The Church of England has a problem. Well, the Church of England has many problems, but the one that it is waking up to at the moment is that women bishops are getting closer and closer to it and it hasn’t quite worked out what to do.

Why does it have to do anything?

Ah, well there exists a settlement in the Church of England whereby the Church of England does not fully recognise as bishops those bishops in the Anglican communion who have been consecrated in other parts of the Anglican world who happen to be women.

Now this means that priests who have been ordained by such bishops cannot serve in the Church of England. All those claims that churches which allow the consecration of women as bishops make about being in full communion with the Church of England are deeply compromised by this.

The election of a female candidate to the episcopacy in Ireland is a joyful thing. It is right, I think, that all positions in the church should be open to both men and women equally. I long for this to have become normal so that we can then get on with talking about what kind of episcopacy we think the church needs. We’ve got so hung up on gender that we’ve not really been able to talk much about episcopacy itself. I’m one of those pesky people who is a passionate advocate of equality in this area who also thinks that it will make very little difference to the leadership that the church receives. My belief that women and men can lead the church equally is founded in a belief that women and men have the same capacity for both glory and despair as one another. My training convinced me precisely that women and men in the church need equal opportunities because I saw that women in leadership positions in the church are capable of exactly the same cruelty as men.

However I digress.

I find today an excellent post has been published from Will Adam, editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal and Vicar of St Paul’s, Winchmore Hill in the Diocese of London on the recognition of orders. I was unaware that the Scottish Episcopal Church had a different legal position with regards to the Church of England to the churches in Ireland and Wales, but it is so. A Church of England bishop can apparently refuse to receive the orders of someone ordained in Scotland for any reason but not those from Ireland and Wales.

However there also appears to be an argument in the same post (which  I have to admit I don’t understand with respect to Scotland) saying that there is be no way that a Church of England bishop could automatically refuse to receive the orders of someone ordained by a bishop who happens to be a women provided they come from within the British Isles, though they could be refused from elsewhere. (If I read that right).

All of which must make Church of England legal types sit up and take notice.

I’m interested in this not simply from a legal point of view though. Some people in Anglicanism believe that women cannot be ordained and refuse to receive their ministry. I don’t think I  very often encounter such people and in Scotland, our legislation on ordaining bishops is a done deal. If a diocese chooses a female candidate for the episcopate then that is that. If she has any problem ministering to anyone in her diocese then she can, if she thinks it will help, ask a colleague from the college of bishops to help her out. However, that is her choice and not anyone else’s. We don’t have legal “protection” for those who can’t accept women as bishops and we are not going to. And we thank God we don’t.

Amongst those who can’t accept women there has developed this peculiar mentality which people refer to as a theology of taint. It is sometimes denied to be such, but the fact remains that there are some who won’t recognise the ministry of those who have been ordained by women, never mind the women themselves. It looks like a theology of taint and it sounds like a theology of taint and frankly to me it is precisely a theology of taint.

What I’m interested in is that with respect of our current bishops in Scotland, all of them have either had a female co-consecrator present at their consecration, joined in consecrating someone with a female co-consecrator present or have been consecrated by someone who has had a female co-consecrator present at their own consecration.

What I wonder is whether those who apply the theology of taint believe that anyone at all (bishops, priests or deacons) now ordained in Scotland is legit.

Oh, and by the way an English bishop was present and joining in when this situation began. I was there – I saw it with my own eyes.

Where does this leave the Scottish Episcopal Church in relation to those who would deny the legitimacy of women to act as bishops?

(The bishop who happens to be a women who joined the SEC for a consecration was a delight and I attempted to teach her the gay gordons).

Do we, or do we not, remain in full communion with [all of] the Church of England?


  1. This is an interesting way of putting things: with all the Church of England’s squirming over women bishops, there is a danger of messing with what should be a given in the recognition of orders. Too often the misogynists decry gender equality as putting us far from reconciliation with Catholics and Orthodox, but there is a blind spot when it comes to Anglicanism (except, strangely, for Nigeria).

    For some the idea of tainted hands goes further: if you were ordained by a man bishop who has ordained women as priests, your orders are also suspect. In practice, this has made an extremist ghetto in England that recognised the orders of hardly anyone in the Church of England.

