frgavin on June 23rd, 2010

I regard the proposals which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are promoting as profoundly disappointing. I had been led by rumours to believe that they would be offering something that would in effect be a Third province … or an Ordinariate … within the Church of England. They are not.

What is clever about their scheme is that it claims to give us “good news” while at the same time purporting to require only a couple of minor changes in the draft legislation. It ostentatiously claims not to diminish the jurisdiction of diocesan bishops. This, combined with the deference still felt by many towards the archbishops, is likely, in my view, to incline a substantial number of the less fundamentalist liberals to tolerate it; and there will be Catholics who, despite the rhetoric which they have adopted over the years, will be willing to clutch at any straw which can be disguised as a fig leaf enabling them to remain in the Church of England.

Furthermore, any criticisms of the archiepiscopal plan will be met by pointing out that it would in effect create a situation closely similar to what we have now. At the moment, a diocesan can decide to whom to hand on the care of ‘petitioning’ parishes – it doesn’t have to be to one of the flying bishops. So, it will be argued, Catholics will be no worse off under the new system than they are at the moment. Indeed, because of the strong moral pressure on diocesans to follow a (not yet drafted) Code of Practice, we shall, they will say to us, be better off. And, above all, ‘our’ bishops will, for the first time, have genuine jurisdiction.

This sounds, and will sound, good. The problem about it is the unreality of it all. The plain fact is that it leaves the whip – in fact, all the whips – in the hands of the Establishment. Because diocesans will be able to craft and adjust both their diocesan schemes and the personel who will operate them, they will be able to call all the shots. Their appointees will be crucial. We have to envisage the probable use of a suffragan, a neighbouring diocesan, a retired bishop, who will say, with complete sincerity, that he opposes the ordination of women. But because we shall not have chosen him, he is likely to be a man chosen by the Establishment as a safe pair of hands, someone who can be relied on to bear in mind at all times the overall requirement of the entire system; a man more willing to tolerate a dodgy compromise rather than to rock the boat … any boat … too disastrously. In a word, One of Them rather than One of Us. If, of course, several of the current PEVs have by then accepted Papa Ratzinger’s shilling, there will be a preference to select successors who can safely be relied on not to provide a new generation of departures in five years’ time; men who have made a settled calculation about which side their bread is buttered.

At an even more basic level, what the scheme attempts to plaster over is the fact that the navigation department of the Anglican faith-community has set a firm course which is irretrievably in divergence from that of the Ancient Churches. As Walter Kasper … a distinctly liberal practitioner as Cardinals go … unsuccessfully attempted to get the House of Bishops to understand, what the C of E is faced with is a quite stark decision: whether to pursue the ARCIC dream of organic unity, or to opt to be one of the Protestant sects. This is the kairos of decision, both for Anglicanism corporately and for individuals. How long is it feasible, even for those among us of the most stay-and-stick-it-out tendency, to keep a foot on the decks of two ships which are heading in different directions?

If this scheme does go through, I hope that those who go and those who stay to live under it will retain all the old bonds of amity. There will be temptations on both sides to be nasty about the choices which others have made. It is very important that these temptations are resisted. If we end up with a bridge … and, at one end of it, a bridgehead called Ordinariate, and at the other end, a bridgehead called Coordinated Jurisdiction … then we could have a new and interesting ecumenical experiment. If, on the other hand, in ten years time, there are two groups of former friends taking potshots at each other across the floodplains, we shall all be the losers.

Come off it, father. You know perfectly well that when you’ve finished your time at St Whatsit’s and qualified for your full pension, you’ll want to saunter across that pontoon to a comfortable place where the shadow of Peter can fall upon you. You’re going to want your chums the other side to have kept the Border-Crossing wide open for you, and no questions asked … aren’t you?

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