Church of England’s Independent Reviewer supports Bishop of London against parish refusing the Bishop of Fulham over divorce and remarriage

Dec 13, 2018 by

from Balaam’s Ass:

In his report on the grievance brought against Bishop of London Sarah Mullally by St George’s, Headstone, Harrow, the Church of England’s Independent Reviewer Sir William Fittall concludes that belief that ‘a gender-specific episcopacy is intrinsic to, and its sacramental significance dependent upon, its prescribed marital status’ is not a theological conviction concerning gender and ordained ministry.

The Independent Reviewer’s report is published here.

The Revd Stephen Keeble, Vicar of St George’s, says ‘Those who read the report will be able to draw their own conclusions, but they should also be able to see my response to the Bishop of London’s letter to the Churchwardens and me setting out her position after the submission of the grievance. This was allowed by the Independent Reviewer during the preparation of his report but is unaccountably missing from the documents annexed to it.’

Here is the missing response:

The Bishop of London’s view of the legitimacy of the marital element of the PCC’s statement and request is set out on page 3.

The bishop states that ‘the issue of divorce and remarry (sic) are not within the criteria set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration’. However, the scriptural stipulation that a bishop must be the husband of (no more than) one wife, included in the Ordinal, both excludes the possibility of female bishops – there is no allowance for a bishop to be the wife of (no more than) one husband – and places episcopacy within the context of biblical teaching on marriage, from Adam and Eve, to God’s marriage to Israel, to Christ as bridegroom and the Church as bride. The marital aspect of the PCC’s statement is, therefore, clearly ‘founded on theological conviction in relation to gender and ordained ministry’ (Guidance, para 10).

The catholic understanding of marriage set forth in the Form of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer – between one man and one woman until parted by death – is not explicitly enjoined in the New Testament: proto protestant Martin Luther allowed polygamy in certain circumstances on the basis that ‘it does not contradict Scripture’ (letter to Gregor Brück, 27th January 1524); Resolution 26 at the Lambeth Conference of 1988 made a qualified allowance for polygamy within the Anglican Communion. The only unambiguous New Testament prohibition of polygamy concerns bishops, presbyters, and deacons (1 Timothy 3.2, Titus 1.5-6, 1 Timothy 3.12).

According to historic catholic teaching marriage is indissoluble. I am unaware of any attempt by the Bishop of Fulham to relate to the catholic constituency how his first marriage was either a ‘non-marriage’ or ‘voidable’ in terms of the Marriage Statement issued in 2002 by the Provincial Episcopal Visitors and former Bishop of Fulham, still available as one of the ‘Resources’ on the Forward in Faith website. By all appearances the Bishop of Fulham’s second marriage lies outside the bounds of catholicity, mitigating against the holy order revealed in and through Christ and duly embodied in the Church.

The scriptural preclusions of female bishops and episcopal polygamy are not unrelated, neither are they merely socially conditioned: like the catholic understanding of the indissolubility of marriage they are rooted in the apprehension of the ontological priority of the ‘mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’. This ontological foundation also means that the catholic understanding of the bishop in apostolic succession acting ‘eis topon kai typon Christou’ (in the place and as a type of Christ), ‘in persona Christi’ (in the person of Christ) and ‘in persona Christi capitis’ (in the person of Christ the head) is not ‘analogical’ or ‘metaphorical’, but sacramental.

The Bishop of London’s observation that ‘the House of Bishops in May 2010 made the decision that divorce and remarriage should not exclude episcopal ministry’ has no bearing on the House of Bishops’ declared right of catholic Anglicans to appropriate episcopal provision. At the time of the House of Bishops’ decision to allow divorced and remarried men to become bishops the National Secretary of Forward in Faith told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The doctrine of matrimony is closely associated with ecclesiology and so it would seem utterly unacceptable that divorce and remarriage be part of the regimen of those who are called to represent and effect the unity of the Church’.

From a catholic perspective the Bishop of London’s thoughts on the marriage of bishops, polygamy, and the ecclesial ramifications of the relationship between Christ and the Church are atomised and incohesive. This is in marked contrast to the systematically configured London Plan – predicated in part upon the catholicity of the Bishop of Fulham – deviation from which would ‘undermine the integrity of the Diocese’.

The PCC’s statement and request, with a holistic view of holy order, is for episcopal ministry in conformity with ‘apostolic teaching and practice expressed in the historic teaching and practice of the Church of England’. While that may not conform to the Bishop of London’s conception of ‘true catholicity’ (page 3, last sentence), it patently does arise from genuine ‘traditional catholic’ concerns (Guidance, para 13).


Stephen Keeble

3 December 2018




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