  2. Erika Baker says

    It strikes me that you cannot be in full communion with the CoE unless you reject women bishops, because the various groups within the CoE aren’t even in full communion with each other. That is to say, while the majority believes that we are in full communion with Reform and FiF types, they believe they are not in full communion with the majority of their church.

    We might have to start defining what we actually mean by being in full communion.

  3. Tom McLean says

    Whilst I basically agree, it is not a ‘theology of taint’ to say that a man ordained by a bishop who happens to be a woman is not validly ordained. That is a simple matter of the proper matter of the sacrament. If a woman cannot be a bishop, she cannot perform episcopal acts, and thus it is an impossibility for her to ordain anyone.

    The theology of taint lies in refusing to accept the orders of a male bishop who was co-consecrated by a woman (as long as there was a male co-consecrator using the proper words and intent – the matter is here correct), or the orders of anyone ordained by a bishop who also ordains women. Though it could be said, even in this case, that the intent of the ministers of the sacraments could reasonably be said to be deficient, thus invalidating it.

    To be clear though, I fully support the ordination of men and women equally, according to God’s call to all three orders, but feel we should at least attempt to accurately portray the views of those we disagree with!

  4. Erika Baker says

    “Though it could be said, even in this case, that the intent of the ministers of the sacraments could reasonably be said to be deficient, thus invalidating it.”
    That I don’t understand.
    This would mean that the women this bishop ordains are not validly ordained (which traditionalists believe anyway) , but that has no effect on any male priests the same bishop ordains because his intent of the sacraments when ordaining the men is not deficient.

  5. Robin says

    > that has no effect on any male priests the same bishop ordains because his intent of the sacraments when ordaining the men is not deficient.

    I suppose a rigorist might say (and I use throughout this comment the sort of language that a rigorist would use) that if a male bishop purports to ordain women to the priesthood he *ipso facto* CANNOT “intend to do what the Church does” in ordination (since women are ontologically incapable of receiving what the Church confers in ordination and he must know this), and so his ordinations of otherwise eligible males would also be invalid – they would be Protestant ministers of some kind, not Catholic priests.

    Speaking for myself, however, I would be unsure if such a defect of intention would invalidate ordinations to the priesthood. In the history of the Anglican Communion there must have been not a few ultra-Protestant bishops who saw themselves merely as superintendents or overseers or administrators and whose intention in ordination was to ordain men as Protestant ministers of Word and Sacrament, not Catholic priests!

    • Erika Baker says

      “Speaking for myself, however, I would be unsure if such a defect of intention would invalidate ordinations to the priesthood.”

      Provided the bishop himself was validly ordained and consecrated by other men, then presumably, his understanding of the sacraments, even if it was deficient, would not invalidate them.
      Isn’t this was Donatism is all about?

      • Tom McLean says

        Erika – Robin has expanded what I meant quite appropriately.

        The argument goes that by intentionally administering the sacrament to someone who it cannot be administered to, the bishop in question would be demonstrating a deficiency of intent.

        The difference with Donatism is in that heresy, the minister must be worthy, i.e. sufficiently righteous, to administer the sacraments. Augustine and the Donatists had no objection to the form, matter or intent of each others sacraments, but the Donatists wanted to add an extra condition. (Of course, the catholic position is that the minister of the sacrament should be in a state of grace – traditionally this meant confession, in modern times there is variation in interpretation – but this does not affect the validity of the sacraments)

  6. Erika Baker says

    we must assume that those who administer the sacrament firmly hold it to be valid. Bishops who ordain women are not deliberately administering it to someone they know cannot receive it, but they are faithfully administering it to someone they firmly believe has a vocation from God, confirmed by the church.

    There is no deficient intent. There may be misguided intent but that does not invalidate the sacrament, especially not any others the same bishop may administer to other people.

    • Tom McLean says

      The issue is not whether the minister of a sacrament considers it valid, it is the Church that makes that decision – it is the Church that assess whether the minister intends to do what the Church intends to do.

      Now, inside the Roman Catholic Church, this is straight forward, as there is a magisterium that can declare who is outside the realm of acceptability. Likewise, by virtue of your communion (or not) with the see of Constantinople, the question is simple in the Orthodox world.

