Lambeth, Part three

I found the opponents of women almost exactly where there enemies had been ten years ago: practising their religion on the fringes, in a building just outside the campus boundary.. The hard core, who would not recognise Harris as a bishop, nor any woman as a priest, had the use of the Roman Catholic chaplaincy in Canterbury because the chaplain was a former Anglican who had taken the last step from which they shrank and become a Catholic priest in protest against the ordination of women; and there every lunchtime about fifteen people, mostly men, would gather for lunch, gossip, and the spiritual refreshment of a Mass conducted in the a small upstairs chapel with a slatted pine door by a Holy Water stoup about the size of an ashtray.

We are so used to ritual being special or dramatic in some way that it is always shocking to come across the businesslike quality of Anglo-Catholic worship. Their differing accents ó Australian, American, English, formed strange chords as they prayed together. They were musical, fluent, and much more comfortable with drama than the rather self-conscious groups who prayed in the open air for women bishops, but not without bathos: "Using form B, let us proclaim the mystery of faith."

For most, this was a ritual they had performed every single day of their adult lives: the axle that carried their lives along. If women, or men who were not real priests, performed this act, the axle would turn to wax and everything would be wrecked. Without the silences upstairs, none of the noisy bonhomie downstairs would be possible.

After the mass, they would lounge on sofas, drink, and conspire into mobile phones. A large, shrewd Australian did Edna Everage imitations perfectly. It was a place to come to talk to grown-ups. Here I could safely say that genocide was far more biblical than buggery, a thought which weighed on me increasingly as the conference continued.

Like women bishops, traditionalists tend to smoke heavily; a mainstream white male bishop would no more smoke than he would christen his daughter Kayleigh. Their best politician, John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham, has a pipe going everywhere it is not actively forbidden. Blue-eyed, large-jawed, handsome, he has an unusual talent for obscene invective. Women are either charmed by him or repelled. They do not take him neutrally. I like him a great deal, not just for his clear-eyed genial contempt for the people who run the Church of England but for the deep disillusionment this springs from.

The "Anglo-Catholic" opponents of women priests believed that Anglicanism, in its sense of a minimal, sensible Christianity, was not really different from Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, just more English. It made no impression on them that the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics thought they were ridiculous. From an Anglo-Catholic perspective, this refusal was just the little eccentricity of one or two billion Christians.

The ordination of women shattered that world. Some of the Anglo-Catholics believed that women could never be priests, largely because Jesus was a man; others only that it was wrong and divisive to make the priests against the wishes of the Pope and the Orthodox. When successive Anglican churches decided they could and should make women priests, and that the Pope should learn from their example, both these central Anglo-Catholic beliefs about the church they were members of were shown to be false. It was a moment like a divorce: something that changes the past as much as the future.

Of course, the Anglo-Catholics had never really considered themselves married to the Church of England. They knew all along that their heart was with Rome, so after the Church of England voted to ordain women, they decided to annul their earlier belonging, and set up house with the Scarlet woman of Rome. But it turned out that Rome did not want them either. They were welcome to convert as individuals, and some might even be reordained as Catholic priests. But they would not be admitted as a group.

The dispute here was ostensibly over whether they were sacramental priests in the Roman Catholic sense: whether, when they celebrated the Eucharist, they really were making flesh and reality out of Christís promises of salvation. In 1896, Pope Leo XII had solemnly pronounced that Anglican claims to be priests in that sense were "utterly null and void" but Anglo-Catholics showed an almost Roman Catholic ability to ignore those papal pronouncements they found inconvenient. It seemed under more recent popes anyway that there would be no real obstacle to recognising the Anglicans who wanted to be Romans as having been priests all along. Indeed there wasnít. The obstacle turned out to be quit different, and insurmountable: the Roman Catholic authorities were not prepared to accept these priests as leaders of their congregations. It was not their spiritual status that was unacceptable, but their political existence, as an organisation of self-conscious, bolshy priests to whom their congregation owed allegiance personally.

While he was still just an Anglican priest, but the most able politician of his faction, Broadhurst had bargained and intrigued with Cardinal Hume for nearly two years trying to find a way around the resistance of the Catholic bishops to accepting him and his men as leaders with their own followers and loyalties. Finally he despaired and accepted the post of Anglican bishop of Fulham, officially just an assistant to the bishop of London. The Cardinal was apparently furious; but as Bishop of Fulham, Broadhurst has finally got what his followers wanted all along: a church of their own, loosely affiliated to the rest of the Church of England. He appoints the priests in those 50 or 60 London parishes that do not accept women. Though other bishops opposed to the ordination of women are more senior, he is the only one who does not even have to pretend to take into consideration those who disagree with him.

"I donít mind you describing me as critical" he said to me one evening at the pub which Forward in Faith had colonised. "But I donít want to appear destructive."

"But, John," I said, "You are trying to destroy the whole thing."

No, he replied: "If I ask you for bread because my wife and children are starving, and you tell me I canít have any, and I ask you again, and you repeat your refusal; does that mean I want to break to your house and steal it, even if thatís what I end up doing? All I want is a loaf of bread for my starving children."

There didnít seem any answer to this. For all he was saying was that he would only be destructive if he felt compelled to it. But then itís all a divorcing party can honestly say.

