Forward in Faith UK
Implications for the Church of England
of the Ordination of Women as Bishops

A paper prepared for the Chairman of the House of Bishops of the Church of England by the College of Deans and Council of Forward in Faith

A: Undergirding Principles B: Reversibility C: The Bishop as 'Ordinary'
D: The Practice and Position of Forward in Faith E: Inherent Problems: Reversibility
F: Inherent Problems: The Role of the Diocesan as ‘Ordinary’
G: Problems Created by Women Bishops: Reversibility
H: Problems Created by Women Bishops: The Bishop as ‘Ordinary’

A: Undergirding Principles

1. Two basic principles underlie the present compromise in the Church of England over the ordination of women The first is the principle of reversibility (the idea that women’s ordination is part of a process the end of which is not in sight, but which might at sonic unspecified time, by means not altogether clear, result in the rejection of the innovation by the Church of England or by the wider church).

2. The second is the principle that the diocesan bishop, whatever the arrangements made for extended episcopal care and regardless of whether those arrangements are provincial, regional or diocesan, should and must remain the ‘ordinary’ in his diocese.

3. These are the principles which Forward in Faith accepted by its welcome and endorsement of the Bonds of Peace document and the Act of Synod. They form the basis of this document.

B: Reversibility Return to Top

4. The Act of Synod expressed this concept of reversibility in terms of a process of discernment:

‘…all concerned should endeavour to ensure that discernment of the rightness or otherwise of the decision to ordain woman to the priesthood should be as open process as possible.

5. ‘Bonds of Peace’, the statement of the House of Bishops following its Manchester meeting in June 1993, placed this process of discernment, the outcome of which was held to be uncertain, in the context of the wider fellowship of the Christian Church:

‘We now enter a process in which it is desirable that both those in favour and those opposed should be recognised as holding legitimate positions while the whole Church seeks to come to a common mind. The Church of England needs to understand itself as a communion in dialogue, committed to remaining together in the ongoing process of the discernment of truth within the wider fellowship of the Christian Church. Giving space to each other and remaining in the highest possible degree of communion in spite of differences are crucial, as we strive to be open to the insights of the wider Christian community.’

6. The Bonds of Peace statement was echoing the thoughts of the Eames Commission in its first report of March 1989:

‘This last point about the consensus being genuinely free has, we believe, clear implications for the reception process following any Synodical decision to move forward with the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, where still there remains a body of dissent. Sensitively and clearly expressed dissent can be creative to the forming of the mind of the whole Church, as it seeks critically to test and refine the truth; dissent should not be marginalised or excluded. It is at this stage that the opposing groups will need to be even more mindful of the words ‘courtesy’ and ‘respect’ in regard to the way in which they assist the wider Church in coming to a mind on this matter, in the way that arguments are presented and their business conducted The fact that a synod has reached a decision, does not foreclose the matter. Both sides need to work hard to ensure that the process of reception continues to be as open its possible, recognising that Synodical decisions may indeed come to be overwhelmingly affirmed, or on the other hand, equally as overwhelmingly rejected.’

7. The Eames Commission had appealed to the Lambeth Conference of 1948:

‘In the continuing and dynamic process of reception, freedom and space must be available until a consensus of opinion one way or the other has been achieved. The Lambeth Conference, 1948, indicated … the authority of doctrinal formulations by General Councils or otherwise, rests at least in part on their acceptance by the whole body of the faithful, though the weight of this “consensus” does not depend on mere numbers or on the extension of a belief at any one time, but on continuance through the ages, and the extent to which the consensus is genuinely free.’ (Report of the Committee on the Anglican Communion, III, Lambeth Conference, 1948).

C: The Bishop as 'Ordinary' Return to Top

8. The Act of Synod refers expressly to the role of the diocesan bishop:

‘The bishop of each diocese continues as the ordinary of his diocese.’

9. Though the term is not wholly unambiguous in Anglican usage (see the relevant entry in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p.3191) what seems to be meant here is the notion of ordinary as it is encountered in Roman Catholic Canon Law:

Can. 134

1. In law the term Ordinary means, apart from the Roman Pontiff, diocesan Bishops and all who, even for a time only, are set over a particular Church or a community equivalent to it in accordance with can. 368, and those who in these have general ordinary executive power, that is, Vicars general and episcopal Vicars; likewise, for their own members, it means the major Superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right, who have at least ordinary executive power.

2. The term local Ordinary means all those enumerated in para 1, except Superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life.