      The question then comes down to who has the authority to declare what the intent of the Church is. The first traditional answer in all the West is to seek the opinion of Rome. However, this doesn’t help the traditionalists because, as we read in Apostolicae Curae, Rome holds all Anglican orders ‘null and void’.* The other traditional answer is an ecumenical council, but I think we can safely assume we aren’t about to break the nearly 1500 year hiatus since the last one.

      Thus we must ask how much authority is then vested in our own bishops and synods? Again, the traditionalist position is ‘not enough’ – they argue that it is impossible for a single subsection of the Church to make such a significant change to the dominical ordinance.

      So, yes, misguided intent DOES invalidate the sacrament – you must administer the sacrament with the intent the Church does, as defined by the Church. We just don’t agree with the traditionalists on who has the authority to make that declaration.

      *One can dispute the historical assumptions that AC depends on, but ultimately just because the argument is probably flawed, the conclusion doesn’t go away.

      • Erika Baker says

        By that reasoning, Tom, there IS no church authority for traditionalists. Rome does not consider their orders to be valid in the first place and they do not consider that their own church has the authority it needs to make the discernment about women priests.
        So whose authority are they appealing to when they decide on intent? Their own discernment?

        • Tom McLean says

          Well, actually, yes they do argue that their own church does not have that authority. Most would argue that we cannot proceed with the ordination of women without reunion with the whole Church, and then, based on the Roman position, it might still need an ecumenical council/direct divine revelation (depending on whose interpretation of the RCC position).

          They appeal to the authority of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’. And as Vincent of Lerins put it the ‘catholic faith is that faith believed everywhere, by everyone at all times’.

          The difference is not simply one of who can be ordained, but of an entire theology of the Church.

          • Erika Baker says

            I don’t know about that, Tom, because many of them have already left for the Ordinariate and others have become non-Ordinariate Roman Catholics, so they clearly accept the authority of Rome even when Rome has developed doctrines (infallibility etc.) that are not shared by other churches that were part of the Council of Nicea, the one I believe is usually cited when people speak of members of the one catholic and apostolic church. So the appeal to that mystical church is rather selective.

            And those who are still happily Anglo Catholics in the CoE have clearly got a spiritual home in a church that, according to Rome, is not part of that one catholic and apostolic church either, to the point that Rome doesn’t even accept their orders.
            For them, the appeal to that universal church and to Roman tradition are highly selective.

            I would accept that appeal more if there was consistency and they rejected absolutely every innovation instituted since the split of the Orthodox from Rome.

  7. Steven says

    The Church of England’s approach to this issue is just such a load of complete and utter bo*#ocks. It is beyond parody in its utter meaningless for the world beyond some tiny, irrelevant ecclesiastical pogroms in England. They just need to get with the programme, it is not a matter of debate or even trying to understand their position. While that is not very tolerant there must come a point when people must actually make a stand against such nonsense. It must be incredibly frustrating to know the private views of church leaders on issues of controversy and yet see them remain silent again and again for the sake of unity or because the time is not right etc…

    You say:

    “What I wonder is whether those who apply the theology of taint believe that anyone at all (bishops, priests or deacons) now ordained in Scotland is legit.”

    I say, forget them, forget the debate and get on with being a priest.

    Jesus would literally never stop throwing up to see a theology of taint proffered by those who claim to serve him.

  8. Tom McLean says

    Erika – I’m with you on that – I don’t find the appeal to this selective use of a mystical tradition entirely convincing either. However, my point originally was that there is a reasoned argument quite distinct from a theology of taint that underlies objections. You may disagree with the premise, but if we were able to agree to it, then the opposition to the ordination of women does follow quite naturally.

    But I also struggle with a position that doesn’t attempt to hold to tradition as much as possible. (Where I would distinguish ‘tradition’, a living developing thing, from ‘traditionalism’ – an attempt to preserve an arbitrary past point). We, as the Church, derive our authority, in a large part, by following in the path of the apostles, bishops and martyrs who have gone before us, and the command initially given to Peter and the other apostles by the Lord that has been passed down to us.

