Seven Bishops and a PCC: St George’s, Headstone

Satisfying the singular requirements of the PCC of St George’s, Headstone…

or possibly not. The events surrounding the following Report will probably be incomprehensible to most non-Anglicans as well as to many within the Church of England, and there appears to be little empathy with the extreme but sincerely held views of the parish as expressed by its PCC and incumbent. Nevertheless, the analysis of the circumstances by the Independent Reviewer provides some useful insights into the operation of episcopal oversight under the House of Bishops 2014 Declaration.

Independent Reviewer

Declaration of House of Bishops

As part of the agreement reached within the Church of England in 2014 on the ordination of women as bishops (“the Settlement”), an ombudsman-style procedure was established by which those with concerns about the operation of the new arrangements could appeal to an Independent Reviewer (“the Reviewer”). The procedure and role of the Independent Reviewer are laid down in the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Disputes Procedure) Regulations 2014, GS 1087 (“the Regulations”); these Regulations were made by the House of Bishops under Canon C 29.

It was the intention of the Regulations that a grievance relating to an individual parish would normally be raised following the passing of an appropriate resolution by the PCC of the parish concerned (Bringing a Grievance, Regulations 9 to 15), as in the case of St George’s Headstone. Until now, however, grievances regarding the operation of the Regulations had been brought by Forward in Faith (FiF) and Women and the Church (WATCH) (Raising of concerns about the operation of the House of Bishops’ declaration, Regulation 27); these are summarized in reference 1.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York initially appointed Sir Philip Mawer as the Independent Reviewer under the terms of Regulations 2 to 6 as set out in GS Misc 1090, and in February 2018 Sir Philip was succeeded by Sir William Fittall.

In his Sheffield Report, Sir Philip Mawer explains [emphasis in original]:

“(a) The 2014 Settlement was the conclusion of a legal and political process. It was not the conclusion of a theological debate…
(b) It was a package, the various different elements in which were critical to securing the ‘settlement’. Try to unpick the package and the basis for the settlement is immediately called into question.
(c) The critical contribution which the House of Bishops’ Declaration and the Five Guiding Principles made to the Settlement was that they attempted to answer the question how those of differing views on the issue of women’s ordination could continue to live together for the sake of the Gospel…”

Role of the Reviewer

Consideration of grievances by the Independent Reviewer is governed by Regulations 16 to 21, and the Independent Reviewer’s decision on a review in Regulations 22 to 26. Commenting on his role as reviewer, Sir Philip noted (reference 2) [emphasis added]:

“Like other ombudsmen, the Independent Reviewer was given no powers to impose penalties as a result of his or her findings. The Steering Committee believed that the publication of reports critical of actions taken would in practice have significant impact.”

It would be wrong, therefore, to consider the Reviewer to be acting in other than the role of an ombudsman, although the conclusions reached in his Report and Annual Report to the Archbishops may have persuasive influence in other fora.

St George’s, Headstone, London

Background

On 13 December 2018, Sir William Fittall issued Grievance from the PCC of St George’s Headstone (“the Report”) concerning matters relating to the episcopal oversight for the church. This resulted from a resolution passed on 31 October by the PCC of St George’s Headstone in the Diocese of London which authorized the institution of a grievance against the Bishop of London under The Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Disputes Procedure) Regulations 2014, (“the Declaration”). Some context to the operation of the Declaration is given in Annex B to the Report, (reference 3); in addition, a further response from the Vicar of St George’s to the Bishop of London’s letter, dated 3 December, is here.

In 1990, the PCC had passed Resolutions A and B under the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, and had petitioned for episcopal oversight under the associated Act of Synod [5]. The then Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, arranged for this to be provided by the then Bishop of Fulham; however, two incumbents of the post “crossed the Tiber”, and from 2010 to 2013, the post was vacant with oversight being provided by the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley. The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, formerly Bishop of Ebbsfleet, was translated to Fulham in 2013.

A new procedure for requesting episcopal oversight on the grounds of theological conviction was introduced under the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests; earlier resolutions and petitions under the Act of Synod were treated as remaining in force under 17 November 2016 as if they were resolutions under the Declaration. On 13 July 2016, the PCC of St George’s passed a resolution under the Declaration (Annex C to the Report) which included the following [7]:

“Therefore we request that episcopal sacramental and pastoral ministry in this parish be entrusted:

[i]. to a male bishop who stands in historic, Apostolic and sacramental succession of bishops so ordained,
[ii]. at whose consecration a male bishop who had no consecrated a woman as a bishop presided,
[iii]. whose marital status conforms with Apostolic teaching an practice expressed in the historic teaching and practice of the Church of England, and
[iv]. who ordains only men to the priesthood.”

Of these, [i] and [iv] are consistent with the model draft statement commended by Forward in Faith to “traditional Catholic parishes” in “Passing Resolutions under the House of Bishops’ Declaration (2nd Edition, February 2016) [8]. Item [ii] incorporates the so-called “theology of taint”, adding a requirement which excludes anyone who had consecrated a woman as a bishop, to that of the consecrating bishop being male – a standard request from such parishes [9]. Sir William held that item [iii], which was also a departure from the FiF model statement, was “at the heart of the grievance”. Implicit in this was that the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London should not invite the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, to provide episcopal ministry to the parish, since after becoming a bishop, he had remarried following divorce; prior to his remarriage, Bishop Baker had conducted baptism and confirmations at the church.

Attempted resolution

In August 2016, the Bishop of London informed the PCC that he had asked the Rt Revd Robert Ladds to provide episcopal ministry; Bishop Ladds, who retired as Bishop of Whitby in 2009, was an assistant bishops in the diocese. Bishop Chartres indicated that this approach was “consistent with the special arrangements…made for conservative evangelical parishes” [11].

This arrangement was queried by the Vicar of St George’s [12], and replying for Bishop Chartres, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, indicated [13] that the Bishop of London remained the Bishop for the purposes of oversight, and Bishop Ladds had been asked to look after the day-today needs of the parish (Bishop Chartres did not ordain women to the priesthood). When Bishop Chartres retired, the London College of Bishops indicated that it would revisit the arrangements for all the parishes for which the Bishop of London has direct oversight.

Bishop Broadbent, in whose area St George’s is located, undertook the duties of the Bishop of London during the Vacancy in See; on 8 March 2018, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally took up office as Bishop of London, and was installed at St Paul’s Cathedral on 12 May [14]. On 23 May, the Bishop of Willesden informed St George’s that he had consulted Bishop Mullally who had decided that episcopal ministry would be exercised by the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, who met the criteria set out in the St George’s letter of request, and he would continue the arrangements whereby the ministry normally required by the parish is undertaken by Bishop Ladds [16].

In the ensuing dialogue, the Vicar of St George’s (representing the viewed of the PCC [18]) indicated that the Bishop of Maidstone was unacceptable on two counts: he represented a different churchmanship and was consecrated by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who had by then consecrated two women bishops, including Bishop Mullally [17-19]. The PCC of St George’s did not accept either of the proposed options: episcopal ministry through the Bishop of Fulham or Maidstone, with Bishop Ladds undertaking the episcopal duties. Consequently, the grievance procedure was brought by the PCC.

Decision

The Independent Reviewer considered: the issues at stake [21 to 23]; the clergy and remarriage after divorce [24 to 33]; the House of Bishops’ Declaration [34 to 38]; whether there had been any inconsistency in the approach of the Bishops of London [39 to 43]. On this latter point, the PCC’s arguments appeared to be based upon a misunderstanding and in particular confusion over the word “legitimacy” [41]. Sir William considered that the present Bishop of London’s response to the PCC’s request “reflects, in common with Bishop Chartres’ approach, a willingness to respond pastorally to its theological convictions about marital status and ordained ministry [43].

Marriage and Divorce

Since the Reformation, the Church of England has not held marriage to be an obstacle to any of the three orders of ministry, although until 1990 remarriage during the lifetime of a former spouse was an impediment to admission into holy orders. This was clarified in the document Marriage after divorce and the ordained ministry, GS Misc 960, which is supported by a legal analysis produced for the House and of a reflection on relevant theological issues [links to these two documents broken]. Paragraph 11 of the document reads [29]:

“The Church of England’s teaching is that it can be said of two living people that they were married and are no longer married. Nevertheless, the Church of England recognizes the sincerely held convictions of those who do not believe this because, on theological grounds, they hold that marriage is indissoluble. It also respects the convictions of those who, while not holding an indissolubilist view, believe that further marriage after divorce is not an option for those in ordained ministry”,

and at paragraph 17, it notes that during the appointment process, the Crown Nominations process, or a diocesan bishop making a suffragan appointment, “are entitled to reach a judgement on whether marital history might prove an obstacle given the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of those to whom the person would be ministering”.

However, Sir William’s report makes the important point that these provisions relate to whether someone should be appointed to a particular See [18], not whether he or she should have the oversight of a particular parish: “what the statement did not do was to create any kind of procedure for individual parishes to opt out of the ministry of particular bishops, once appointed, on the grounds of their marital status”.

This is underpinned by Article of Religion XXVI – Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament, which asserts that the shortcomings on the part of an ordained minister, while they may require scrutiny under the church’s disciplinary procedures, do not in themselves mean that the minister’s ministry of word and sacrament cannot be received since such short comings do not take away “the effect of Christ’s ordinance” or diminish “the grace of God’s gifts”.

House of Bishops Declaration

Sir William stated the resolution-making procedure set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration concerns theological convictions in relation only to gender and ordained ministry, and did not extend to matters of marital status” or indeed any other consideration”. The PCC’s grievance against the decision of the Bishop of London to invite the Bishop of Fulham to provide episcopal ministry to the parish was therefore unjustified [45].

Objections to the Bishop of Maidstone

Since the Reviewer had held that the Bishop of London was entitled under the Declaration to issue the invitation to the Bishop of Fulham, “the normal choice for a Traditional Catholic parish under the London plan”, he said that it could be argued that the question of a possible alternative arrangement falls away. However, given the parish’s unhappiness with both of the bishop’s proposals, for the sake of completeness he addressed them both, i.e. the issue of “taint” associated with ordaining women priests and bishops, and whether, given the theological difference between Traditional Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals, the involvement of the Bishop of Maidstone would be consistent with the principle of “mutual flourishing” in the fifth of the guiding principles in the Declaration [46-47].

With regard to “taint”, the Reviewer commented that unlike the stipulation concerning marital status, this undoubtedly derives from a theological conviction relating to gender and ordained ministry; but he queried whether this conviction one that, in the words of the guiding principles, iswithin the spectrum of teaching within the tradition of the Anglican Communion”? [50]. He noted that in paragraph 2.6. of Communion, Catholicity and a Catholic Life, the Council of Bishops of the Society under the Patronage of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda unambiguously rejected the “so-called ‘theology of taint’” in relation to priests ordained by bishops; by extension, the same principle would seem to apply to bishops consecrated by archbishops who had consecrated women to the episcopate [51]. Consequently, he was not satisfied that paragraph 26 of the Declaration supported the PCC’s contention [52]:

“it is a stipulation based on a theology which Traditional Catholic Bishops in the Church of England have firmly rejected, and it must be doubtful whether such a theology comes within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition, even interpreted at its broadest. It cannot have been the intention of paragraph 26 to legitimize any and every conceivable theological conviction relating to gender and ministry and I do not believe that to be its effect”.

One aspect of paragraph 26 on which there was agreement between the parties was that as a retired bishop, Bishop Ladds cannot undertake episcopal ministry in respect of St George’s; however, he could undertake the duties on behalf of the Bishop of Maidstone or the Bishop of Fulham [56].

With regard to the PCC’s objection on the grounds of churchmanship, the Independent Reviewer observed that the Declaration does not identify this as a legitimate basis for a parish to object to the choice of a bishop to provide episcopal ministry to it: “down the years large numbers of parishes have flourished despite significant differences between themselves and the bishops who have ministered to them”, (see reference 3). Consequently, this aspect of the grievance has no justification [54, 55].

Comment

With regard to the grievance raised by St George’s, Headstone, the Report concludes:

“[57].…but [the] Declaration and its application to their circumstances leaves the Vicar and PCC…with an uncomfortable dilemma given the reservations they have had…”.

Within the ecclesiastical law of the Church of England as clarified by the Report, the only course of action for St George’s is to select one of the two options put forward by Bishop Sarah. Furthermore, in the absence of alternative arrangements, the church remains within the episcopal oversight of the Bishop of London.

Nevertheless, the review of the St George’s grievance has highlighted the following issues:

  • the so-called “theology of taint” does not “fall within the spectrum of teaching within the tradition of the Anglican Communion“; it is therefore not consistent with the principle of “mutual flourishing” in the fifth of the guiding principles in the Declaration;
  • whilst marital history is relevant in relation to whether someone should be appointed to a particular See, the House of Bishops’ 2010 statement “did not create any kind of procedure for individual parishes to opt out of the ministry of particular bishops, once appointed, on the grounds of their marital status”.
  • because of the historic understanding that, within an ordered church, parishes are expected to receive the ministry of those who have been duly appointed to minister to them; whatever reservations they may have about a particular bishop, whether on personal or theological grounds, they do not have the right to pick and choose or substitute their own judgment for that of the wider church, i.e. the decision of the ordinary is final.
  • the Declaration does not identify churchmanship as a legitimate basis for a parish to object to the choice of a bishop to provide episcopal ministry to it.

David Pocklington


References

[1]. Links to the work of the Independent Reviewer are to be found on the CofE web page House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Independent Reviewer). In addition, we have reviewed the reports of the Independent Reviewer including inter alia; After Chrism Masses, Benefice Appointments – CofE Independent Reviewer’s Second Report; The Independent Reviewer and the Sheffield See; Responses of WATCH and FiF to Independent Reviewer’s Report; and Lessons from Independent Reviewer’s report on Sheffield.

[2]. Sir Philip Mawer, The Role of the Independent Reviewer, Ecclesiastical Law Society, Northern Province Lecture, 11 October 2018.

[3]. Annex B to the report is a letter dated 1 November 2018, from the Bishop of London to the incumbent and churchwardens of St George’s. The data within this letter provide an interesting perspective to the institution of the grievance against the Bishop of London.

  • 413 parishes in five episcopal areas under the Diocesan Bishop and the Area Bishops of Kensington, Stepney, Willesden, and Edmonton; and the Suffragan Bishops of Fulham and Islington;
  • 65 out of the 413 parishes receive pastoral and sacramental ministry under the provisions of the House of Bishops Declaration;
  • 61 parishes in 2 Dioceses accept the ministry of the Bishop of Fulham.
  • 62 parishes in 14 Dioceses are looked after by the Bishop of Maidstone.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Seven Bishops and a PCC: St George’s, Headstone" in Law & Religion UK, 18 December 2018, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2018/12/18/seven-bishops-and-a-pcc-st-georges-headstone/

5 thoughts on “Seven Bishops and a PCC: St George’s, Headstone

  1. Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, reports his subject as saying, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
    O tempora, O mores.

  2. I’d go much further than my co-blogger – just because Johnson may have said it doesn’t mean it isn’t total rubbish.

    • A link to the Revd Stephen Keeble’s response to the Bishop of London’s 1 November letter, which appeared on Anglican Mainstream, is included in our post, although not his most recent comments reported in the updated version of the Church Times article.

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