An article by the reliable Ruth Gledhill on the Christian Today website claims:
As the consecration of the first female bishop [in the Church of England] approaches, Christian Today has learned that at the consecration a few days later of traditionalist priest Father Philip North as Bishop of Burnley no bishop will lay hands on him who has previously laid hands on a woman bishop or priest.
I must say that I had to check the date to see if I was reading an old April Fools joke. And then later I rechecked the reliability of the site and the author in case I was reading some ecclesiastical satire site.
Let me be clear: Christians disagree about whether or not women can be ordained. Sacramental actions include form, matter, and subject, and I understand the majority of Christians have seen women to be not the right subject for ordination. Those who hold this have tradition on their side, and the support of biblical texts. I do not hold to this position; I uphold the change allowing women to be ordained. But I respect those who disagree with me and believe in ordaining only men.
I understand the Church of England is trying to take care to hold these different positions together. I am aware of the different positions within worldwide Anglicanism.
But Ruth Gledhill’s article is not about that. It is not about providing a male bishop who has been ordained by male bishops all the way back to the male apostles. It is about providing a male bishop who has been ordained by male bishops where those ordaining bishops have never tainted themselves by ordaining a female.
And the church doesn’t have a variety of possible opinions, on which we can respectfully differ, about that.
If I have tainted my baptismal record by rebaptising, or by baptising not in the name of the Trinity, or by using rose petals instead of water, or by sacrilegiously baptising a boat – read my, no, read the church’s lips: this does not negate my ability to validly baptise. Should I, after any such an error, baptise using water in the name of the Trinity, the person I baptise is validly baptised.
Catholic, orthodox theology holds that a bishop’s ability to validly ordain is not affected by possible errors in previous ordinations.
The Donatist controversy in the early church sought purity in the one ordaining. Donatism is a heresy. The church is clear – the validity of sacramental actions is not dependent on the worthiness of the one administering that action.
Ruth Gledhill’s article says, “the Church of England’s catholic wing is being allowed to preserve the traditionalist apostolic succession, creating a line of male bishops in perpetuity”. That, as I said at the start, is something I understand. But in their method of bringing that about, let us hope that the article is wrong. Or, if not, let us hope that those involved resile from these plans.
Because, if they do go ahead, and what she terms “the Church of England’s catholic wing” does in fact think that in order to preserve a male-only episcopal line it needs to have “no bishop lay hands on [Father Philip North] who has previously laid hands on a woman bishop or priest”, then that would mean that this “wing” would have lost its mooring, and drifted away from orthodox sacramental understanding, and could no longer rightly be called “catholic”.
UPDATE: Bishop Jim White very wisely develops some concerns about the current CofE episcopal ordinations, with a wonderful bonus about mitre wearing, here.