The debate about the provision offered by Pope Benedict XVI to Anglicans wishing to join the Roman Catholic Church ignores the fact that the majority of Anglo-Catholics are in favour of women’s ministry, say two major Anglican societies.
The Society of Catholic Priests has over 500 members in Britain and is about to establish chapters in the American Episcopal Church and in Australia; Affirming Catholicism draws together clergy and laity here and throughout the Anglican Communion.
In a joint statement issued this weekend, the two organisations point out that the great majority of catholics in the C of E demonstrably "wish to remain loyal to the Anglican tradition within the Anglican Communion" and "are committed to the catholic nature and teaching of the Church of England."
They add: "We are actively working to see women ordained to the episcopate and hold that this is entirely consistent with the teaching of the church and the historic nature of our orders. We are also convinced that the issues of human sexuality should not be ones that divide the church."
Media reports and hardline campaign groups tend automatically to equate both Anglican catholics and Anglican evangelicals with anti-women, 'traditionalist' and often anti-gay positions, ignoring the diversity of the movements and the progressive majority - particularly on the catholic wing of the Church.
But Fr Andrew Nunn, Rector General of The Society of Catholic Priests and Fr Jonathan Clark, Chair of Affirming Catholicism, have publicly challenged these stereotypes.
The two men declare: "To suggest that the departure from the Church of England of those who hold more conservative views will remove the catholic wing and tradition from the church is entirely wrong. Churches and parishes which have a catholic tradition and are served by priests, both male and female, are growing and flourishing and look forward to the future with enthusiasm.
They add: "We welcome the offer made by the Pope to those of our brothers and sisters who no longer feel that the Anglican Communion is their spiritual home. We hope that this will not impede swift progress in the Church of England towards the ordination of the first women bishops in this land."
Writing for the Guardian newspaper (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10176) and for the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commentator Savitri Hensman, who has followed developments in the Anglican Communion carefully in recent years, says that so-called anti-women 'traditionalists' who wish to radically change or break away from the Communion are not necessarily 'traditional' or 'conservative' at all.
In her research essay 'A better future for the Anglican Communion?' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10247), a detailed analysis of a recent paper by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Hensman says that "Scripture, tradition, reason and experience have much to offer in addressing complex problems, but different groups may have to be encouraged to re-examine their assumptions about what is 'biblical', 'traditional', 'fair', 'modern' or 'normal'."
The Society of Catholic Priests - http://www.scp.org.uk/
Affirming Catholicism - http://www.affirmingcatholicism.org.uk/
Also from Ekklesia: Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow (Shoving Leopard, 2008).