The Church in Wales will not appoint a new “flying bishop” for traditionalists, Archbishop Barry Morgan said on Sept 17, saying the position was no longer necessary nor was such a post consistent with Anglican ecclesiology.
Those opposed to the ordination of women still had a place with the Church in Wales, he said and asked traditionalists to trust the bishops to look after their interests.
The decision comes as a repudiation of the work of Dr Rowan Williams, traditionalists charged, as the former Bishop of Monmouth was instrumental in creating the post of “flying bishop” 12 years ago, and marks a hardening of positions in the Welsh Church.
Traditionalist leaders took little comfort from the bishops’ assurances of continued support. The Rev Alan Rabjohns, Chairman of Credo Cymru, Forward in Faith Wales said “this is a disappointing and sad statement.”
“We reject the claim that such an appointment is unnecessary and do not regard what was said yesterday as the final word on this subject,” he said on Sept 18.
Following the introduction of women priests in the Church in Wales in 1996, the position of provincial assistant bishop was created to offer delegated episcopal oversight to those who could not accept the innovation.
In June the Welsh “flying bishop”, the Rt Rev David Thomas retired and traditionalists were expecting a replacement to be appointed.
However in a speech to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales meeting at the University of Wales, Lampeter, Dr Morgan said, “We reaffirm as Diocesan Bishops our commitment to securing a continuing place in the life of the Church in Wales for those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, we no longer consider that the continuation of additional episcopal provision for one part of the Church on grounds of belief or doctrine on one particular issue is either necessary or consistent with Anglican ecclesiology.”
He explained that clergy are in communion with their diocesan bishops regardless of “whether or not they agree on every issue. Episcopal oversight and care for all within each Diocese is the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop.”
“There remains a continuing place in the Church in Wales for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests, but we do not believe that this is contingent upon appointing another Provincial Assistant Bishop and it is therefore our decision not to appoint. Whilst bringing a particular arrangement to an end, we remain committed to serving every person and every parish within our respective Dioceses and we will continue to be sensitive in our appointments, both in terms of the views of parishes and in ensuring that clergy from different parts of the Church are given the opportunity to progress in their ministry,” he said.
The bishops’ decision not to appoint a new flying bishop comes in a midst of change with three of the dioceses electing new bishops this year. Forward in Faith Wales said they “particularly regret” the decision not to name a successor to Bishop Thomas as “it comes from an incomplete [Bishops’] Bench, giving those to be appointed to the dioceses of Bangor and St Asaph over the next months no say in the matter.”
The Rev Geoffrey Kirk, secretary of Forward in Faith UK argued the Welsh decision will have consequences for the Church of England. “We are repeatedly told that the future for those opposed to women’s ordination is one of trust in provisions made and confidence that our position will be respected and upheld by the majority,” he said.
“To describe the role of a provincial assistant bishop – one effectively brokered by the Archbishop of Canterbury when he was Bishop of Monmouth -- as ‘unnecessary and inconsistent with Anglican ecclesiology’, as the Archbishop of Wales has done, is deliberately to undermine both that trust and Dr Williams’ leadership of the Anglican Communion during this time of crisis,” Fr Kirk said.
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