3. Whatever in the canons, in the context of executive power, is attributed to the diocesan Bishop, is understood to belong only to the diocesan Bishop and to those others in can. 381 para. 2 who are equivalent to him, to the exclusion of the Vicar general and the episcopal Vicar except by special mandate.

10. The bishops’ statement ‘Bonds of Peace’ emphasises the way in which continuing respect for the position of the diocesan as ‘ordinary’ assists bishops both opposed to and in favour of the new ministry:

The bishops, corporately and individually, are pledged to maintain the integrity of both positions. Both are represented in be House of Bishops. The House now indicates how in practice the diocese and the local churches can live with this diversity. It will be a sign of the continuing communion of bishops and a mark of collegiality when a diocesan bishop, who does not himself accept the ordination of women to the priesthood, but does not make any of the declarations in clause 2 of the Measure, thereby does not prevent a woman being ordained and licensed by another bishop to minister as priest in his diocese. Similarly, it will be mark of continuing communion when a diocesan bishop in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood invites a bishop who does not accept it, to minister to priests and congregations in his diocese who themselves do not accept it. In both cases oversight remains ultimately with the diocesan bishop, who remains the focus of unity in his diocese even when he chooses to share his oversight through another bishop. Such extension should be seen as an expression of the collegiality of a House of Bishops which accepts the legitimacy of both positions.

11. It should be noted that the position expressed in the Bonds of Peace document supersedes and contradicts the position taken by the House of Bishops in a previous statement:

Once a province has expressed its mind in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood and proceeded so to ordain women it would be anomalous to appoint a bishop who was actively opposed to he mind of the province, and in particular opposed to the common mind of the college of bishops. A common mind on the understanding of the ministry, the bond of communion, is essential within the college of bishops if the unity of the ministry and thus of the Church is to be maintained.

12. Bonds of Peace and the Act of Synod clearly envisage both the possibility and the desirability of the appointment of diocesan bishops opposed to women’s ordination. As though to reinforce the Bonds of Peace document, the Act of Synod makes clear the way in which the role of the bishop as ‘ordinary’ undergirds, and enables, the role of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors, who, though suffragans of the Metropolitan, function as assistants of the Diocesan:


(1) The Church of England through its Synodical processes, has given final approval to a Measure to make provision for the ordination of women to the priesthood.

(2) The bishop of each diocese continues as the ordinary of his diocese.

D: The Practice and Position of Forward in Faith Return to Top

13. The General Synod of the Church of England decided, in the preparation and drafting of the Measure to secure the ordination of women as priests, that the orders of priest and bishop could and ought, for these purposes be separated:


1.(1) It shall be lawful for the General Synod to make provision by Canon for enabling a woman to be ordained to the office of priest if she otherwise satisfies the requirements of Canon Law as to the persons who may be ordained as priests.

(2) Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop.

14. Reluctantly, and yet hoping that the unity of the Church would benefit from the compromise, Forward in Faith accepted this awkward separation. Whilst aware that the ordination of women as bishops is and must be the ultimate aim of those who advocated their acceptance as priests, we have continued in good faith to order ourselves and to co-operate with the wider church under the actual legislation which has been enacted; and not with regard for any future legislation which might seem be required or implied. We have tried, though Catholic ecclesiology makes this virtually impossible, to restrict the impairment of communion which the ordination of women introduced, and which the Eames Commission frankly acknowledges, to the relationship between one presbyter and another and to respect the collegial arrangements between bishops in favour and opposed to the innovation which, in its Manchester Statement, the house acknowledged and expressed.

15. Members of Forward In Faith, especially those in parishes which have passed resolution C, recognising the impairment of communion resulting from the ordination of women as priests, have been willing to tolerate this in the service of the wider communion of the Church. Although formally under the ordinary jurisdiction of their bishop, they regard their fellowship with the episcopal visitor as a recognition of both the impairment of communion and of their continuing relationship with the rest of the Church of England. The episcopal visitor, in being the local, visible, expression of episcopal care and leadership, is an embodiment of their relationship with the ordinary and the college of bishops. Although this is a compromise Forward in Faith sees it as an ecclesial arrangement consistent with the discipleship of koinonia to which all Christians are called. Characterised by some as rigidly Donatist, our position has always been flexible and responsive. But no reasonable person should assume that it could be infinitely so.