    • Erika Baker says

      Tom, I still struggle with it and I’m still not so sure that there isn’t an element of theology of taint involved.
      The rejection is not limited to male bishops who ordain women but also to those who do not ordain them but accept them in their Diocese – that is all male bishops apart from PEVs.

      Are we really saying that even accepting women’s ministry shows a deficient understanding of the sacraments?
      And the same people who cannot accept any male Diocesan have no problems to accept confirmations administered by non-PEV bishops. Or at least I have not heard of any FiF church that insisted that someone was re-confirmed by a PEV bishop or who wasn’t married in the eyes of the church because they were married by a non PEV bishop.

      When defective sacramental understanding is interpreted so narrowly that it applies only to women’s priestly ministry one can’t help but see theology of taint in the objections and not consistent theological difficulty.

      As for holding tradition as much as possible, I suppose that depends on whether we believe that there was once one revelation, truly understood and implemented at the time, or whether we allow for a changing understanding of what that revelation means, or of ongoing revelation that implies change. It comes down to individual temperament and, ultimately, we all believe what we want to believe.

      • Tom McLean says

        Does accepting the ministry of women show a deficient understanding of the sacraments? Well, yes, actually: if we want our traditionalists to be consistent, they must do this – otherwise, they are encouraging (from their point of view) lay celebration of the Mass.

        On confirmation, it is possible for a bishop to administer the sacrament of confirmation validly (i.e. with the proper intent) even when they are invalidly administering orders (to say otherwise would be absolutely a theology of taint).

        All the traditionalist position is saying is that in their administration of this one particular sacrament, there is evidence that the bishop does not act with the intent of the Church.

        On your final paragraph, hence the distinction I was making between tradition and traditionalism. Traditionalism is as you describe, but the Holy Tradition of the Church is a living, evolving thing – it does not change suddenly, but it can evolve and grow as the Church learns more of God, and more of how to talk of God to different people. The Church has never (using the words as I’m defining them) taught traditionalism, but it has always valued the Tradition.

        • Erika Baker says

          So does a bishop who refuses to ordain women but oversees women priests in his diocese (as he must), a deficient understanding of the sacrament? Why do FiF people on his patch need a flying bishop?

          • Tom McLean says

            And this is why we try and avoid opening the can of worms! Ultimately, if the traditionalist line is rigorously held, there are no bishops in the Church of England (the PEVs included) who should be considered acceptable.

            I have to observe that from the catholic point of view, flying bishops are an absurd idea. If I were unable to accept a bishop in that way, I would have to cease to be in communion with them – and there is no logical way this can mean importing a bishop, it probably would have to involve a swim in the Tiber/Bosphorus/Rhine. And there are days when finding my armbands in quite tempting…

  9. Ross Kennedy says

    As someone who spent the whole of his stipendiary ministry in the Church of England I met a fair number of clergy and not a few bishops who were opposed to the ordination of women and yet I never came across any of them who expressed a belief in the so called theology of ‘taint’. Nor about this notion of ‘intent’. Most anglo-catholics were happy to receive the ministrations of a priest or bishop (provided they were male,) whether or not they ordained women.

    I do, however, know a number of priests (male) who refused to help out during the vacancy of a traditionalist parish because the parish would not accept lady ministers. Quite clearly those clergy regarded themselves out of communion with the people of that parish. (sad!)
    Anyway was it not in the 1970s that the General Synod of the C of E declared (long before the SEC even considered it) that there was no valid theological or scriptural reason why women could not be ordained. Likewise can anyone put forward a valid theological or scriptural reason why a lay person may not preside at the Lord’s Supper? (Priesthood of all believers) Just think of all the problems that would solve!

  10. Erika Baker says

    Ross, I quite agree, most Anglo-Catholics don’t have a problem with any of the current male bishops. In fairness, most Anglo Catholics don’t have a problem with women priests either, we are running into danger of forgetting that the vast majority in the CoE from all traditions is very happy with women priests and does not only not object to women bishops but actively wants them.

    But if that was all of it we wouldn’t have needed the PEV scheme to protect a tiny minority from the “wrong” male bishops and if that was all of it, the Draft Measure would not have failed last November.

    And while I agree that it’s sad that some male priests have refused to help out in an interregnum I can completely understand it from an emotional perspective. Most people do not follow the complex theological hoops one has to jump through to end up with PEV and they see a church that has made a new discernment based on our recognition that the role of women in the world is not what was commonly assumed 2000 years ago, and they see priests and parishes who refuse to accept the discernment of their own church, preferring instead to stick with the discernment of other churches they don’t actually want to be part of for other theological reasons… and they see it as nothing but misogyny wrapped in a mantle of theology.
    FiF may not like that they are being seen like that, but here we are.

    Lay Presidency sounds like a very good idea!

  11. Ross Kennedy says

    Do you actually agree with ‘most people’ that the opponents of women bishops are motivated by misogyny? I hope not! After all the vast majority of those opposed to women’s ordination are in fact women. Moreover a survey taken before the the vote indicated that approximately three quarters of the members of the C of E were in favour of women bishops. Given that the worshiping community in the C of E is around one million that leaves something in the region of nearly 250,000 who are either opposed or uneasy about the measure – hardly a tiny minority.

    The attitude seems to be – accept it, or lump it, or leave, and that I find sad.
    The fact is that women will be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England – even the opponents accept that. The Measure would certainly have been passed if the proponents had been but willing to assure those who are against female bishops that there is still a place for them in the C of E. After all do we not claim to be a broad church?

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    For me, the problems to do with lay presidency are more practical than they are theoretic. The practical problem is this. Ordination is open to ANYBODY who is of suitable character, and prepared to learn enough about their faith. Do we REALLY want people leading the church who are NOT suitable?
    In one church I attended years ago, somebody would have been more than willing to become a leader. Popular in the church, and with a confident speaking voice, used to leading ceremonies he would have been a lay president if such things were allowed. Indeed, he was suggested for further training. He dropped out of this because they expected people to pray, and he could not see the point of that. Do we REALLY want people like that taking the Eucharist, because they can. and IF we limit it to people who ARE appropriate, and we vet them, and train them, why are we not ordaining them? Why can they not be ordained? What are they lacking?

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    @ Ross – anybody who believes women CANNOT be ordained does, by their very belief, think they are in some way not enough like Christ. That is quite different from saying that an individual does not have the very special and particular abilities needed to run a church. It may not be a dislike of women, but it is certainly the belief they are not quite fully human. Such beliefs do make things more than a tad difficult.

  14. Ross Kennedy says

    The sad truth is that there are already individuals in leadership positions in the Church who are unsuitable for the work, either through a lack of personal faith, holding heretical views or an inability to relate to people – to name but three reasons. I have witnessed the serious damage they do to the Body of Christ. Of course, this is inevitable simply because the Church is made up of fallible human beings and too often makes the wrong choices.

    Conversely, I have known very well suited candidates for ministry who were rejected simply because they expressed too conservative views on theology or ethics.

    On the issue of lay presidency I recognize and accept that in the Anglican Church it is a matter of Order that determines who should preside at the Eucharist rather than theology.
    FinalIy I cannot accept your argument that ‘anybody who believes women CANNOT be ordained does, by their very belief, think they are in some way not enough like Christ’ or that they have a ‘ belief they are not quite fully human.’ To be honest I think you are being somewhat unfair to the other side.

  15. Rosemary Hannah says

    Well, Ross, what else? If no woman can stand in for Christ at the Eucharist, then what else?

    Review criteria for ordination? Always possible, probably good. Abandon selection due to some mistakes? probably a bad idea.

  16. I could cope with Lay Presidency if the church agreed that celebrants would be chosen by lot each Sunday and the worship would reflect their abilities and competence.

    If we can’t accept that and prefer any kind of selection criteria whatsoever other than a roll of the dice then I think the best thing to do is to stick to something like the present system. That isn’t to say I don’t think we might improve it, but Lay Presidency for its own sake seems to me to solve little and would invent a new clerical class of people who were not regarded as members of the laos – the people of God. That seems to me to be a lot to lose.

  17. Erika Baker says

    And we should not forget that that the one diocese experimenting with lay presidency, Sydney, has also firmly rejected women priests. Lay presidency does not automatically solve all your problems.

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