Women And The Church (WATCH) has issued a statement on the upcoming consecration of The Rev. Philip North as Suffragan Bishop of Burnley and Provincial Episcopal Visitor (PEV) for the Province of York.
The group asks about the rationale of the decision by Archbishop Sentamu to preside but not ordain North, and the fact that while this ordination is supposed to hold the Church of England together, it does so at the expense of the unity of the Church that the office of Bishop is supposed to symbolize.
WATCH points out that Burnley will not only be a “flying bishop” but the bishop of a diocese whose members include women clergy as well as male and female Anglicans who accept the ordination of women, which North does not.
What might the Archbishop’s decision to refrain from consecrating a bishop indicate? At the least, it appears to be a tacit endorsement of the rationale that his active laying on of hands would not be welcome by the candidate or a particular constituency that he represents. Given that, we believe it would be very helpful for the House of Bishops to invite the Faith and Order Commission to examine and explore this rationale and the theology underpinning it. That might help those who are perplexed to comprehend it, and therefore be more able to honour the faithfulness of its adherents.
Our greatest sadness is that the word ‘taint’ is in the atmosphere again. However much dissenters refute this as a basis for their beliefs, it is very hard to overcome the perception that because the Archbishop has consecrated a female bishop, he is now unacceptable as a consecrator of a dissenting bishop. This concept causes such deep damage to all of us but it cannot be avoided in these circumstances. We all know the message this conveys to members of the Church and wider society about how women are perceived.
All these issues have particular resonance in this case, as the Bishop of Burnley is a bishop for the whole church, not a PEV. We are concerned that he should be affirmed and upheld through his consecration as a bishop for the people of Blackburn Diocese, not as a bishop whose ministry will be directed solely towards the dissenting minority. He will share the cure of souls across Blackburn Diocese with female and male priests, and will minister across all parishes.
The Donatist controversy in the early church sought purity in the one ordaining. Donatism is a heresy. The church is clear – the validity of sacramental actions is not dependent on the worthiness of the one administering that action.
Ruth Gledhill’s article says, “the Church of England’s catholic wing is being allowed to preserve the traditionalist apostolic succession, creating a line of male bishops in perpetuity”. That, as I said at the start, is something I understand. But in their method of bringing that about, let us hope that the article is wrong. Or, if not, let us hope that those involved resile from these plans.
Because, if they do go ahead, and what she terms “the Church of England’s catholic wing” does in fact think that in order to preserve a male-only episcopal line it needs to have “no bishop lay hands on [Father Philip North] who has previously laid hands on a woman bishop or priest”, then that would mean that this “wing” would have lost its mooring, and drifted away from orthodox sacramental understanding, and could no longer rightly be called “catholic”.
Posted by Andrew Gerns