16. It is clear to us, however, that there are problems inherent in the two basic principles undergirding the present compromise; and other problems which will be introduced and exacerbated by the ordination of women as bishops.

E: Inherent Problems: Reversibility Return to Top

17. The idea that women’s ordination might be reversible as the result of an open process of discernment of its rightness or otherwise lies at the heart of the Act of Synod’s ‘endeavour to ensure that the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood should be mutually recognised and respected’

18. The most obvious inherent problem arises from the nature of the opposition to women’s ordination. The Eames Commission outlines the fundamental grounds for opposition within the Communion as a whole:

38. Provinces that have decided to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate hold that an autonomous Province is able to legislate for such a development in the light of the cultural and missionary demands of their context having first weighed up the theological principles. No Province has acted without consulting and taking guidance from the wider Anglican family as expressed in the deliberations and resolutions of Lambeth Conferences, discussions in the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Report of the Primates’ Working Party on Women and the Episcopate. Others believe, however, that such a step may not be taken by an individual Province when that action relates to the universal ministry which Anglicans continue from the undivided Church and which is an essential bond of their own unity and communion. Such a development would require the consent of all churches which have retained that historic ministry, or the consent of the whole Anglican Communion, or, at the very least, command a much greater consensus than has so far been expressed in the Lambeth Conference resolutions.

19. It is quite true that the common ground among opponents is the rejection of the authority of Provincial Synods to make changes in the received orders of the Church. Some opponents hold, with the Pope and the magisterium of the Roman Church, that such a change is impossible, even for the Church Universal; others restrict their claim more modestly to the Anglican Communion alone or its component parts. Their difficulty is not merely, in some cases not primarily, with women’s ordination in itself, but with the ecclesiology which allows the Synod of a local Church to take such a decision. The Eames Commission neatly underlines the paradoxical position which results from such an assumption:

42. Once a Synodical decision has been made then that necessarily must be respected on all sides as a considered judgement of that particular representative gathering. However, it has always been recognised that councils not only may, but have, erred. Conciliar and Synodical decisions would still have to be received and owned by the whole people of God as consonant with the faith of the Church throughout the ages professed and lived today.

20. It is hard to see how the reversibility of such a decision within a process of discernment, and in one province only, is of any help to those whose objection was precisely to the doctrine of ‘provincial autonomy’ in such matters and the notion of ‘provisionality’ of sacraments which has resulted from it. In all probability it is now too late to address these fundamental ecclesiological problems merely by reversing the legislation.

21. he second problem inherent in the notion of reversibility is that it is logically inconsistent with the declared aims, views and objectives of the proponents of women’s ordination. Though supporters of the innovation have marshalled arguments from scripture and from tradition (in particular regarding the doctrine of the incarnation) their real grounds for change rested on an ethical a priori position. That case was put clearly in the 1992 debate by the then Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Roy Williamson:

“Of all the arguments opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood, and as one who was called to maintain the unity of the Church, I feel the weight of the sincerely held conviction of many that because of the threat to the unity of the Church the time may not yet be right; but as a seeker first of the Kingdom. I feel that if there is injustice to be removed the only time to do it is now. It is a risk I am prepared to take, casting myself on the mercy of God which, when you think of it, is something we all have to do at the end of the day and at the end of time.”

22. No more than opponents (who deny the competence of the General Synod to make the change) are proponents (who used it as an agent to effect the change) inclined to respect and abide by its decisions if they disagree with them. ‘An open process of discernment’, it seems, is language used to describe the failure of the Synodical system, effectively to regulate what it now purports to control.

23. The third inherent problem is the demonstrable inability of the ‘Bonds of Peace’ and the Act of Synod to deliver the practical political requirements for possible reversal. To reverse the decision of 1992 would require a two-thirds majority in favour of such a reversal in all three houses of the Synod.

24. The language of ‘Bonds of Peace’ encourages the fullest participation of both parties in the life of the Church:

3. We now enter a process in which it is desirable that both those in favour and those opposed should be recognised as holding legitimate positions while the whole Church seeks to come to a common mind. The Church of England needs to understand itself as a communion in dialogue, committed to remaining together in the on-going process of the discernment of truth within the wider fellowship of the Christian Church. Giving space to each other, and remaining in the highest possible degree of communion in spite of differences are crucial, as we strive to be open to the insights of the wider Christian community. Though some of the means by which communion is expressed may be strained or broken, the need for courtesy, tolerance, mutual respect, prayer for one another, and a continuing desire to know one another and to be with one another, remain binding upon us as Christians, no less within our own Church than is already the case in our ecumenical relations. The danger to he avoided is that, where ecclesial communion is impaired, communities may begin to define over against one another and develop in isolation from each other.

