A few weeks ago now, I debated on the Jeremy Vine show the issue of same-sex ‘marriages’ in Anglican churches. My opposite number in this debate was the Revd Chris Newlands, former chaplain to the former Bishop of Chelmsford and now vicar of Blackburn. Chris is in a civil partnership but was disappointed that he would not be allowed to convert this into a marriage on Anglican premises.
During the debate, Chris attempted to link the issue of same-sex marriage to that of having women bishops, basically suggesting that opposition to the former arose from the same reasons as opposition to the latter. (He also, in this context, described me as being ‘from’ the Diocese of Sydney, to which, as a lover of that city, I can only say, ‘I wish’.)
Having just been speaking that morning to a clergywoman who (obviously) supports women’s ordination but was adamant I should miss our Chapter Christmas lunch in favour of speaking against same-sex marriage in the radio debate, I felt I was more than justified in suggesting Chris was throwing out a red herring. There is indeed no necessary link between being pro-women bishops and pro-same-sex marriage.
Nevertheless, for some people they are indeed twinned as objectives. I was listening to someone based in Church House just a few months ago, who said that (in his words) the liberals had three objectives: the defeat of the covenant, the introduction of women bishops and then the approval of same-sex relationships. They may be disappointed to find themselves with only one down and still two to go, but their objectives clearly remain the same.
In this connection, therefore, it was interesting to see that Chris Newlands has once again been in the news, this time organizing a petition of clergy in the Diocese of Blackburn, who have written to the Archbishop of York, “urging him to ensure that the next Bishop of Blackburn will be prepared to ordain women as priests, and fully affirm their ministry.”
Their motivation presumably comes partly from the fact that the last two bishops of Blackburn have apparently not been willing themselves to ordain women. As I have observed before, however, their suggestion is simply untenable.
The position of the Church of England regarding senior appointments, expressed in the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod is that:
There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.
If the Archbishop of York, or the Crown Nominations Commission, were to act contrary to this, it would throw the appointment into question. And were that to happen, then (unlike the case with the Bishop of Salisbury, where a stipulation similar to that from the Blackburn clergy was actually included in the diocesan ‘statement of needs’) I would be fairly confident of the appointment being challenged.
Now as I have also discussed elsewhere, it would be equally wrong for an appointment which ought to be open to clergy of any view to be unofficially ‘reserved’ for those opposed to the ordination of women. It would be quite appropriate for the Blackburn clergy to ask that this should not be the case, but that does not seem to be what they are saying.
I do, though, wonder whether these clergy are even aware of the requirement of the relevant Act of Synod. If they are not, then they may simply have signed the petition in ignorance, not realizing they are asking an Archbishop to break the rules. Nevertheless, it should be made quite clear to them that this is what they have done and that what they are requesting is simply impossible to grant.
Meanwhile, though, it highlights once again the drift in the Church of England from ‘we’re allbeing encouraged to get along’, to ‘some of us will be allowed to get along more than others’. If nothing else, this should be a warning that the introduction of the ‘option’ to remain a traditionalist will always be a Trojan horse if there is enough pressure in the Church and society to go the other way.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: