Fifteen Anglican bishops have acknowledged that many Anglicans will convert to Roman Catholicism because of current proposals to ordain women as bishops. Granting that the Anglo-Catholic tradition will not have room to grow under the proposals, they nonetheless urged “traditionalist” priests and deacons to continue their opposition.
The prelates responded to an open letter from over 1,000 Church of England priests and deacons who oppose new changes that would allow the ordination of women as bishops without concessions for those who reject the practice as inconsistent with the Christian tradition.
“These are grave times in the Church of England especially for those of us unable in good conscience to accept that any particular church has the authority to admit women to the episcopate,” the fifteen Anglican bishops’ July 27 letter began.
The bishops acknowledged that some Anglo-Catholics, including some bishops, are considering joining the Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI for former Anglicans. Others will individually convert to Roman Catholicism.
“Were the present proposals not to be substantially amended or defeated, many more of us will need to consider seriously these options,” the bishops wrote.
A number of Anglo-Catholics will remain in the Church of England because of personal circumstances, family loyalty or financial necessity, but they will do so with a well-founded “deep sense of unease,” the bishops said.
“Our concerns are not only about sacramental assurance though that is of profound importance. If the legislation now proposed passes, it will not provide room for our tradition to grow and flourish,” they warned.
The 15 bishops said a majority of the Church of England supports the ordination of women as bishops, and many in authority will not encourage the church’s “traditional integrity.” Noting that a recent compromise measure proposed by Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu only narrowly failed, the bishops argued that the “closeness of the vote” suggests “at least a measure of disquiet” in the majority about proceeding.
“Those who are not actively seeking a home elsewhere must work to defeat the currently proposed legislation,” the bishops urged.
“We are all bishops united in our belief that the Church of England is mistaken in its actions. However, we must be honest and say we are not united as to how we should respond to these developments,” they continued, pledging respect for other Anglo-Catholics’ decisions and advising against “unguarded or uncharitable criticism” of those who take different action.
The bishops’ letter noted that provincial meetings of the clergy in late September will have opportunities to discuss the future.