The Catholic group in the Church of England’s General Synod has called for traditionalists to stay, claiming that they have the numbers to ensure provisions for objectors to women bishops.
Led by Canon Simon Killwick, the group claims that a reshuffle in the Church of England’s legislative body means that Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals could successfully oppose legislation on women bishops in 2012 unless it is amended to meet their demands.
They hope to establish a rival organisation to the Personal Ordinariate offered by the Pope, through which Anglicans can convert in groups while retaining their distinctive patrimony and practices, including married priests.
The Ordinariate could be established as early as January. The new structure will resemble a military diocese, under the authority of an ordinary without geographical boundaries beyond the local bishops’ conference.
The Rt Rev John Broadhurst, the Bishop of Fulham, last week told members of the Forward in Faith national assembly in London that he intended to resign by the end of the year and join the Ordinariate. He also said he was remaining chairman of Forward in Faith, the largest umbrella group for Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England.
He said: “I have decided that I intend to resign as the Bishop of Fulham before the end of the year. This is to facilitate my replacement. I’ve talked to the Bishop of London and he intends to replace me.”
He said he expected had he would stay on as chairman of Forward in Faith International, but added: “I am not retiring, I am resigning. Secondly, I expect that I will enter the ordinariate when it is established.”
Groups of Anglicans hoping to take up the ordinariate proposed in Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus were urged to contact Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster.
The Forward in Faith meeting was held two weeks after St Peter’s church in Folkestone, Kent – in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own diocese – became the first Anglican parish to opt to join the Ordinariate as a group. St Peter’s Parochial Church Council, which consists of churchwardens, the parish priest and elected representatives of the congregation and constitutes the governing body of a parish, voted to join the Ordinariate.
Meanwhile the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, set up last month with the backing of senior Church of England bishops, will offer a structure which closely resembles the Catholic ordinariate. The society will not have women priests or bishops or geographical boundaries and its members will obey their own bishop rather than fall under the authority of the local diocesan bishop, if the General Synod accepts amendments.
Instead of being in communion with the Pope members will be in communion with the Church of England, even if its members consider sacraments performed by women priests invalid.
Canon Killwick said: “There are a number of people who, whatever the General Synod does, will join the ordinariate and the Bishop of Fulham is one of them. But I think the majority of Anglo-Catholics are looking to remain within the Church of England and appropriate changes to be made for them to do so.
“This [society] has the potential to make it possible to remain.”
He said that recent elections to the Synod’s House of Laity and the House of Clergy mean that they no longer have the two thirds majorities needed to push through women bishops without approving the new structure too.
He said the new situation meant that the Synod’s House of Bishops “is clearly going to have to amend the legislation” on women bishops “or it won’t go through”.
“Our primary aim is not to be awkward and block things but to offer a constructive way forward,” said Canon Killwick, the vicar of Christchurch in Moss Side, Manchester. “The society is intended to be for bishops, priests and lay people. I imagine it would be possible for parishes as a community to join as well. We would be looking for bishops of the society to have episcopal authority for parishes which request it.”
Plans for an English Ordinariate gathered pace after the General Synod in July rejected a compromise proposed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop and York, and pressed ahead with plans to ordain women bishops by 2014 without satisfactory structural provision for conscientious objectors.
A spokesman for the Catholic bishops said no timetable had been agreed on the establishment of an Ordinariate. He said the bishops were awaiting confirmation from the Vatican that there was sufficient interest in the offer before an Ordinariate could be set up.