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No Flying Bishops for the Church of England

July 18, 2008
N. Lukanovich

Much as I'm disappointed that there will be no bishops flying about England, robes flapping to and fro in the breeze, the Church of England's July 7th vote against 'super bishops' was a step in the right direction. The General Synod voted in 2005 to remove legal obstacles to allow women bishops, and have now voted 'yes' for women bishops and 'no' to the concessions hoped for by traditionalists.

The main concessions were to be the 'super bishops' who would fly into a diocese where a bishop was needed by a priest who couldn't bear being subordinate to a female bishop, or the other option: creating new dioceses altogether. This would have created a two-tier system where male bishops were superior to female bishops.

The Anglican Church in many regions of the world already allows women bishops, although there are still some places that refuse to allow even female priests (as in Sydney, Australia). The Church of England, the original Anglican Church, has allowed female priests since l994.

Some 1400 clergy are threatening to leave the Church of England, and 230 bishops are boycotting the upcoming Lambeth Conference. Some are horrified by the notion of women bishops (God forbid), while others are inflamed about homosexual priets, bishops, and gay marriage.

The Lambeth Conference is a once-a-decade meeting of the Anglican Communion - the family of churches around the world. The highest ranking bishops and all the archbishops hobnob in England with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss issues within the church (and if you're wondering, the Episcopalian Church is part of the Anglican Communion).

Bishops have already been flying, alas by plane and not on their own spiritual steam, to the Vatican, to garner sympathy for their terrible plight, and clearly thinking of defecting to the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI is publicly discouraging any such defections, is sending 3 of his cardinals to the conference, and has made a statement about the importance of the unity of the Anglican Church. This statement seems more than a little odd, considering he previously made a statement expressing his dismay about the vote to allow women bishops, and how this decision could affect relations between the two churches - the Vatican refuses to even discuss the ordination of women priests, let alone bishops.

Why all the fuss? According to traditionalists, the bible makes it clear that women should have nothing to do with leadership positions in the church. They point to a line in the Gospel of St. Paul, using the standard approach of holy chauvinist's - selecting what they wish from the Bible to support insupportable positions, and ignoring anything that may support the opposite viewpoint.

The origins of the Church of England are more than a little interesting in terms of the effects of patriarchies. If it wasn't for the fact that King Henry VIII was in such a lather to produce a male heir, he would not have broken with the Catholic Church, in 1534, and declare himself, the monarch, as the Supreme Head of the Church of England (changed to Supreme 'Governor' with the rule of Elizabeth I).

But since England had yet to have a female ruler for any length of time, his frenzy is somewhat understandable. His daughter Mary simply didn't count as an heir to the throne. So, I suppose it would be truer to say that if his first wife Catherine had bothered to squeeze out a gaggle of boys, as a good Queen should, then Henry could've taken a load off, spent his time jousting and having fun, and the Church of England wouldn't exist.

The 'failure' of Catherine of Aragon to produce a male heir had a mighty impact on history. Henry would have been less feverish about Anne Boleyn, he would not have married her, she would not have disappointed him by bearing a daughter instead of the son she promised, she would have kept her head, and Elizabeth I, one of the greatest rulers in English history, would never have been born.

She ruled England for 44 years, and I'm sure the headless ghost of Anne Boleyn was laughing loud and strong for the duration - or seething with righteous outrage, hissing at Henry's ghost that he'd been a tumescent fool for having been so desperate for a boy.

Henry did have a male heir with Jane Seymour, his third wife, but Edward VI, who became King at the age of nine, only ruled for six years till his death at fifteen years old. He was replaced by Lady Jane Grey, a protestant cousin, who ruled for all of nine days, until she was sent off to the tower to await execution by order of Mary I, daughter of Catherine, a devout Catholic, also known as Bloody Mary for having over 300 dissenters burned at the stake (she briefly re-established Catholicism in England). But after 5 years reign, Mary I died and was succeeded by Elizabeth I.

Perhaps all these apoplectic bishops should remember that Elizabeth I did more to entrench the new religion than any other monarch, and that she was, in fact, a woman.

It's laughable to state that female bishops are inappropriate when even today, Elizabeth II, also clearly a woman, is officially the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.




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