Let us suppose for a moment that the Measure on women bishops were to pass, as it stands, complete with amendment 5 (i) c, through Synod and Parliament. What would be the result?
Simon Cawdell, writing for Fulcrum, succinctly explains the scope:
Whilst (as my own Bishop has pointed out in a pastoral letter to his clergy) the amendment does not mention the theology of ‘taint’ (that is to say that ordinations by any bishop who has ordained women are in particular doubt [and those of the women certainly in especial doubt]) it does very clearly enable the view that parishes and priests holding this view, widely held by petitioning parishes under the Act of Synod 1993 may expect a bishop of this theological persuasion. Thus they must be allowed the ministration of a male bishop who has never ordained women.
Short List of Untainted Bishops
At Petertide, the Church of England ordained a large number of women priests. By my reckoning, the vast majority of bishops are now ‘tainted’ under this definition. I have arrived at this statement by checking in ‘The Church Times’ the bishops who ordained female priests (deacons don’t count, apparently). Assuming for the sake of this exercise that all Church of England bishops were untainted before Petertide, according to my calculations the following bishops (who include suffragans) remain untainted by virtue of their having ordained no women in June:
Burnley, Lancaster, Horsham, Lewes, DURHAM, Beverly, Stafford, Richborough, LONDON, Edmonton, MANCHESTER, Kingston and Ebbsfleet.
That is a total of 13. Some of these will not have ordained women priests simply because there were no female candidates for ordination, in other words there was no policy decision on their part (I am guessing that Durham, for example, would fall into this category). Anno Domini and the great Personnel Officer in the sky will further reduce this list if, as I imagine, fewer and fewer future candidates for ordination would, if they were bishops, refuse to ordain women.
It is extremely easy to become tainted, according to those who subscribe to this theory. If, as a male priest, you were ordained at the same time as a woman, you are tainted on the grounds that you are being ordained by a man who became tainted by virtue of ordaining a woman.
It must therefore be highly questionable whether amendment 5 (i) c* is actually workable.
What Is To Be Done?
Logic would suggest there is only one answer. From the above list, we must seek bishops who are willing not just to fly, but to become anchorites. This is why I have chosen Mount Athos to illustrate this post. A suitable version must be found in England – I suggest the obvious place is the Tower of London.
To be sure that all possibilities of taint are reduced to the minimum, no female should be allowed within 200 yards of the premises. Bishops should be detained ‘at Her Majesty’s pleasure’, although they might be allowed visitors, so long as these can be guaranteed untainted unto the third generation. The Beefeaters, one hopes, would be willing to add feeding the episcopal anchorite to their list of duties.
If it is hoped to continue with an ‘untainted’ priesthood into the next 20 or 30 years, thought will need to be given to the training of candidate ordinands, which could perhaps be part of the duties of the anchorite. They might also need to be incarcerated, in order to maintain their purity.
Purity is all
For those to whom purity seems to be the over-riding Christian principle, it must be hoped that my suggestion might provide a way out of their difficulty. Although self-sacrifice will be needed, surely there is none who would refuse to do so for the sake of continuing this form of ecclesiology?
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*There is useful background briefing by the BBC on the Measure here.
*A Church of England press release about the amended Measure is here.
This amendment adds to the list of matters on which guidance will need to be given in the Code of Practice that the House of Bishops will be required to draw up and promulgate under the Measure. It will now need to include guidance on the selection by the diocesan bishop of the male bishops and priests who will minister in parishes whose parochial church council (PCC) has issued a Letter of Request under the Measure. That guidance will be directed at ensuring that the exercise of ministry by those bishops and priests will be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women which prompted the issuing of the Letter of Request. Thus, the legislation now addresses the fact that for some parishes a male bishop or male priest is necessary but not sufficient.
The method of discerning ‘tainted’ and ‘untainted’ bishops is highly open to error, and I apologise to any bishops whom I may have inadvertently mis-filed. I would of course be happy to correct my text. I have removed the name of the Bishop of Bath and Wells from the ‘untainted’, since I am assured by one of his flock that he has cheerfully ordained numerous women, and must therefore be counted amongst the tainted. I have been shown a photograph of the Bishop of Wakefield ordaining women priests last year, and have therefore removed his name for the same reason. Another source has suggested we include the (suffragan) Bishop of Pontefract as one who does not ordain women priests.
The illustration is of the monastery of Simonos Petra on Mount Athos, Halkidiki via Shutterstock vlas2000