The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Abigail Frymann is Online Editor of The Tablet, where this comment first appeared.
By Abigail Frymann
A few hundred traditionalist Anglicans gathered in a charismatic church in London recently, a curious collection of dour-looking fellows who describe themselves with words like “pioneer” and “risk” – and heard that a breakaway group within the Church of England for clergy who don’t like the thought of women bishops was to be established. Somehow this is different from Forward in Faith, which already exists, and different again from the Ordinariate offered them by Pope Benedict XVI last autumn, which would require a leap into the Catholic Church. At first this seemed like a warm-up room for would-be leap-ers. Yet as soon as the new group, the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, was announced, some senior traditionalists were nay-saying on their blogs that it wouldn’t and couldn’t work. (Photo: Canterbury Cathedral, December 23, 2009/Suzanne Plunkett)
Let me confess that I am an Anglican, though not a terribly high one. Traditionalist clergy say their communion with the rest of the Church of England is impaired because most Church of England bishops are prepared to ordain women. Women’s ordination has become a central issue. But among the ranks of those who oppose women’s ordination are those who would turn a blind eye to issues other parts of the Church would rightly or wrongly say are deal-breakers – gay civil partnerships for priests, for example. Devout women clergy argue that gay activity is prohibited in Scripture, whereas the case isn’t as clear regards women leaders. Traditionalist priests argue that female leadership is outlawed in scripture but these days the case isn’t clear as regards consenting long-term gay relationships. Either it’s not the end of the world (or the Church), or not everyone is one hundred per cent right, or God’s graciously holding it all together anyway.
Many of the traditionalist clerics who met in London last Friday are still pondering whether to join the Ordinariate, or the Society, or stay put in the Church of England, or become Catholic via the traditional route of instruction and reception. Some admit they are worried about loss of pensions and income. On the other hand, if a cleric believes the Anglican Communion is sick, how can he be salt and light to it by leaving it? On the other hand, as a man of God, are you not aspiring to be someone prepared to live out your convictions no matter what the cost? I’m not sure what the traditional Anglican bishops expected from a Church that, while pedestalising priests, puts them in shared houses, not vicarages, and pays them a fraction of the modest sum vicars earn in the Church of England.
My Catholic colleagues watch this new splinter of a splinter with eyebrows raised. A small number of Anglican clergy petition Rome, the Pope himself and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith go to quite some lengths to accommodate them, and now they’re dithering. They also feel for the Catholic priests who had to leave their ministries because they wished to marry. Maybe the so-called disaffected Anglican clerics are realising they didn’t have it so bad after all.