Church of England trads left in the cold by Synod delays

The Church of England's Parliament, known as the General Synod, meets this week, beginning today with an announcement on women bishops which is certain to have an impact on the numbers of Anglican traditionalists choosing to take up the Pope's ordinariate offer.

Synod voted two years ago to move towards consecrating women bishops, but is yet to come up with a formula for doing so which doesn't at the same time alienate traditionalists who oppose the move. Suggestions of an "alternative network" of traditionalist bishops overseeing traditionalist parishes -- an extension of the current "flying bishops" model -- have so far failed; and the so-called "Revision Committee" -- created to examine the various options -- will say today (a) that their work is unfinished, and will be until at least July; (b) that attempts to find a safe space for traditionalists have not succeeded. Ruth Gledhill at The Times has been leaked today's speech by the bishop in charge of the Revision Committee, whose tortuous language and stupendous opacity will give little comfort to opponents of a female episcopate.

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The circle is closing on the traditionalists in other ways. Ruth writes:

The existing three flying bishop posts are to be abolished and not replaced. Instead, any women consecrated bishops will be asked to “delegate” authority to another bishop, such as a suffragan, to carry out confirmations and other episcopal duties in parishes that refuse to accept her ministry.

Does this make it more likely that C of E traditionalists will accept the Pope's ordinariate offer? Yes and no. For those that have already decided, in principle, to accept the offer and are waiting on the details, it will confirm their decision. But the view among most traditionalists I have spoken to is that an early exodus would weaken their attempts to safeguard the 'Catholic' place in the Church of England. Supporters of women bishops be able to say, in effect, "they're going anyway. Why agree to what they want?" As long as traditionalists remain in the C of E, the threat of their departure is likely to make supporters of women bishops more likely to negotiate.

Hence the decision by leading Anglo-Catholic bishops -- including those who went to Rome to ask for the ordinariate -- to postpone their response to the Pope's offer. Initially they had scheduled 22 February as the day in which they would vote on whether to accept the ordinariate offer and begin negotiations with the bishops of England and Wales. One of the "flying bishops", Andrew Burnham, told the BBC that 22 February had been designated as "an appropriate day for priests and people to make an initial decision as to whether they wish to respond positively to and explore further the initiative of the Apostolic Constitution". But this had assumed that this week's Synod would debate the Revision Committee's proposals for accommodating opponents of women bishops. Because that debate has been delayed until the Synod next meets in York on 9-13 July, the flying bishops now view 22 February "as a day of discernment and prayer, and not a day of decision".

So what was going to be a major Easter story -- a vote by most of the traditionalists on whether to explore further the ordinariate -- looks like it's been kicked into the long grass.

But my hunch is that there will still be some parishes who will vote anyway to negotiate with the Catholic bishops, because they have long since given up on Synod. They will be few in number. But what they negotiate will open up a path for the majority of traditionalists to go down after the summer, helping to assuage their fears.

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