it is decidedly worrying.
The Revd. John Richardson, an ‘assistant minister‘ of the Anglican parish of Ugley, would surely not mind being thus addressed in the Roman Catholic newspaper, The Tablet’, because, as a member of the ultra protestant sodality in the Church of England rejoicing in the name of ‘Reform’, the term ‘priest’ might not chime with his radically Evangelical understanding of ordained ministry.
In this context, I find it curious that the ‘Ugley Vicar‘ should bother to write to a Roman Catholic newspaper, in order to defend the stance of conservative Anglo-Catholics on the issue of maintaining their opposition to Women Bishops and Clergy in the Church of England. But of course it is not quite so simple as that. His own conservative Protestant ‘Reform‘ group has formed an unlikely alliance with the ultra-montane conservative Anglo-Catholics in the C. of E. who do not want a bar of Women Clergy and Bishops either.
In matters concerning Women or Gays, Reform (though basically also anti-Catholic) finds itself in agreement with certain conservative ‘High Church‘ Anglicans with similar fears about both Women and Gays, with whom they can form a pressure group to try to outlaw both from the Church of England. One might call this an ‘unholy alliance’.
And now obviously, trying to court the opinion of Roman Catholics, the Ugley Vicar is courting their supposed opposition to Women Clergy and Bishops, as a weird way of gaining an inter-Church solidarity against them. A funny way of trying to get support for a negative process in the Church? Yes. But, if you’re desperate, you’ll try anything!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand