Tainted love

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me
The love we share seems to go nowhere…

Every time I think that I’ve plumbed the depths of despair at what the Church of England gets up to, along comes another episode of ‘how to demonstrate to the world that we are spiritually incompetent’. I refer, of course, to the debacle that has clustered around Fr Philip North’s consecration.

Two things first, before I let go and rant.

One, I feel immensely sorry for Fr Philip, who seems both principled and capable. Two, I have a huge amount of sympathy for the traditionalist perspective, not because I ultimately agree with it but because the process that has led to our present position has been driven by politics and a largely atheological form of argumentation (using the language of rights and justice). I well understand the fears and frustrations of those who see their perspective being marginalised and driven to the wall without even the courtesy of being properly engaged with by the wider church. It would be like seeing children let loose to play with the family heirlooms where the most distressing element is not that the heirlooms are being damaged but that all the other adults in the room do not recognise that there is damage being done. Far better that the damage is done openly and clearly with a full consciousness of what is going on rather than this blundering.


The consequences of our compromises are absurd and damaging and will make the eventual and inevitable collapse of our unity all the harder to deal with.

What, after all, is going on with +Sentamu’s ‘gracious restraint’? I have to confess to being rather baffled, in that I simply don’t understand the theology, the ecclesiology, of what is about to happen.

I hear that it is not about ‘taint’, by which I understand that it is not about a form of purity and/or contamination that will follow from consecrating or ordaining outside of the tradition. It is, apparently, all about communion. That is, those who take part in such consecrating or ordaining are placing themselves outside of the historic communion of the church catholic.

What I don’t understand is where this leaves Fr Philip’s future apostolic ministry within Diocese and Province. After all, I thought the very definition of being a bishop is that they are the principal celebrant of the Eucharist, from which all other priestly ministry in their area derives? Is this aspect not considered crucial as Fr Philip is to be a suffragan? But then, how can a suffragan bishop not be in communion with the Diocesan or the Archbishop?

+Sentamu has indicated that there are ways in which his authority will be recognised during the consecration, such as through oaths of obedience and ‘presenting the episcopal ring’. Yet to my mind this is to elevate the outward forms of episcopal office above the spiritual heart, which is centred on communion. What sort of witness is this?

I can only conclude that we are not a spiritually serious church. We are neither hot nor cold and thus we are apt to be vomited out of our Lord’s mouth. Which, now I think about it, is a rather good description of this noxious mess.

Don’t touch me please – I cannot stand the way you tease.
I love you though you hurt me so
Now I’m gonna pack my things and go…

2 thoughts on “Tainted love

  1. Well, plainly Fr North is not in *full* communion with either his Metropolitan or Diocesan to be.

    If he were, he would be able to walk into any of the churches in their Province/Diocese and receive Holy Communion in good conscience, which he cannot do, because at some altars there will be a female celebrant, whom he does not recognise as a priest. [In this Fr North is in the same position as any other traditionalist.]

    Contrast the position of any non-traditionalist, who can do precisely this – walk into any church and receive Holy Communion.

    There is a disparity: communion is impaired.

    It would be hypocritical of a traditionalist to receive the sacraments (in this case of Holy Order and the Eucharist) from the Archbishop just as if nothing had happened, as if communion were full and unimpaired.


    – Communion is impaired, but not sufficiently to justify such “restraint”.

    – Communion is so impaired that Fr North has no business becoming a bishop in (variant: even remaining in) the Church of England. (Variant: Being in communion is binary, you are either in full communion or not at all; impaired communion amounts to not being in communion, full stop – from which the same consequences follow).

    – Communion is seriously impaired but we’ll act as if it isn’t. This is the approach most Anglican provinces have adopted. What will happen in York next week at least avoids such dishonesty.

    It is a mess, but the alternatives are perhaps worse:

    1. Do not ordain women

    2. Kick out those who reject the ordination of women

    The logic and purity of both these positions is impeccable, but if the Church of England rejects them (as it has chosen to do) mess is inevitable. Does that amount to being spiritually unserious? Maybe, or maybe it depends where you identify the locus of spiritual unseriousness.

    Formerly, when there were divisions of opinion, the Church attempted to enforce compliance (as in the Reformation era). At a later date it merely said that those who could not accept the dominant position had to leave (as in 1662 and the Great Expulsion): an advance of sorts.

    What the Church of England has been attempting to do over the ordination of women since 1992 is to find another way. Is this merely a way of contradiction that signals a lack of integrity? Or something rather better?

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