The Reception’s Over … But Is It Time To Call It A Day?
Not that there ever was one in the Anglican Church of Australia. Throughout the Anglican Communion there were statements that the Church was entering into a period of reception which would allow the Church to come to a common mind about the rightness or otherwise of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. These assurances were even heard in Australia, but from the moment the first ordinations took place in Perth in 1992 before enabling legislation had been passed in General Synod, it was recognised that the Church had been presented by a fait accompli because the Diocese of Perth had exercised what later became known as the ‘local option’.
When legislation was eventually presented to the General Synod it passed by the slimmest of majorities. This was regarded by the liberal camp as a clear mandate to move forward and within a very short period women were being ordained in every liberal diocese in the country.
Despite the claim that these female priests were ordained in the priesthood of the Church of God, the reality was that their ordination was not recognised by almost one third of the dioceses in Australia.
Since then the pressure to accept women’s ordination has continued to be applied and combined with the Anglican tendency to apathy, more and more laity and clergy ‘have become used to the idea’ and began to accept the innovation as inevitable. They accepted that resistance was futile.
Another persuasive factor was the fact that the proponents of women’s ordination did not argue their case on theological grounds, many of which are difficult for Anglican laity and some clergy to untangle. They argued from the perspective of justice, equality and women’s rights and status, which laity understands only too readily. They managed to turn it from a religious argument concerning creation, incarnation, salvation and the nature of the Church to one of human rights.
They gambled on the general ignorance of the Anglican laity in matters of scriptural knowledge, Church order and tradition and found they were on a winning streak, aided and abetted by the secular Western culture. These same tactics are currently being used to promote the gay rights cause within other sections of the Anglican Communion. Australia is likely to be the next domino to fall in this regard as well.
Since 1992 the Australian bishops have refused to make any theologically acceptable provisions for those within the ACA who for deep theological, scriptural and reasons of conscience, believe that the ordination of women has placed the Australian Anglican Church outside the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Not only that, but priests who held such reservations have been persecuted, worn down or driven out into the arms of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia, Rome or Orthodoxy. This was possible because, unlike the UK where the Catholic wing of the Church of England is more numerous, organised and theologically informed, the Catholic wing in Australia did not step up to the challenge and allowed personality differences between the factional leaders to take precedence over the issues of principle. This made it easy for the liberals to use the tactic of ‘divide and rule’ effectively. The result is that there is no longer a significant orthodox Catholic presence in the Australian Church which is much poorer for its demise.
The liberals in the ACA had a majority in the College of Bishops, but they knew that the Evangelicals had the numbers to block any legislation in General Synod appertaining to the consecration of women bishops, having failed on two previous occasions to have legislation passed. In order to avoid further defeat they circumvented General Synod and took the matter to the Church’s legal advisory body in order to determine whether there was any legal reason in the Constitution why a woman could not be consecrated as a bishop. The legal body (Appellate Tribunal) is empowered to deliver an opinion. By a majority of four to three they opined that there was no legal reason why a woman could not be consecrated as a diocesan bishop, but the Assistant Bishop’s canon restricted this office to males.
As the opinion was generally favourable to the liberal cause, it was treated not as an opinion to be discussed by Synod, but a definitive ruling. Liberal dioceses then proceeded to rescind the Assistant Bishops’ Canon of General Synod and substituted it with their own gender non-specific Canon, a procedure which is permissible in Australia.
The decks were now cleared to push ahead. The bishops decided that they would not do so until after the next Bishops’ Meeting in April 2008 when they would consider what protocols, if any, to put in place for those who could not accept the ministrations of a female bishop.
These protocols were drawn up without any consultation with those for whom they were intended, and it is to be determined by each diocesan bishop whether they will in fact be offered to parishes that request their implementation. Only parishes can ask and individuals or groups within parishes are likely to be left with nothing. As it is, the protocols merely provide for the substitution of a female bishop with a male bishop. As that male bishop will be in communion with the female bishop the provision amounts to nothing more than a gender preference. These protocols fall well short of anything that would satisfy an orthodox Catholic still left in the Anglican Church of Australia which explains the reluctance of the liberal bishops to engage in any dialogue.
On April 11th it was announced that the new Archbishop of Perth would be the first to consecrate a female bishop during a service on the Feast of Corpus Christi (May 22nd). This announcement was hailed as a ‘great victory’ for women who with the smashing of the ‘stained-glass ceiling,’ are at last being treated as human beings. It was described as a “Sorry Day” for the abuses levelled against women in the Church, and seen as a decisive victory for social justice and feminism. It was said that Australia had a last caught up with the USA, Canada and New Zealand who also have women bishops. It was not said that these are the nations in which the Anglican Church is suffering enormous decline, and their pursuit by two of them of the aggressive gay agenda has led to the re-alignment of the Anglican Communion.
When that consecration occurs the new bishop will only be recognised as a bishop in some dioceses of Australia, so the action has been described by detractors as being deliberately provocative and divisive. It will not enhance the unity of the Church of which bishops are supposed to be the focus.
It is hard to believe that the tactics which have been employed by the liberal bishops to secure their intended goal, have come out of a Church which prides itself on being Synodical, compassionate and offering value to all its members, and not out of a harsh dictatorial regime known for its unashamed brutality which it unleashes against those who oppose its will.
Bp Harry Entwistle