Affirming Catholicism and SCP on Bishop of Burnley consecration
Joint Statement by Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests on the consecration of Philip North as Bishop of Burnley
Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests are disappointed at the Archbishop of York’s decision not to lay hands on Philip North at his consecration as Bishop of Burnley, and the decision that only three bishops – none of whom ordains women – will lay on hands.
Whilst recognising that this is the Archbishop’s prerogative, the decision is particularly difficult to understand given that the Bishop of Burnley is a Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Blackburn and as such will share in responsibility for female clergy in the Diocese and for parishes which welcome the sacramental ministry of women. We are especially exercised that the Bishop of Burnley’s own Diocesan Bishop will apparently not be laying on hands.
Affirming Catholicism and SCP recognise and commend the Church of England’s affirmation that those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests should be enabled to flourish within its life and structures. However, we are concerned that the Archbishop of York’s decision does not exemplify the commitment “to maintain the highest possible degree of communion possible” which is articulated in the Five Guiding Principles agreed by General Synod and to which Forward in Faith has explicitly assented. This commitment must be lived out in the light of the first two principles:
- The Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
- Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter.
The House of Bishops has emphasised that the Five Guiding Principles “need to be read one with the other and held in tension, rather than being applied selectively.” Affirming Catholicism and SCP recognise that the living out of the principles will be complicated. However, Ministry Division has required that from November 2014, all candidates for ordination should explicitly assent to the Five Guiding Principles. It seems reasonable that such explicit assent should also be demonstrated by all those to be consecrated bishop.
Affirming Catholicism and SCP would therefore welcome a statement from the new Bishop of Burnley and from the Bishop of Blackburn confirming their commitment to the first two of the Five Guiding Principles agreed by the Church of England, and specifically affirming the Bishop of Burnley’s responsibilities towards the female clergy of the Diocese of Blackburn and to the parishes under his care who welcome the ordination of women. We would similarly welcome a statement from the new Bishop of Stockport and the Bishop of Chester confirming the Bishop of Stockport’s assent to the Five Guiding Principles. Indeed, we believe that a case could be made that all licensed clergy in the Church of England should be expected so to assent.
1 February 2015
The Church of England’s SCP (Society of Catholic Priests) has joined ‘Affirming Catholics’ in issuing this statement of disaffection with the Archbishop of York’s decision not to lay hands on Father Philip North at his consecration as Bishop of Burnley, and the decision that only three bishops – none of whom ordains women – will lay hands on him.
In issuing this statement, it will not escape people’s notice that the Society of Catholic Priests in the Church of England, though acceding to the ‘High Church’ principles of the Mother Church, is not at all identifiable with the anti-women’s-ministry embraced by the extraordinary sodality calling itself ‘Forward-in-Faith’ (FiF) which is not confined to the Church of England but which has members throughout the Anglican Communion – including the Evangelical Sydney Diocese in Australia – who are against the ordination of women. (It is a known fact that, for some in the C. of E., F.i.F. has been translated to mean B.i.V. ‘Backward-in-Vision’!)
Considering the fact that Archbishop Sentamu, The Archbishop of York, is generally thought to be a moderate Anglo-Catholic – and not an F.i.F. ‘ultra-montanist’ – both SCP and Affirming Catholics (generally Anglo-Catholic but supportive of women’s ministry) are challenging the ABY’s reluctance to ‘lay hands’ on the F.i.F. candidate, Fr. Phillip North, at his imminent consecration as Bishop of Burnley in York Minster. The fact that the ABY has already ‘laid hands’ on previous F.i.F. Bishops, has now, apparently, been further ‘compromised’ by his laying hands on a woman – Bishop Libby Lane.
It must be said that the situation has no parallel in the ‘Catholic’ tradition claimed by the membership of Forward in Faith, where bishops are treated as equals. However, it could be said (as F.i.F. members claim) that the ordination of women, until its implementation in other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, had not been part of Catholic tradition either. Certainly, both (1) the ordination of women, and (2) the withholding of the laying on of hands in common on a bishop of the Church, are not part of Roman Catholic Tradition, but then, the Roman Catholic Church does not officially recognise the Orders of Anglicans, anyway. Clearly, here, one can only refer to the ‘catholic’ Tradition as adhered to in and by Churches of the Anglican Communion – including the Church of England.
In the insistence of F.i.F. membership on the maintenance of the ‘Apostolic Succession’; being members of the Anglican Church they can only insist on ‘Apostolic Succession’ as interpreted by the polity of their Anglican Churches. There is no special ‘right of appeal’ to Roman Catholic jurisdiction on this important issue of church authority.
This is what makes the ABY’s decision to accede to the requirement of F.i.F. members to refrain from participation in the ritual ‘laying-in-if-hands’ on an F.i.F. Bishop by any bishop in the Anglican Church who has participated in that ritual act in the ordination of a female bishop in the Church of England perplexing to Anglo-Catholics of the SCP and ‘Affirming Catholics’ (like myself, in ACANZP) who believe that “In Christ, there is neither male nor female” – especially when it comes to the exercise of ministry and of authority in the Churches of the Anglican Communion, whose polity allows for it.
When all is said and done, what has really put the Archbishop of York on the spot in this instance, is that he was part of the House of Bishops’ decision to allow this compromise to be put forward at the recent General Synod of the C. of E. to encourage the F.i.F. people not to impede the majority’s vote for the ordination of women bishops.
The question is: Was this a compromise too far ? And how will it impact on the future conduct of rites of the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand