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A request for “gracious restraint”: CofE’s first woman bishop, and a traditionalist

A request for “gracious restraint”: CofE’s first woman bishop, and a traditionalist


On January 26, the Reverend Libby Lane will be consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Stockport at York Minster. On February 2, the Reverend Philip North will be consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Burnley in the Blackburn diocese.

Lane is the first woman bishop in the Church of England; North is a traditionalist who does not support the ordination of women as priests.

As a result, those bishops who were involved in the consecration of the Reverend Lane will not be part of the laying on of hands for the Reverend North’s consecration, and this will likely include the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, and the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson.

Christian Today reports:

Although no-one from the Archbishop’s office, the diocesan office, the cathedral or the women’s ordination group WATCH would comment to Christian Today, a source said the confidential plans had caused “great upset” because they revived the concept of “taint”.

Effectively, it means the Church of England’s catholic wing is being allowed to preserve the traditionalist apostolic succession, creating a line of male bishops in perpetuity.

The source said: “We understand that there are only about three bishops who will actually be able to lay hands on Philip North because everyone else will have laid hands on Libby Lane the week before. It is very odd for all these bishops to be present at a consecration and yet just two or three lay on hands.”

Sources said no-one had been banned from laying hands on Bishop-elect North but bishops who will be at the consecration had been asked to exercise “gracious restraint”.

In December 2012, Fr. North was appointed as bishop of Whitby but withdrew his acceptance after controversy arose – he would have been the third traditionalist bishop in that position. Quoted in the Church Times:

The churchwarden of St Oswald’s Church, Lythe, in Whitby, John Secker, wrote a letter to the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, dated 28 November, which gathered a number of signatories.

The letter said: “We are puzzled, dismayed and very disappointed that for the third time running we have been assigned a Bishop of Whitby who does not accept the ordination of women priests. . .

“We are aware that some parishes, some clergy, and some of the laity in the Whitby bishopric do not accept the validity of women priests but, as in the rest of the country, a substantial majority of us do. So why should we have to have a bishop who does not accept them? We assume that there must be some sort of rationale behind the decision, but you should be aware that many of us feel aggrieved and overlooked.”

In the past, bishops who have consecrated women priests in the Church of England have also consecrated traditionalist priests; this revival of restrictions seems to be in response to the CofE’s passing of the Canon to allow women bishops, and follows yesterday’s passage in Parliament of legislation to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords (background), says Christian Today:

Although the former “provincial episcopal visitors” known as flying bishops were consecrated by bishops who had ordained women priests, such as Lord Carey, sources said the situation around this apparent contradiction changed the moment the Canon was passed allowing the consecration of women bishops. Following the passing of the Canon, every subsequent traditionalist bishop and priest must be ordained by bishops who are free of “taint”.

The move comes as MPs approved legislation yesterday to help fast-track female bishops into the House of Lords over the next decade, ensuring that female diocesan bishops will be first in line to succeed the present “Lords Spiritual” as they retire.

Posted by Cara Modisett


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Joey Williams

Thanks, Nick.

Joey Williams


You reply is a perfect example of what I was saying. You cite racism, implying that I probably approve of it; you say that traditionalist men in leadership positions think that women are inferior, failing to cite any reason for tarring them all with that very broad brush; and you say that everyone should agree there are some people who should not be tolerated. I disagree very much with this last item. Everyone should be tolerated. There may be behaviors which are unacceptable, but can you truly say that there is any person who should be shunned because of who they are?

Consider for a moment that you may be telegraphing things you expect of others because of their position on issues, and placing words in their mouths or ideas in their heads that aren’t actually there.

Nick Porter

I agree fully with your comment Joey,well said.

David Streever

I did not for a moment consider that you accept racism. I actually used it as an example that I assume we both would recognize as evil right away.

I’m sorry that you misunderstood me and jumped to that conclusion.

I think it odd that you’d write something so condescending to me as your last sentence, considering that it is precisely what you’ve done. Race-based discrimination is an apt parallel to discrimination against women, as both are forms of oppression practiced by people who collectively hold the majority of power, against groups that are born with the qualities used to justify the oppression and discrimination against them. That is why I used it, and it’s strange to me that you projected that I was using it to imply that you are a racist, considering I didn’t suggest that!

Your response to my examples (would you employ an enthusiastic arsonist as a fireman? an unrepentant and active criminal as a policeman?) is perplexing. You would choose an enthusiastic and practicing arsonist to be a fireman? Why? Are there no more qualified candidates? My point is that there are often times many people who are eligible and qualified; we discriminate against the unqualified every day, in myriad ways.

Just as we would not pick a drugs kingpin to be a police officer, I hope that we can avoid picking men who discriminate against women on the basis of sex alone as leaders. The actual quality seems to be counter to the qualities that define good leadership.

That’s not an act of unfair discrimination. Rejecting a person for being a woman is an unfair act of discrimination; rejecting a candidate because they are not qualified is standard and part & parcel of our everyday lives.

Nick Porter

When wanting parishes to have a likeminded shepherd somehow equals “You think women are inferior and that you advocate for domestic abuse” is already a non starter. Like I said,personally, I have no issue with the newly consecrated Bishop Libby, blessings on her ministry, but in turn I also have no issue with Bishop-Elect North. I don’t and will never apologize for that view,let me make that clear before some else tries to go around apologizing for my beliefs. I take full ownership of them and hide behind no one. The sad thing is that there are other issues we may very well be in full agreement with, but the way some of you have painted yourself in an absolutist corner, while DECRYING others who do the same is laughable,sad,and pathetic.

David Streever

Bishop-Elect North believes that women are inherently inferior to men. Why is that an acceptable quality in a person who is leading a congregation of men AND women?

(Also, is characterizing everyone who disagrees with you as laughable & pathetic really an appropriate tactic? Is it consistent with the rest of your comment?)

Nick Porter

David, my opinions stand as they are written, not what you interpret them to be. I stand by every single word I said here. Bishop-Elect North will be consecrated, the sky will not fall and the world will continue to turn. 🙂

Nick Porter

David, do not misconstruct my words by just picking, I didn’t say everyone who doesn’t agree with me, because I’ll tell you what, people have said worse about me here. You didn’t read my last sentence or you deliberately chosen to misunderstand it,I said:

“The sad thing is that there are other issues we may very well be in full agreement with, but the way some of you have painted yourself in an absolutist corner, while DECRYING others who do the same is laughable,sad,and pathetic”.

There are lot of inappropriate tactics going on on this thread, but I’m not one of them who put them into play. We’ve reached an impasse (a long time ago),David. Further dialogue with you would be of no use to either of us.

David Streever

You believe that it’s not a problem that some men view women as inherently inferior to men; when women object to that, you describe them as ‘laughable, sad, and pathetic’. That’s horrible. I am absolutely flabbergasted that you’d deny, denounce, and deride women speaking up about sexism–something which they experience on a regular basis.

We reached an impasse, but that was before you described the women objecting to your acceptance of sexism as ‘laughable, sad, and pathetic’. I would appreciate if you could avoid using such horrid terms to describe women whose experience of the pervasive evil of sexism you’re denying. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use the comments here to tell women upset about sexism that they are ‘just being PC’ and to denigrate them. Please, think about what you’re saying, and try to practice a little more compassion and empathy for the actual targets of sexism.

Joey Williams

In looking over the comments so far it seems that anyone who supports the historic tradition of male clergy is either misogynistic, patristicly oriented, on a male-only power trip, or some combination of these.

Is there no room in the hearts of those championing the cause of women’s ordination to allow those who support the received teaching of the [Catholic] Church and the doctrines they were raised with – meaning male clergy – to continue to believe those things without it being a matter of hatred, ignorance, or some kind of campaign against women? It appears that any kind of disagreement is met with a steam-roller of “get with the times, things have changed, modernize like every other living organism (or at least the ones that matter).” It’s just my opinion, but the tolerance that is being requested of others seems to be rejected when asked for in return.

Just thinking.

Cynthia Katsarelis

“Is there no room in the hearts of those championing the cause of women’s ordination to allow those who support the received teaching of the [Catholic] Church and the doctrines they were raised with – meaning male clergy – to continue to believe those things without it being a matter of hatred, ignorance, or some kind of campaign against women?”

I’ve been trying to make the distinction between the personal and the institutional. Yes. I strongly believe in pastoral provision for conservatives to be ministered to by male clergy. Yes and yes. It doesn’t please me that that’s some peoples’ view, but I do believe that there is room for ministry to those folks. We are not all going to arrive at the Promised Land together at the same time. A conservative on women might be a fine champion of the poor; the Body of Christ is made of many members.

The problem comes with institutional denigration. It is possible to continue male line clergy forever. There should always be at least one man consecrating or ordaining new clergy.

What CoE is doing with the consecration of Phillip North, however, isn’t just insuring the male line with males doing the consecrating. They are saying that male bishops who ordain or consecrate women are “tainted,” and they want to institutionalize and preserve this misogyny that is also a heresy.

The doctrine of “taint” is Donatism. Thus, the people who claim that ordaining and consecrating women is heretical, are embracing a heresy in order to go far beyond simply keeping a male line.

There are a number of absurdities. Jesus traveled through Mary’s womb and she surely changed his nappies. Male clergy administer many sacraments to women, baptism, marriage, the Eucharist, and burial most commonly. The idea that the sacrament (outward and visible sign of God’s internal, invisible Grace) is “tainted” when applied to ordinations and consecrations seems crazy. I find it offensive when conservatives say that a sacrament doesn’t “take” when applied to a woman, but “taint” as a new official doctrine goes further down the road of nastiness, offense, and denigration of women.

It’s unacceptable and thank God that TEC doesn’t subscribe to it. Keep it on your side of the pond and don’t expect to be taken seriously on any moral issue of our day. Because the moral issue of our day is gross inequality and CoE clearly doesn’t get the concept.

David Streever

Tradition in most of our society once held that non-whites were inferior; people made a similar argument against changing it.

The last part of your comment is troubling, because it isn’t actually very logical. I’m not trying to offend you; but please, bear with me as I explain what I think you’re missing. You suggest that appointing leaders who openly discriminate against people on the basis of their sex is an act of tolerance.

In what way? Considering the extensive discrimination against women in our society, at nearly all levels, how is it appropriate to elevate to leadership men who hold ‘traditional’ views that women are inferior?

You seem to imply that it’s hypocritical to speak out against sexism & discrimination while not wanting a leader who is discriminatory. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

People who oppose sexism aren’t seeking some ideal situation of ‘pure tolerance’; rather, they are seeking to end the unfair discrimination against an individual *purely because of a quality they are born with*, such as their biological sex. I think we can all agree that some individuals *should* be met with something less than 100% tolerance.

For instance: a person who loves burning houses down & enjoys it & doesn’t see it as wrong probably shouldn’t be employed as a fire fighter. An unrepentant criminal who is openly still a burglar shouldn’t be employed as a police officer.

Right? It isn’t intolerant to not want a person who openly believes women are inferior to men in leadership. It’s perfectly consistent with the view that sexism and discrimination against women on the basis of sex is wrong.

Elizabeth Kaeton

I am deeply grateful for Cynthia’s intelligent, passionate, generous, and tenacious responses in this discussion. She has more than held up half the sky (to echo an ancient Chinese saying about women) in the argument against “taint” – a despicable, misogynist notion that begins in a literal, simplistic interpretation of the story of “Original Sin” in Genesis, reverberates through the Levitical Codes, is seen in the attitudes toward and treatment of women as chattel in Hebrew Scriptures as well as in some of the healing stories of Jesus, and gives rise to its application in the consecration of Philip North.

At this point, I think some of us, at least, could write Nick Porter’s comments for him.

I do wish to comment about the perspective that those in CofE – including members of WATCH – knew what they were voting for and now have no right to complain. This is a painful example of the lesson former slave, abolitionist and suffragist, Frederick Douglass, once taught:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are (those) who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

I hope the women and men of England and those around the world who are watching the unfolding of this theological debacle and ecclesiological fiasco will come to know the validity and applicability of this lesson.

Finally, I wish to say that I do appreciate Jerald Liko’s comment. You give me such hope that if people listen to conversations like this with what St. Benedict (after Psalm 43) called “the ear of the heart,” they would hear both the inconvenient truth of the teachings of Jesus as well as the disturbing truth of the institutionalized prejudice that so permeates the consecration of Phillip North and hurts us all.

This event is of man, not of God, and as Gamaliel says, “it will not have out.” By that I mean that this very small but stubbornly faithful Remnant of Misogyny will eventually die out under the weight of its own prejudice and the increasing evidence of the skill and compassion and intelligence and efficacy of women in the highest offices of leadership in the church.

Pray for the church, that God may have mercy upon us.

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