Today the General Synod of the Church of England voted to reject an amendment to the women bishops legislation tabled by the archbishops of Canterbury and York which would have offered a certain level of safeguard to opponents of the move. Under the amendment a female bishop would “in practice refrain from exercising” her episcopal ministry in parishes which had declared their opposition to the consecration of women to the episcopate.
It really is none of my business what the Church of England does, yet I cannot help feeling that the synod has made the right decision here. It is an ecclesiological nonsense to ask a bishop to systematically refrain from exercising a characteristic episcopal ministry within parts of her own diocese. It is also deeply unfair to the women concerned, giving as it does the distinct impression that whilst they can be bishops, they can’t be *proper* bishops.
Of more immediate interest to me, however, is the effect this development is likely to have on the Catholic Church in England. It is inevitable that there will be people who consider becoming Catholics because of today’s events, and they make more likely some kind of corporate move on the part of a group of Anglicans. I feel a little bit ambivalent about this. Having self-consciously moved on from Anglo-Catholicism myself, I would be very worried were some kind of conservative ghetto to be established within the English Catholic Church. The danger needs to be acknowledged by people on both sides of the Tiber, and avoided. Crucially, any ordinariate set up for former Anglicans needs to enjoy a good relationship with the Catholic dioceses; this will take effort from both sides, and shouldn’t be a purely clerical affair.
On the other hand, I know from first hand experience that there are some great people, clerical and lay, who are presently in the Church of England who must be considering their position at the moment. The Catholic Church could gain a lot from the pastoral insight and experience of Anglicans. Whatever happens, we should pray for our sisters and brothers in the Church of England right now.