Faith and Reason: Claim to authority divides a church: Our series on Catholicism without Rome returns to the Church of England: Elizabeth Mills, of Forward in Faith, argues that women priests are incompatible with catholicism.

BEFORE November's General Synod vote approving the ordination of women to the priesthood, those of Catholic belief in the Church of England considered it possible to be a member of our Church and a Catholic and indeed for many a Catholic acknowledging papal authority. Since that vote we realise that the Church of England is to become a Protestant sect by unilaterally claiming to have authority for this decision.

How could we in the past maintain a Catholic position in the Church of England but can no longer? Church of England Catholics had a tradition that our Church continued as the nation's Church, the Ecclesia Anglicana, founded by St Augustine of Canterbury, the missionary sent by Pope St Gregory the Great to convert the English people. The Church of England had no creeds, doctrines or orders of its own but only acknowledged those of the undivided Church. The breaches with the Papacy in the 16th century were essentially political rather than religious acts. What was put in place was a national state establishment blocking interference from Rome.

The Catholic tradition of the Church of England was maintained by bishops and theologians through the Elizabethan and Stuart periods. They claimed that the Church had been purified from medieval accretions but had maintained Catholic faith and order as defined by the early Councils of the Universal Church. In spite of the weakening of this tradition by the rationalist secularism of the 18th century, it was not lost. Church order was preserved and Catholic practice was recovered in the 19th century by the Oxford Movement with a return to regular Eucharistic practice and to sacramental confession, the growth of devotion to Our Lady, the founding of monastic and religious orders and the revival of liturgical ceremonial.

Indeed, so successful was this Catholic restoration that by the middle of this century the intellectual life of the Church was dominated by Anglo-Catholics, clerical and lay, such as Bishop Kenneth Kirk, Dom Gregory Dix, Austin Farrer, TS Eliot, Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers to name but a few. This induced in Church of England Catholics a false confidence that the Catholic tradition was secure in the Church and would grow.

The recent development of ecumenical relations with the Roman and Orthodox communions and their consequent better understanding of the Anglican position gave Church of England Catholics confidence that intercommunion would be achieved with the two-thirds of Christianity which subscribes to traditional faith and order.

The Church of England had for several decades enjoyed partial recognition by the Orthodox Churches and the good relations developed between Rome and Canterbury during the pontificate of Paul VI pointed a way forward to restored communion with the Holy See. Despite the Roman condemnation of Anglican orders as null and void in the 19th century, the level of agreement in the official discussions between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches gave real hope of reunion. The great sadness was the refusal of the Archbishops of Canterbury to respond to the warnings from Paul VI and the present Pope on the ordination of women.

What Church of England Catholics had failed fully to grasp was that control of the Church was falling into the hands of a liberal party which queried the supernatural nature of the Christian religion and Church and questioned the traditional understanding of the Creeds, the ordinary interpretation of the Scriptures and historic teaching on faith and morals. The liberals' first concern is to reinterpret Christianity to make it acceptable to the understanding of the present secular world. What has caused further confusion is that many in the Church with a superficial Catholic background in essence have embraced this liberal programme.

The Church of England, at least since the latter part of the 17th century, has had three parties: High Church or Catholic, Reformed or Evangelical and Rationalist or liberal. Although the Catholic and Evangelical wings have often been in conflict, the threat to Catholic teaching has mainly come from the liberal wing of the Church and by its anti-supernaturalist reinterpretation of Scripture has also been unacceptable to classical Evangelicals. In the 19th century it was the dominance of the liberals that precipitated the departure of both Newman and Manning to Rome. In recent years with the partial delegation by Parliament of legislation on Church matters to the General Synod, the liberals' capture of control of the synodical and Church appointments systems has precipitated a crisis. The General Synod's claim of authority to approve women's ordination has made it clear that the Church of England as now constituted can no longer uphold its Catholic position.

The dilemma for Church of England Catholics is whether it is possible to remain in a Church divided by internal schism, in order to work towards restoration of Catholic order. Although the legislation enables present diocesan bishops to refuse to ordain women and prevent women priests from functioning in their dioceses, no one consecrated to or transferred to a diocese in the future can believe the ordination of women impossible. Catholic laity and clergy will have no option but to turn their parishes into ghettos out of communion with their bishop. It is difficult to see how the compromises at present proposed can be strengthened to ensure a long-term future for Catholics.

The other options open to us as Church of England Catholics are to join the Roman Catholic church individually, to accept the suggested proposal of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to join as individuals in parochial groups, or to seek reception into the Orthodox Church. For some the Roman Catholic welcome carries difficulties from the required acceptance of the whole of Roman Catholic teaching and the implicit questioning of Anglican orders. Orthodoxy presents a problem through the cultural differences between the Eastern and Western Churches.

The crisis has caused a sad sense of loss but there is another side. It has forced us to reflect on and examine our obedience and trust in Our Lord and has required a deeper realisation of the Christian's dependence on the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. It has provided an opportunity to participate effectively in a reshaping of Christianity and the creation of a more positive Catholic future in Britain.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice