FORWARD IN FAITH COMMUNION STATEMENT
[On Saturday, 17 September, 1994, several hundred members of Forward in Faith were in Central Hall, Westminster, at the first National Assembly of that organisation, debating the Forward in Faith Statement on Communion and Code of Practice. In so doing, those present defined Forward in Faith's relationship with that majority of the Church of England who had opted to embrace the innovation of women priests. Since then, members of Forward in Faith, clergy, laypeople, and - indeed - whole parishes, have regulated their sacramental lives according to these documents. This has been very costly stand for some. But it is a point of conscience for all who remain committed to the Catholic Faith as the Church of England has received it.]
Agreed Statement on Communion
Adopted at FiF National Assembly,
1. This Statement, and the Code of Practice which accompanies it, deal principally with relations between bishops and clergy and bishops and lay people, because since the promulgation of the Act of Synod it is in these relationships that some difficulties of particular sensitivity are being experienced. We well know that the transmission of Holy Orders is but one strand in our understanding of that communion to which at baptism we have been admitted.
2. Our participation in Christ, by faith and baptism is a communion of adoption and grace on the one hand with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit and on the other with our fellow Christians. Every Christian lives this communion in the fellowship of a particular Church. For those of us in the Church of England who hold a Catholic understanding of our Church and its ministry, the bishop's role in the life of the diocese is of particular importance, and the proper exercise of his role as the chief minister of the diocese provides an important measure of assurance to the faithful.
3. It is precisely this assurance which we fear has been imperilled by recent developments in connection with the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood in our Church.
4. The Statement has been prepared with a view to helping loyal members of the Church of England to remain within the fellowship of that Church and make a lively contribution to its life and witness.
5. We want a Catholic understanding of faith and morals, and the practice of Catholic sacramental discipline to flourish in our Church, for we are convinced that they are essential features in the presentation of the gospel to our nation. Remove these elements and our Church's witness will be greatly impoverished and weakened.
6. It is our earnest hope that the suggestions contained in this statement will make possible the continued growth of strong and effective Catholic parishes and enable Catholic-minded Church people to play their part in the life of their parishes and dioceses and in the representative bodies of the Church.
1. The threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, continued unchanged from the Apostles' time, as the Preface to the Prayer Book Ordinal makes clear, is a sine qua non of Anglicanism. This fact has very largely determined and continues to determine the relationship of the Church of England to other ecclesial bodies. Roman Catholics have denied the claim of the Church of England to have continued those orders, and so have declared them null and void. The Church of England has also felt obliged to distance itself from churches where the apostolic ministry is not valued or retained.
2. But the Apostolic Ministry is not an end in itself. It exists to authenticate the teaching and sacraments which it ministers. Within the diocese the bishop is the originator, regulator and guarantor of all ordained ministry. [Every bishop is within his diocese the principal minister, and to him belongs the right...of conducting, ordering, controlling and authorising all services... Canon C18 4] He is charged to uphold the catholic faith and to ensure the reliability and validity of the teaching given and the sacraments celebrated by his authority. [ ..it appertains to his office to teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions Canon C18 1] To this end all those who exercise a pastoral or parochial ministry in a diocese do so by license of its bishop and are said to exercise their function on his behalf [Receive the cure of souls which is both mine and thine] as his vicar or alternate.
3. The ordination of women introduces into this time-honoured pattern of relationships and guarantees, already threatened by unbiblical teaching, a new element of doubt. Not only do many faithful people in every diocese not accept that the Church of England and its General Synod have the ecclesial authority to authorize bishops to make this change, but the bishops themselves have expressed doubt about an action which they have nevertheless taken. The bishops unanimously affirmed (and the General Synod overwhelmingly endorsed) the principle that "discernment of the rightness or otherwise of the decision to ordain women to the priesthood should be as open a process as possible." [Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 Preamble 3 (a) (i)] Believing as we do that in the administration of the sacraments the Church is always obliged to take the "safest" course, a degree of separation from those whose orders result from this principle of deliberate experiment and declared uncertainty is inevitable.