25. And the Act of Synod forbids discrimination against those who remain opposed to the new ministry:

Ordinations and Appointments.

1. There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.

26. But the fact remains that in five years since the ordination of women, of all bishops appointed, only five were opposed to women’s ordination. None of those were appointed as suffragans by a bishop who ordains women. It is clear from this simple statistic that the exhortations of the Act of Synod have not significantly influenced the appointments procedures and that the bishops have failed to take to heart their own advise in Bonds of Peace; nor have they put it into practice. No one could be sanguine, in such circumstances, that the change of culture required to make the reversibility of the legislation a practical reality is achievable, even in the long term.

27. It is sometimes said that the open process of discernment might be brought to a conclusion and the legislation effectively reversed through a withering away of support for women priests resulting in a dramatic decline in the numbers of female ordinands. But in a church where the appointments and selection system remained (as it does) firmly in the hands of proponents of the new ministry (and where all the pressures which might result in such a decline would naturally be portrayed as prejudice and misogyny) such an eventuality is hard to envisage.

F: Inherent Problems: The Role of the Diocesan as ‘Ordinary’ Return to Top

28. The ‘ordinary’ jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop exists so that he can exercise his role as guardian of apostolic doctrine in his diocese. The canons of the Roman Church express it thus:

Can. 375

1. By divine institution, Bishops succeed the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who is given to them. They are constituted Pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance.

2. By their episcopal consecration, Bishops receive, together with the office of sanctifying, the offices also of teaching and of ruling, which however, by their nature, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head of the College and its members.

29. The Canons of the Church of England concur, whilst naturally omitting reference to ‘hierarchical communion with the head of the college’, and significantly omitting any reference to collegiality with other members:


1. Every bishop is the chief pastor of all that are within his diocese, as well laity as clergy, and their father in God; it appertains to his office to teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions; and, himself an example of righteous and godly living, it is his duty to set forward and maintain quietness, love and peace among all men.

30. It cannot be doubted that many bishops of the Church of England are firmly and sincerely convinced that women’s ordination is part of the Apostolic deposit of faith which they are obliged and empowered to defend. Bishop Michael Adie proposed the innovation as ‘consonant with scripture and required by tradition’. Bishop Williamson characterised it as a matter of natural justice. But it was Dr Carey himself who made the most sweeping claim:

"The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most serious heresy. The implications are devastating and destructive, because it means that women feel totally excluded. Jesus included women among his followers: they shared in much of his ministry; they were witnesses to his resurrection. ‘There is neither male nor female’ St Paul said, ‘for they are all one in Christ Jesus’."

31. Naturally bishops with such firm convictions will seek to express them by the exercise of the ordinary jurisdiction given them to do so. The most natural, as well as the most effective, means is through the system of appointments and patronage. Despite mutual exhortations in the Bonds of Peace and Act of Synod, one would have expected them to appoint those of like mind with themselves - which demonstrably they have done.

32. Paradoxically, under the operation of the Act of Synod, this has tended to undermine the ‘ordinary’ jurisdiction which they were seeking to uphold and defend. The absence, in most dioceses, of suffragans of the opposite opinion to the diocesan has inflated the role of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors beyond what was originally envisaged. It has given them the appearance, contrary to the intention of the Act, of being an independent and alternative jurisdiction; which is how the parishes in their care regard and treat them.

33. This has also had the effect of increasing, in the dioceses where the Provincial Episcopal Visitors operate, the power and influence of the Archbishop of the province, to whom, rather than to the diocesan, the PEVs are directly responsible.

G: Problems Created by Women Bishops: Reversibility Return to Top

34. To be acceptable as a theological principle, the notion of the reversibility of the legislation, within or at the end of, an ‘open process of discernment’, must first be seen to be practically feasible.

35. Despite the political reservations voiced above, it has to be admitted that were the Church of England now to decide to end the priestly ministry of women the action, though damaging, would (just) be practicable. All those whose ministry was henceforward to be repudiated would, after all, be readily identifiable - they would all be women.

36. After the consecration of women as bishops, such would, of course, not be the case. There would be male priests ordained by female bishops, male bishops consecrated by female bishops, male priests ordained by male bishops consecrated by female bishops and male priests ordained by male bishops in full, unimpaired collegial relations with consecrated women. The orders of all such men would, in principle, be unacceptable; and those men would need to be identified, their ministries (whether in parochial circumstances or sector occupations) brought to a close, their remuneration terminated and their pension rights established. We believe that it is inconceivable that such a programme could be mounted or would be tolerated. Women bishops, in our view, will render the innovation effectively irreversible.

37. There is, moreover, the experience of those provinces of the Communion where women have already been consecrated. The rapid withdrawal of the conscience provisions in Canada, and the recent decisions of General Convention in the USA are, in our view, a sufficient indicator of the general flow.

38. The principal author of the Bonds of Peace and the Act of Synod seems to have appreciated these facts. In a radio interview marking the fifth anniversary of the ordination of women as priests, Dr Habgood was asked whether the notion of two integrities (and so the practical as well as theoretical reversibility of the legislation) was compatible with women bishops:

Liz Carney:
So while the two integrities exists, is there any possibility that a woman will be consecrated bishop?
John Habgood:
I think that I’m probably out of line here and I’m not in any case in any position to do anything about it, but I would have argued against it.
So, in the end, hasn’t the Act of Synod set a precedent which means that women won’t be able to fulfil their ministry?
There are lots of ways you can fulfill your ministry without being a bishop.
But isn’t this natural justice? If you allow women to be ordained as priests, in the course of events some women could be ordained as bishops: hasn’t this system denied them that right?
Well, perhaps it has, but this is a part of what has to be paid for maintaining the unity of the church.

H: Problems Created by Women Bishops: The Bishop as ‘Ordinary’ Return to Top

39. As is apparent from paragraph 8 above, the compromise position respecting two distinct and conflicting opinions on the ordination of women, formulated in the Bonds of Peace and expressed in the Act of Synod depends heavily on the common, collegial action of the House of Bishops. This collegiality of the House of Bishops has been much spoken of during the period of debate and decision surrounding women’s ordination.

40. It is one of the paradoxes of the present situation however, that the very collegiality, which assisted the compromise arrangements at present in force, will make them impossible to operate when the college of bishops includes women. Those opposed to women’s ordination would find it extremely difficult to accept as ‘ordinary’ a male bishop who lived and worshipped in a full collegial relationship with a woman bishop. A Provincial Episcopal Visitor, if one could be found, who continued with the whole college of bishops the same collegial relationship which the PEVs at present enjoy, after the consecration of a woman, would be wholly unable to fulfill his role and function. The continuance of an open process of discernment would consequently require what the House of Bishops has heretofore strenuously resisted: Alternative Episcopal Oversight rather than Extended Episcopal Care.

41. Problems would of course be most acute in those dioceses or episcopal areas which came under the authority and jurisdiction of a woman bishop. It is hard to think of any function which a woman could discharge in that role which would be acceptable to opponents of women’s ordination. It goes without saying that we would be unable to accept her sacramental functions -consecrations, ordinations, confirmations, and the rest. But since, as Canon C. 18 makes clear, the office of a bishop is to rule and pastor his diocese in such a way as to ‘banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine’, and since in our view she would herself represent and incarnate a doctrine both erroneous and strange, we would be obliged to see her not as that ‘focus of unity’, for all in the diocese or area (which the bishops have, with varying success, striven to be since 1992) but instead a focus of disunity. As well as her sacramental ministry it is hard to see how we could receive from her that fatherly care and godly admonition which Canon C. 18.7 envisages. She would, in her own diocese and in the Church of England at large, be what women bishops in the wider Anglican Communion already are: a sign of division and a sacrament of fractured koinonia.

42. There would also be the problem of male priests ordained by consecrated women. It has been the policy of Forward in Faith, in line with the Bonds of Peace statement, to uphold the highest possible degree of communion. There has been some disagreement within the movement, for example, with regard to concelebration at national events, with those who habitually work with women priests as colleagues or assistants. Such disagreement has generally been resolved with generosity to the parties concerned. Such generosity will be compromised when there are present at such events male priests ordained by women bishops, male bishops consecrated by female bishops, male priests ordained by male bishops consecrated by female bishops (or by male bishops in unimpaired collegial relationship with consecrated women). In such a circumstance, when it has become impossible easily to determine who is in orders and who is not, caution rather than generosity would need to be exercised. The degree of openness and co-operation which has characterised this period of reception and discernment would need to be severely curtailed.

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