Ecclesiological Unicorns

Yesterday’s post concerning the upcoming consecration of a traditionalist bishop in the Church of England got a lot of traffic in a short time. It was spurred by a few Facebook conversations in which I was participating.  It caused further comment in those discussions–both agreeing and disagreeing.  That is good, because as we discuss and argue and disagree, we come closer to truth. When we look at all the aspects of a question, from a variety of viewpoints, without shutting down those we don’t like , we see the problems and challenges of continuing together as Christians who don’t always interpret practices and situations as we have come to understand things.

This morning, a friend’s page (where some lively discussion is taking place), had the following status, which I quote with her permission:

A friend of mine, a priest in Burnley Diocese, wrote to me asking for as many people as possible to email the Archbishop of York pointing out that Fr North will not be consecrated as a PEV but as an area bishop who has to be a focus for unity and who will have care of women clergy.
He should therefore be consecrated by all sacramentally assured male bishops without exception.

The fact that Fr. North is not to be a Provisional Episcopal Visitor, but a suffragan bishop with responsibilities to all clergy of the diocese who fall within his area–any number of whom may be women who are canonically ordained to the priesthood–makes the whole appointment and consecration very problematic.  Apart from what I mentioned yesterday, which focused primarily on the service of consecration itself, there are very real reasons (to me, at least), why appointing a bishop who does not recognize or accept the ministry of validly ordained priests based on their genital configurations, is ill considered.  I hope that, at the point in the service where the question of whether there is any known reason the person appointed should not be consecrated, someone will speak up.

I’ll mainly just copy and paste things I’ve written on my friend’s page, and add in some connecting material if it is needed.  But mainly, if you don’t think it’s possible for a woman to be a priest–that a woman, canonically ordained, is some kind of ecclesiological unicorn (you’ve seen it, but insist it isn’t real)–you shouldn’t be in a position where your job may require you to give pastoral care and oversight to such a person.

The following words are my own–you can pretty much tell the questions/objections I was responding to:

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The real question, bigger than who does the consecrating, is whether someone who does not recognize the priestly ministry of every canonically ordained person in the diocese (or episcopal area), is a fit person to do the job of bishop, if they are appointed to have oversight over all of them–regardless of their biology? The answer is really a simple no.

He can’t (or won’t) do the JOB of bishop over more than those who share his “tradition” or “integrity” if he refuses to acknowledge the ordination of women. Because there will be ordained women in his area, and refusal to provide them with his episcopal ministry *in their capacity as priests* means he isn’t doing his JOB.

Consecration to the episcopate is a sacrament that leads to a JOB function. If his “integrity” can’t do the JOB, it isn’t much of an “integrity”, andhe should have refused the appointment on grounds of “integrity”.

A bishop CANNOT treat duly ordained people as though they are not ordained–and that is what someone whose INTEGRITY says women cannot be priests will be doing with women who have been ordained BY THE CANONS THE NEW “BISHOP” HAS TO UPHOLD. He cannot do the job according to his “integrity”. There is a lack of integrity in accepting appointment to a post you only intend to fulfill halfway. And THAT is the message he is sending. If the Church of England accepts that, the Church of England is an ass.

If he cannot accept the ordination of women as priests, he is thus saying that any congregation in his patch that has a female priest is living without the benefit of valid sacramental ministry. And it thus becomes (according to his so-called “integrity”) to oust those women and replace them with men who have been validly ordained by men who have never ordained a woman. That’s the logical outcome of honoring this “integrity”.

It’s a bigger question than ecclesiological cooties for the duration of the service of consecration. It’s a symbolic enshrinment of “I am not going to fulfill all of my duties toward all of the people under my care.”

But it seems weird to me, with all the hullabaloo about the new MBA-style leadership criteria (hey, I have an MBA along with both a master’s and doctorate in theology, why wasn’t the CofE more keen to utilize what I bring to the table?), they are choosing to consecrate someone at all who has a principled objection to doing his whole job? What other institution on earth allows that, encourages that–even gives it an “honoured place”–and doesn’t expect that eventually it’s signing its own death warrant?

The big question is, how is someone who doesn’t believe it is possible to ordain a woman as a priest (and therefore female priests are essentially ecclesiological unicorns), going to provide adequate oversight and pastoral care to those female priests in their capacity as priests?

And then, you also end up with the problem between female priests who are not recognized as priests by a particular bishop–if they are not his priests, is he their bishop? What obedience do they owe to a bishop who does not provide them with appropriate oversight and care in their capacity as priests? (I would argue, none.) Does a separate bishop who *does* recognize their ordained ministry need to be appointed for them?

(On the question of “purity” of North’s consecrating bishops):  Isn’t that exactly what Article XXVI of the 39 Articles sets forth? It’s kind of the anti-Donatism clause that every ordained person declares s/he will uphold when they sign the forms prior to their ordination. Donatism not only becomes a heresy, but a breach of ordination vows. Thus, those who accept appointment to the episcopate cannot publicly request consecration by “pure” bishops who have not committed *this particular error* (it seems the only one they’re that worried about), without risking exposure that they’ve broken the vows they’ve made not once, but twice. That is my bigger problem. Why should we trust someone who has promised something twice, and then demands to violate that vow when they will take it a THIRD time?

*******

But it becomes clear that, the Church of England has twisted itself into pretzel shapes to give an “honoured place” to bishops who will undermine their own ordination vows and do only a portion of the job they are appointed to do.  This enshrines gender discrimination (thinly veiled as having theological warrants, but that’s what it is), which is a breach of the laws of the land, and as an established church, the Church of England should not be accommodating this at all.

Serious questions need to be made in the next ten days or so.  And I hope someone will raise these questions during the service of consecration–preferably a lay person (and ideally, a man), so it does not appear as self-serving as accepting elevation to the episcopate by a person who will not care equally and canonically for those under his care. It seems to me a serious problem that we would stand by and enshrine in public Christian liturgy an intent to shirk responsibility.

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