R.I.P. Church of England
The Church of England finally voted yesterday to let women become bishops – to the anger of many traditionalists. [Didact: No doubt the Big Fella Upstairs is positively thrilled to bits at the idea that His Word is now being interpreted via representative democracy...]
The move was passed by a comfortable majority at a tense gathering of its parliament, the General Synod, in York.
It ended 14 years of hand-wringing and faction-fighting, delighting Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and almost all of his fellow bishops.
The decision freed the Church from the risk of intervention by politicians.
MPs had threatened to step in to force the Church to accept women bishops in 2012, after a disastrously botched vote saw traditionalists narrowly block reform.
David Cameron described yesterday’s vote as ‘a great day for the Church and for equality’. Ed Miliband said it was ‘wonderful news’, while Nick Clegg called the decision a ‘long overdue step’.
But some evangelical conservatives and Anglo-Catholics – a branch of the Church which affirms its Catholic heritage – were left divided and angry, having long argued that the Bible and tradition do not permit women to become bishops. One said he had ‘betrayed’ his supporters, while others accused Synod members of being too worried about outside reaction.
Their comments provoked protests from Church liberals and left the Synod chairman, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, calling for quiet, telling its members not to behave like rowdy MPs.
Yesterday’s vote came nearly 20 months after the Church’s last attempt to approve a law allowing women bishops. The lost Synod vote in November 2012 left the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, humiliated and apparently with little hope of reviving the cause for several years.
But a new compromise, which allows scope for traditionalists to challenge the appointment of a female bishop in their parish, was brought to the vote in record time.
The plan is based on the hope of compromise between opposing liberals and conservatives.
Archbishop Welby said CofE members must ‘continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds’.
He added: ‘As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow.’
During the debate, Guildford traditionalist Adrian Vincent said he would reverse his position from 2012 and vote in favour.
‘By doing so, I am betraying what I believe, I am betraying those who trusted in me,’ he said.
The Tradition Established by Christ Himself
Yet even if we disregard the differences between the sexes, as many advocates of women's ordination do, we have to face the fact that the ordination of men is an unbroken tradition that goes back not only to the Apostles but to Christ Himself. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 1577) states:
"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination." The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.
Priesthood Not a Function But an Indelible Spiritual Character
Still, the argument continues, some traditions are made to be broken. But again, that misunderstands the nature of the priesthood. Ordination does not simply give a man permission to perform the functions of a priest; it imparts to him an indelible (permanent) spiritual character that makes him a priest, and since Christ and His Apostles chose only men to be priests, only men can validly become priests.
The Impossibility of Women's OrdinationIn other words, it's not simply that the Catholic Church does not allow women to be ordained. If a validly ordained bishop were to perform the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders exactly, but the person supposedly being ordained were a woman rather than a man, the woman would no more be a priest at the end of the rite than she was before it began. The bishop's action in attempting the ordination of a woman would be both illicit (against the laws and regulations of the Church) and invalid (ineffective, and hence null and void).