Wednesday, July 9, 2008

‘Anglo-Catholics must now decide’

By the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
11 July 2008

Bishop Burnham, left, with Fr Raymond Bristow, centre, and Fr Neil Hibbons

So we are to have a code of practice. Traditional Anglo-Catholics must now decide whether to stay in the Church of England in what, for a while, will be a protected colony - where the sacramental ministry of women bishops and priests is neither acknowledged nor received - or to leave.

Leaving isn't quite so easy as it sounds. You don't become a Catholic, for instance, because of what is wrong with another denomination or faith. You become a Catholic because you accept that the Catholic Church is what she says she is and the Catholic faith is what it says it is. In short, some Anglo-Catholics will stay and others will go. It is quite easy to think of unworthy reasons for staying - and there are no doubt one or two unworthy reasons for leaving.

There are also honourable reasons for staying. Like the Anglican clergy who wouldn't swear allegiance to William and Mary at the end of the 17th century and the Catholic clergy who wouldn't swear allegiance to the French Revolutionary government a century later, the "non-jurors" of the present day will soldier on and die out but they will be faithful to what they have believed and history will honour them for their faithfulness.

Recent history teaches us that those who stay on - for instance, in similar circumstances in North American and Scandinavia - are not left alone for long. The pressure of secular culture bears down on them to ensure conformity with secular values.

As for those who choose to go, like in the early 1990s these will include some of the finest Anglican clergy.

Most of them are not motivated in the least by gender issues but by a keenness to pursue Catholic unity and truth.

For them, the decision of the Church of England to proceed to the ordination of women bishops without providing adequately for traditionalists renders the claims of the Church of England to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church shaky or simply untenable.

Codes of practice are shifting sands. The sacramental life of the Church must be built on rock.

How could we trust a code of practice to deliver a workable ecclesiology if every suggestion we have made for our inclusion has been turned down flat?

How could we trust a code of practice when those who are offering it include those who have done most to undermine and seek to revoke the code of practice in force for these last 14 years?

The synodical process for traditional Anglo-Catholics is over. Some will try to draw new lines in the sand. But what the General Synod of the Church of England demonstrated on 7/7 (2008) is that, as on 11/11 (1992), it has decided that it is unilaterally competent to alter Holy Order. At one stage in the late 1990s it even had a go at changing the Creed. Here at work is a democratic Magisterium which at York this week showed that it values the advice of archbishops and bishops' prolocutors less than it does the outcome of a show of hands.

What we must humbly ask for now is for magnanimous gestures from our Catholic friends, especially from the Holy Father, who well understands our longing for unity, and from the hierarchy of England and Wales. Most of all we ask for ways that allow us to bring our folk with us.

Meanwhile we retreat into the wilderness and watch and pray.

Andrew Burnham is Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Canterbury and Provincial Episcopal Visitor

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