The sheer bizarre awfulness of the Telegraph‘s Blogs Editor, Damian Thompson, has been a constant mystery to me since I first came across him. Well, actually, I had never even heard of him until I wasted an afternoon writing a diary piece for the Daily Telegraph during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Within minutes of it going online, Thompson had posted a nasty little piece with a deliberately misleading photograph.
Ever since then I have followed his stuff on Twitter with incredulity at the frequent nastiness and perversity of his views. Does he have any friends anywhere? Does he have contempt for everyone other than himself?
So, I find myself in a difficult position today. He has posted a clear piece about the decision of the General Synod Revision Committee on Women Bishops and what he has written makes sense. I suspect that he and I come at the matter from different perspectives, but I guess we would agree that some opposing positions cannot be resolved by compromise and that we just have to face reality – however painful that might be. (And although I agree with his logic, I don’t agree with his silly headline: ‘The Church of England washes its hands of traditional Anglo-Catholics’.)
The issue about women bishops is tortuous. If you don’t believe a woman can be a bishop, then you cannot accept any authority delegated by a woman bishop to a male bishop: the authority still derives from the female bishop. On the other hand, however, you cannot divide up a diocesan bishop into ‘bits’ of authority, some of which can be ignored by those who don’t like the gender of the bishop concerned. If a bishop is a bishop, then he/she must be the bishop with all that means. To do otherwise is to negate any concept of catholicity anyway.
These positions have always been irreconcilable and it is only the desire to keep as many people together as possible that makes the attempt at compromise worthwhile. And that search is worthwhile. Thompson is right, however, to point out that Anglicans who want to go to Rome whilst keeping the flexibility and freedom to dissent and negotiate, etc. that they have in the Church of England might not be welcome in Rome after all. He put it more eloquently, quoting Jonathan Wynne-Jones quoting Fr David Houlding:
“This is a great piece of wickedness. The committee knew what was needed and have refused to provide something that will hold the Church together. This forces people out of the Church who otherwise would have stayed. We didn’t want to go to Rome, but now have been left with no choice.”
On the whole I’m thrilled by the prospect of Anglo-Catholics seeking comunion with the Holy See – but with that sort of stroppy attitude? Houlding is wrong on two counts. It is not “wicked” for a self-governing Church to say to its members: this is the decision of our bishops and democratically elected representatives, and if you wish to stay then you must accept it. Nor do people with Houlding’s views necessarily have the option to become Roman Catholics. The Holy See is not interested in receiving into full communion Christians who would prefer to be in another denomination. In fact, I suspect it will refuse to do so, and much as I expect the Ordinariate to flourish, I hope it does.
Many of those who approve of women bishops have a great concern to keep as many traditionalist Anglicans in the Church as possible. But it might be seen in the future to have been a mercy that the issue has now been forced, that reality has to be faced and that the time for clarity – however painful for everyone in the church – has come.
It is still possible that some workable compromise might be found, but it isn’t looking likely. Which means that we need to pray for and offer support to those who now find themselves in a ‘crisis’ (in the proper sense of the word) – that is, a time to decide and then commit themsleves to the consequences of that decision.