Source: The Tablet
by Una Kroll
The Mother Church of the Anglican Communion agreed to allow women to be consecrated as bishops in England on Monday, 17 November 2014, although some daughter Anglican Churches have had women bishops since 1989. How do I, once an Anglican woman priest, now a Catholic laywoman, feel?
I am happy for the Anglican women clergy in England; their witness to their vocations has been fully recognised. My hope for this outcome began in 1947 when I was 21 and a student, although I was mute about my own call until 1970, when I began to campaign: this led to prayer, perseverance and provocative witness among Anglicans worldwide for over 30 years.
But undoubtedly, the effects of Anglican proposals to ordain some women as priests, then to allow their consecration as bishops, hindered progress towards organic unity within the Anglican Communion, and with other Churches, notably the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
These separated Churches have hierarchical governance systems: one includes the Archbishop of Canterbury’s primacy among equals, another, a papal system of governance, relatively unchanged, despite the impetus of the Second Vatican Council. The third has patriarchial systems that can cause conflict, even within Orthodoxy. All have difficulties with diversity.
Today, even more fragmentation through dissent seems to confront Christendom, but it is not women deacons, priests and bishops that stand in the way of Christian unity. It is our common failure to face theological diversity and changes in systems of authority and governance. Unity through uniformity does not work. Unity through diversity, the kind that is written into the Benedictine Rule, could work. I believe, by the grace of God, and after prolonged exploration of ways in which I saw that diversity of theological opinions, cultural attitudes and different systems of institutional governance could lead to a deeper kind of unity in Christendom than by systemic conformity or uneasy compromise. I have begun to glimpse possibilities.
My new autobiography, Bread not Stones, describes my spiritual journey and present witness. I think the advent of women bishops into an Established Church will be beneficial. Yet, I also think that the absorption of women into the predominately patriarchal structure of its present system of governance will not bring about what Christ preached during his lifetime and continues to say to Christians through the Holy Spirit, namely, that “they may all be one” (Jn 17:21-23). I passionately believe in the reunion of Christendom.
My continuing life of prayer encourages me to hope that the time will come when in the Catholic Church there will be a renewed, reformed kind of governance, that includes a papacy that promotes collegiality, devolvement of authority in accordance with cultural and gender diversity and global needs for sustainability, will heal Christendom. How wonderful it would be if more women could be invited now to join male laity in decision-making in the higher tiers in the Church, and ultimately, of course, be ordained deacons, priests and bishops – and potentially be elected pope.
In order for this to happen I pray that the Catholic Church will take the initiative towards unity through a transformed form of governance, even if it takes a very long time to implement. Time is not the issue.
Sr Una Kroll is a solitary nun in life-long vows and based in the diocese of Salford. She was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1997 and became a Catholic in 2008. Bread not Stones, published by John Hunt, is out next month.