Williams urges realism on Church which has 'lost credibility'

By staff writers
21 Nov 2012

The Church of England needs a reality check about the way it is perceived and the way it operates, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The comments from Dr Rowan Williams came after an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops this morning (21 November 2012).

It followed the vote in the Church's General Synod, its tripartite legislating body, on 20 November, when members voted convincingly in favour of women bishops but were thwarted by a shortfall of six votes in the House of Laity to achieve the two-thirds majority required in all three 'houses'.

"We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do," said Dr Williams in his address today.

"Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted, spoke; the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society.

"Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society. We have some explaining to do. We have, as the result of yesterday, undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society, and I make that as an observation as objectively as I can; because it’s perfectly true, as was said yesterday, that the ultimate credibility of the Church does not depend on the good will of the wider public. We would not be Christians and believers in divine revelation if we held that; but the fact is as it is."

Tackling the procedural questions, he continued: "We also have a lot of explaining to do within the Church because I think a great many people will be wondering why it is that Diocesan Synods can express a view in one direction and the General Synod in another. That means that Synod itself is under scrutiny and under question; and I shouldn’t be at all surprised if many members of Synod and groups within Synod were not feeling today confused and uncertain about how Synod itself works – and whether there are issues we have to attend to there.

"We rightly insist in the Church of England on a high level of consent for certain kinds of change and the failure to secure a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity doesn’t mean that those high levels of consent are necessarily wrong. They do mean that there is a great deal of further work to be done," said the Archbishop, who retires at the end of the year.

However, Dr Williams cautioned against 'easy solutions'. He declared: "The idea that there is a readily available formula just around the corner is, in my view, an illusion. There is no short cut here, there is no simple, God-given (dare I say) solution, to a problem which brings people’s deepest convictions into conflict in the way in which they have come into conflict in this Synod and previously.

"Realism requires us to recognise that; to recognise the depth and seriousness of the work still to be done. The map is clear enough. The decisions we have to make are about the route, and those decisions, given the nature of the terrain, are not going to be simple and straightforward," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron said he is "very sad" that the Church of England had failed to with the introduction of women bishops at this point.

He added that parliament had to "respect the individual institutions and the way they work."

But others, including Labour MP and former government minister Ben Bradshaw, who is an Anglican, said that the Church's links with the state needed to be re-evaluated.

[Ekk/3]

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