4. The priests of a diocese act on behalf of its bishop, standing in his place. Every eucharist celebrated by his authority is his eucharist. The priests of a diocese act as alternates one of another because all act on behalf of the one bishop. It follows that if that bishop introduces into his college of priests those whose orders are in doubt, this fellowship and the guarantees it mediates are fractured. A priest who cannot in conscience recognize the orders of one ordained by his bishop cannot in conscience act on behalf of that person or of that bishop. He is obliged to seek fellowship with a bishop whom he can with integrity represent, and in whose college of priests he can wholeheartedly participate. A diocese is not merely an administrative territorial unit; it is also, properly and necessarily, a fellowship based on doctrinal agreement and sacramental assurance.
5. Such a re-alignment inevitably involves a degree of separation, both for laity and for clergy. But though our doubts about women's ordination (which the House of Bishops and the General Synod clearly share) entail separation, they do not oblige us to any other conclusions about the general teaching or other sacramental acts of those who ordain women or receive their ministry. "The highest possible degree of communion should be maintained within each diocese" [Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, 1993, Preamble 3 (a) (ii)]. Separation is not an end in itself; nor is it, in this instance, a judgment upon others. It is the necessary minimum expression of that rejection of experiment and uncertainty which naturally precedes a re-assertion of the unimpaired fellowship of layfolk, priests and bishops which is the normative local expression of the Catholic Church.
6. By its very nature this regrettable but inevitable impairment of communion must be open and public. Just as the Church of England distances itself from other ecclesial groupings who have not valued or continued the apostolic ministry as the Church of England has received it; so now a similar distancing will be inevitable within the Church of England. But the degree of separation, though in every sense necessary, need not be acrimonious. Ecumenical relations with many of the Free Churches clearly show to the contrary. In the spirit of the Act of Synod both parties to the separation will need to co-operate closely and pray for unity and a common understanding.
CODE OF PRACTICE
a) During the unprecedented process of "reception" and "discernment" called for by our bishops and inaugurated by their actions in ordaining and licensing women as priests, it is desirable in all circumstances that the greatest possible degree of communion should be maintained and expressed.
b) We seriously doubt that women so ordained are priests in the Church of God; but we accept that we may prove mistaken. It is doubt about the validity of the orders conferred, and not certainty as to their invalidity, which requires us to distance ourselves from them.
c) We cannot make "windows into men's souls." Our conduct towards those who set forward this innovation should be based upon their actions, and not what we surmise to be their opinions.
d) We should adopt in every circumstance what has come to be called the "Lund" principle of never doing separately anything that can in conscience be done co-operatively.
e) We presume that bishops who ordain women will, when ordaining men as priests or consecrating them as bishops have a sufficient intention to do what the church does (as expressed in the Ordinal, that the men ordained by them will be truly priests and bishops). Nevertheless it is clearly desirable so that the greatest possible degree of communion can exist between a bishop and those he ordains, that provision be made for those opposed to the Measure to be ordained by men who have not themselves ordained women, or licensed them.
Relations with Bishops
a) The Diocesan Bishop exists to be the focus of unity of his diocese and the president of its presbyteral college. Suffragan and assistant bishops act for him; their actions are accounted his. To act on his behalf, to concelebrate with him or any of his representative bishops, or to receive Holy Communion at services celebrated by them would be to signal acceptance of the orders of all those in his college of priests. Conversely, to be unable to receive a sacrament at the hands of one whom the bishop has authorised for the purpose is to be unable to receive it from his own hands. It follows that where a bishop or his assistants ordain or license women as priests, that bishop's clergy and lay people should seek the oversight of a bishop who has not acted in this way. Parishes can do this most appropriately by petitioning under the Act of Synod for the episcopal care of the Provincial Episcopal Visitor. Individual lay people and clergy should freely associate with the Provincial Visitor through contact with such parishes.
