This article was published in the Catholic Herald on 20 November 1992. It was written by the then Anglican bishop, Graham Leonard, who later was received into the Catholic Church. I was privileged to attend his Funeral Mass in the Oxford Oratory a few years ago.
Ever since the Reformation, the Church of England has claimed to be the Catholic Church in this country. Whether or not that claim is justified, it is one which is reflected in its title-deeds, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the 39 Articles.
That claim has been based upon four pillar which in the last century were summed up in the Lambeth Quadrilateral as expressing the doctrinal basis of Anglicanism. These four pillars are Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, the creeds, the sacraments and the ordained ministry.
In recent years each of these pillars has been undermined and has begun to crumble away. The theological implications of the recent decision of the General Synod has caused their collapse.
With regard to Scripture, the traditional position of the Anglican Church has been that nothing can be required of belief for eternal salvation but that which may be concluded and proved by Scripture. Those who support the ordination of women to the priesthood have not sought to claim such sanction for it but have had to invoke contemporary fashion and call upon secular support.
But women priests will now be built into the sacramental life of the Church of England. Whatever provision is made for those who cannot accept the official teaching, the Church will now require their acceptance as a prerequisite for belief. In other words, their acceptance has become a new canon of orthodoxy.
The provisions of ecclesiastical law may make it difficult to define and reject heresy in the Church of England, but that need not prevent the bishops from making clear what is and what is not contrary to the beliefs to which the Church of England is committed.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has, in fact, devised a new heresy: that of opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood. He apparently overlooks or ignores the fact that the Acts of Uniformity forbid any cause to be determined as heresy except that which has been so judged by the authority of the Canonical Scriptures or by the first four General Councils. He seems incapable of seeing that the fact God was incarnate as a man makes it inappropriate for a woman to be the sacramental representative of Christ.
With regard to the ordained priesthood, another problem arises. The Church of England has always claimed that is has maintained the Apostolic Ministry ordained by Our Lord. In its appeals for unity, for example in the famous Lambeth Appeal of 1920, it has put this forward as to be accepted for the sake of unity. It can make that appeal no longer.
It might be argued that, at many times in the history of the Church, it has been the faithful minority which has preserved orthodoxy as, for example, in the fourth century against the heresy of Arianism.
The irony is that, which the General Synod of the Church of England regards itself as having the authority to make such a change unilaterally, the minority within it is patronised and expected to be bought off with temporary ????. The mere passage of time does not make wrong right.
There is in the legislation a built-in mechanism to ensure that the majority view will prevail. Few people realise, for example, that it will be illegal for the Prime Minister to nominate as a bishop a priest who cannot accept women priests.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as having made two astonishing statements. The first is that the “ordination of women to the priesthood alters not a word of the Scriptures, the Creeds, or the faith of our Church”. Such a statement can be made only on the basis of Humpty Dumpty’s use of the words. “When I use a words,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.
The second statements is that “there is no connection between the ordination of women to the priesthood and feminism”. Has Dr Carey not read any of the literature supporting the ordination of the women in which the connection is explicitly made?
What is just as extraordinary is his expressed hope that we will play a full part in the life of the Church when the legislation provides for us to be marginalised and finally extinguished.
What then are we to do? What are the options? Before considering them, two points must first be emphasised. First, the legislation will not become effective for at least 12 months. There is time to think, and we must not make decisions precipitately. But during this time we must make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that we cannot accept the change.
The second point is that we must not become a sect. That, in fact, is what the Church of England has become by its unilateral action. We must seek to be admitted to the communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and to do so not just as individuals but as a body of those who are committed to orthodox belief and practice.
It is this second point which, in my judgement, rules out the first option, namely that of allying ourselves with one or other of the so-called “continuing Church” which exist in the USA, Canada, Australia, England and elsewhere. While I admire them for having the courage of their convictions, it cannot be denied that, depending so much upon personalities, the seem to lead to further division.
A second option is to seek hospitality from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. While they are very sympathetic, they are so closely related in this country to the indigenous Churches of which they are part that it is difficult to see this as a realistic possibility.
The third option is to seek relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. This we would have to do as suppliants and without presumption, asking if a way could be found for us somehow to preserve our Anglican identity while being in communion with the See of Peter. I do not think that it is for us to suggest how this might be achieved. We can only hope and pray that the Vatican and the hierarchy here in England will give sympathetic consideration to any possibility of a way forward.
We know of the provision for the Anglican Rite in the USA though little of how it works in practice. It may be that with some modifications it could be adapted for this country. There is provision in the Code of Canon Law for Personal Prelature. We are aware that so far this has operated only in respect of Opus Dei, but the Code envisages a winder use. I appreciate that it is primarily a clerical institute in ecclesiastical law, but Canon 296 does provide for lay persons to be associate with it on terms to be determined in the statutes.
However, the Canon which us most encouragement is Canon 372. Having referred to the territorial nature of dioceses, paragraph 2 reads as follows: “If, however, in the judgement of the supreme authority in the Church, after consultation with the episcopal conferences concerned, it is thought helpful, there may be established in a given territory particular Churches distinguished by the rite of the faithful or by some other similar quality”.
The situation which has arisen in the Church of England will bear particularly hard upon the younger clergy who cannot accept women priests and for whom there can be no future. But it will also bear very hard upon the orthodox laity. It may be that for a time their local Anglican priest will be orthodox, in which case they will be able to worship in their parish church. But the time will come when they will not be able to find one where they can do so in good conscience. It would be god the greatest benefit to such people if, possibly as an interim measure, they could be permitted to make their communion in the local Catholic Church.
There is, of course, the question of Anglican Orders, which does present a problem for many orthodox Anglican clergy. Out of pastoral care for those to whom they have ministered, they would find it very difficult to accept that their ministries are deemed utterly null and void.
However, there are responsible people in the Roman Catholic Church who suggest that although the Bull Apostolicae Curae applied to the situation existing in 1896, subsequent developments – and particularly the participation of old Catholic bishops in Anglican consecrations – could warrant a different response (at least for those ordained since then).
I would want to stress that we are not asking for recognition to continue an Anglican ministry, but as those who have accepted the magisterium and are in communion with the Holy See.