Letters > The future of ecumenism after the Church of England's women bishops vote

25 July 2014

The future of ecumenism after the Church of England's women bishops vote

Your editorial (The Tablet, 17 July)  asserts that the decision of the General Synod to allow women to be ordained as bishops in the Church of England "was the logical consequence of the same body to ordain women as priests made in 1992". You may be right, but that presupposes the answer to a question about which the Churches have been divided for over a millennium: are bishops "senior priests" or do they share in a particular way the ministry of the apostles, as taught by the Second Vatican Council, following the general understanding of the early Church?

Both before and since the Synod vote the most authoritative voices of the Catholic world, western and eastern, have suggested that there is no straight line from the one to the other.

Be that as it may, your assertion is simplistic. It also raises a particularly interesting further question. If the logic of the ordination of women presbyters points inevitably to women bishops, presumably the same principle applies to the ordination of married men, for long common in the Orthodox and more recently in the Roman Catholic Church not to mention the "Eastern Catholic churches". In a nutshell, do married priest inevitably imply married bishops?

Bishop John Hind, Emsworth

Ruth Gledhill’s excellent background article (The Tablet, 17 July) is wrong in some small but important details. We were not in a stuffy marquee at Lambeth 2008 for Cardinal Kasper’s talk, but in large seminar room. This was not a plenary session but one of many "Self-Select Sessions". There were about 100 of us there and those of us who viewed the ordination question as being of considerable ecumenical importance were annoyed that it was not a plenary that Cardinal Kasper had been asked to address. However, as Ruth Gledhill says, Kasper did give an uncompromising account of the Catholic position, which English bishops had heard at a College of Bishops’ meeting a couple of years earlier.

It may be that she is conflating this Self-Select Session on 30 July with the plenary meeting in the main marquee on 22 July when Cardinal Ivan Dias addressed the Conference even more robustly. The dominant mood amongst participants in 2008 was that the Anglican Communion had moved on from the women bishops’ controversy to the more contentious issue of homosexual marriage. This was evident not only from the absence of so many bishops, who boycotted the Conference because of the homosexual issue, but from the way that most bishops attending readily recognised their female colleagues as bishops. Some of those who were unable to accept the development, though admiring and liking our female colleagues, have since left the Anglican Communion.

Monsignor Andrew Burnham, formerly Bishop of Ebbsfleet

Archbishop Justin Welby showed admirable leadership when he invited conciliators to enable the debate on the consecration of women as bishops to be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and trust.

He has shown the same harmonious spirit in welcoming the move towards Church unity with the Protestant Churches which the positive vote of General Synod has furthered. Arguably the obstacle to full Church unity is not the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England as Archbishop Bernard Longley would have us believe. It is rather the cultural intransigence of the Roman Catholic institution. This their spokesmen seek to justify by biblical and theological arguments against the ordination of women to the priesthood - not to mention the episcopate - all of which can be and have been successfully refuted. When may we hope that this intransigence will dissolve into a conciliatory openness to the movement of the Spirit of Jesus in this Church?

Dr Jacqueline Field-Bibb, London N21

Ruth Gledhill need not fear that women bishops will damage relations with Rome. The two Churches have made enormous progress towards reconciliation and unity since Apostolicae Curae in 1896, and even since Vatican II. Our shared commitment to God in Jesus and the Spirit and in our mission and ministry, including environmental healing, will continue.

Our ecumenism is less about structures and genders than a spirituality in service of the world. Pope Leo XIII’s "absolutely null and utterly void" condemnation was not about gender but a contemporary understanding of "sacrifice" and its significance in the Anglican Ordinal and about a "defect of intention" in those who composed and used it.

Women are already probably the most committed and important part of our church communities. This will not change if we ordain ministers of both genders. Let us hope that all ministry, in both church communities, will be theologically literate and committed to contemporary ecumenical spirituality.

Dr Edward P. Echlin, Bexhill, East Sussex

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