As we sat in the pub that afternoon he pulled from his briefcase a copy of the Lambeth Pravda, a glossy colour-printed newsletter whose official title was the Lambeth Daily. It was the sort of corporate communication which is supposed to reassure shareholders that they are getting value for money. At Lambeth, it was put together to reassure the liberal North of the American church, which paid most of the £2.2m it all costs, so it was full of pictures of women bishops

Broadhurst poked at it with broad pipe-yellowed fingers. He found a delicate language of contempt and assertion concealed in all the lace and scarlet of the bishopís dresses. He and his allies would not dress for the group photographs in their full liturgical gowns and scarves. They wore cassocks instead, because "cassocks are clothes"; and to have turned up for the official conference photographs in the sacred vestments proper to a bishop would have implied that everyone else there was a real bishop. It used to be the case that you could tell a traditionalist by the way they crossed themselves: now their most important liturgical gesture is to cross their fingers.

The women in all these official photographs were of course dressed in rochet, chimere, and everything else that might suggest they were properly ordained. Broadhurst was convinced that this was the result of prearrangement with the conference authorities and pointed out every single photograph of a woman bishop he could find in the copy of the Pravda and suddenly cheered up: "Thereís only one real question. Is there any one of these you wouldnĎt kick out of bed?"

Broadhurstís loathing of gays is complicated by the fact that so many of his followers themselves fall in love with men more easily than women. The diocese of London has been a sanctuary for gay clergy, almost all of them Anglo-Catholic, for the last thirty years at least; and the diocese of Southwark, which is London south of the river, is very similar. It was in Southwark Cathedral that the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement was able to celebrate its twentieth anniversary ó an event which led several Southwark parishes to approach Broadhurst to be their bishop. Itís hard to get figures if you are not part of that subculture yourself, but a member of the staff of the last bishop of London suggested to me once that about 200 of the 900 priests in the diocese were known to the bishop as actively gay. The great majority would be opponents of women priests, which is one reason for the Cardinalís caution.

This fact ó widely known but completely inadmissible, like so much else about the Church of England ó lent a peculiar bitterness to the arguments over women priests, for it meant that both sides privately, but with unusual sincerity, accused their opponents of being driven by homosexual neuroses. So when Brian Masters, the bishop of Edmonton died, who had been the most implacable opponent of women priests on the bench of bishops, the last paragraph of his sympathetic obituary in the Times read simply: "He remained celibate" since none of his opponents would have believed this. The charge against the traditionalists was obvious, that they didnít want women wearing their dresses; but Broadhurst dismisses the programme of the "Affirming Catholics", who believe in Catholic ritual and women priests, as "Girls at the altar and boys in the bed."

One of the leader of the Affirming Catholics, Richard Holloway, the bishop of Edinburgh, was an object of peculiar hatred for having described the opponents of women as "mean-minded sods —miserable buggers." This is so exactly what many of them are that it was unforgivable. The Forward in Faith newsletter devoted considerable ingenuity to working into as many articles as possible the phrase "Dick, head of the church of Scotland".

Such subtlety was quite beyond the Americans who occupied the basement of the Catholic chaplaincy. This was where the Southern attack on liberalism was run from. There were endless overlapping groups The Association for Apostolic Ministry, The Episcopal Synod of America, The American Anglican Council, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Episcopalians United: there were nearly as many varieties of orthodoxy as of Trotskyism. But they were based around Texan money. The English traditionalists regarded them as pompous barbarians. "Have we shown you the bunker?" I was asked when they showed me the American headquarters and when I asked what they were doing in this galere, Stephen Parkinson, the director of Forward in Faith, replied "the money, dear boy, the money."

They had organisation as well as money. The central Anglican organisation was unable even to produce a comprehensive list of names and addresses of the bishops attending the conference. The Southerners produced and published a glossy directory with details and where possible photographs of every single bishop. They had prepared for Lambeth by organising two preliminary conferences in the immediately preceding years for Third world bishops, one in Kuala Lumpur, and one in Dallas. For some of the attendees, this was the first time they had ever been out of Africa. They certainly did not adopt homophobic opinions to please the Southerners who were bankrolling these meetings: their detestation of homosexuality and liberalism was absolutely sincere. But the conferences allowed for the preparation of agreed statements, or manifestos denouncing homosexuality and other Northern vices, which were introduced into all four sections of the Lambeth conference, not just the one that was meant to be dealing with the topic.

Before the conference began, the Archbishop of the Southern Cone ó a dignitary who is in charge of the Anglican churches of Argentina and Chile ó had toured the Southern parts of the Episcopal Church of the USA explaining what would happen. He and his allies, the archbishops of Singapore, Rwanda., and the bishop of Sydney, had formulated three resolutions that would change the Anglican Communion forever. The first would bind it to an evangelical interpretation of scripture. The second would condemn homosexuality utterly; and the third would give and Archbishop of Canterbury powers to discipline erring liberal provinces. All these resolutions passed in one form or another, though only the one on homosexuality had its full rigour. In a series of amendments ó which Dr Carey voted for ó all of the liberal equivocations were stripped away. Even a reference condemning homophobia was deleted. Instead of "homophobia", the conference condemned "Unreasonable fear of homosexuals". This is the hate that dares not speak its name.

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