b) Some diocesan bishops in office at the time of the promulging of the Canons have chosen - rather than exercising their undoubted rights under the Measure -- to permit women to be ordained in their dioceses by a commissary of the Archbishop appointed for that purpose. (It appears that the commissary of the Archbishop may even be the suffragan of the bishop in question.) It is possible that other diocesan bishops may in the future use such a device to distance themselves from the ordination of women. For as long as such arrangements endure it is appropriate that those bishops be treated as though they had not permitted the ordination of women, nor permitted them to be licensed.
c) It is no part of our purpose to express doubts about the validity of any of a bishop's sacramental acts other than his priesting of women. Our inability to receive the body of Christ at his hands is to be interpreted as a painful and costly sign of the impairment of communion which his own free action will inevitably have created. Just as the bishop carries the pastoral staff to signify the unity of the flock he tends; so our separation from him at the Table of the Lord will publicly express the alienation from that flock of which women's ordination is the cause. Care should nevertheless be taken to make it clear that no discourtesy is intended. Every opportunity should be taken to join with the bishop and his representatives in non-eucharistic acts of worship.
d) The relationship of laypeople, clergy and parishes with a bishop who is able to give that alternative oversight which changed circumstances will require should be full and pastoral. Whilst, under the Act of Synod, all legal and financial arrangements will remain the concern of the bishop of the diocese, all pastoral matters (including parochial visitations and clergy assessment procedures) should be the responsibility of the alternative bishop and those whom he appoints to act for him.
Relations with Clergy
a) Bishops, priests and laypeople opposed will not be able to receive the priestly ministry of women; in particular they will not be able to receive from them the sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood nor in any way assist them in any eucharistic celebration.
b) Relations with clergy who choose to remain in unimpaired communion with bishops who ordain women should be as flexible as possible. In the words of the House of Bishops statement Bonds of Peace: "The danger to be avoided is that, where ecclesial communion is impaired, communities may begin to define themselves over against one another and develop in isolation from each other". And again, in the words of the Eames Commission, "the acceptance of anomaly is not the compromise of truth."
c) Such priests may be supporters of women's ordination; or they may simply have felt themselves in no position to take advantage of any alternative oversight offered. Relations with them should be determined by the public implications of their actions. Is a female priest on the staff of the parish or group of parishes in which the priest works? Does he concelebrate with women? Is he happy to act as alternate to women celebrants? Does he attend the Holy Thursday rites in the Cathedral and renew his priestly vows alongside women? Where the answer to any of these, or similar questions, is "yes", the impairment of communion with the diocesan bishop and his representatives (see para 2.1a above) might properly be thought to extend to that priest.
d) In any case, we believe that those opposed to the Measure should not, as a matter of principle:
i) Worship regularly in a church where a woman is the incumbent or assistant minister or where women are known to be welcomed as celebrant of the eucharist, albeit infrequently.
ii) Receive or administer the Holy Communion, from the sacrament reserved in that place, in any parish church, hospital, hospice or other institution where a woman was the incumbent, chaplain or assistant minister.
iii) Commend to the sacramental care of a woman priest anyone close to death.
Priests, moreover, should not act as alternate to a woman priest, or to a male priest who is her alternate or colleague, in the performance of any sacramental function. (In particular he would find it impossible to celebrate the eucharist in any place where a woman was a regular and accepted minister of the eucharist, unless it be to make special provision for those in the parish who cannot accept the priestly ministry of a woman). They should act in such a way as never, by association or participation, to mislead others into assuming that they accept or countenance the priestly ministry of those ordained under the 1993 Measure.
Guidance for Laypeople
a) We believe that layfolk have a duty, wherever possible to re-align themselves with parishes which have sought alternative episcopal care.
b) Where this is not possible, laypeople should seek the sacramental fellowship and orthodox teaching of parishes where women do not minister as priests.
c) Regular giving to the church should be made through the nearest parish which has sought alternative episcopal care; or it should be redirected through Forward in Faith.