Archbishop Sentamu presidingat the Episcopal Consecration
of Bishop Philip North
Yesterday the Reverend Philip North was consecrated as the Bishop of Burnley in York Cathedral, but it was a rather bizarre service. While the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, “presided” over the service as Metropolitan of the Northern Province, the province to which the Diocese of Blackburn of which the Bishop of Burnley is suffragan, belongs (In the Anglican Church those whom we Catholics would call “auxiliary bishops” are called “suffragan bishops”) the actual ordination was done by the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester. Bishop Warner also was the celebrant of the Eucharist which followed the ordination rite.
The reason that Archbishop Sentamu performed neither sacrament (Episcopal Consecration or the Holy Eucharist) is that Archbishop Sentamu had the week before consecrated the Rt. Rev. Libby Lane as the Bishop of Stockport (suffragan of Chester). Bishop Lane is the first woman to be ordained bishop in the Church of England, though certainly not the first in the Anglican Communion, Bishop North, an arch-traditionalist who rejects the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, insisted that he be ordained by a bishop who shared his theological views regarding an all-male priesthood. Bishop Warner and the two co-consecrating bishops who joined him the laying on of hands (it is traditional, though not essential, to have at least three bishops for the consecration of a bishop) all are opposed to the ordination of women and have never ordained a woman to the priesthood. Bishop Lane and several other Anglican bishops were present at the ceremony but did not join in the laying on of hands consecrating the new bishop.
Moreover, by asking that Bishop Warner and not Archbishop Sentamu preside at the Eucharist, Bishop North is also calling into mind the integrity of Archbishop Sentamu’s episcopal ministry. This is a non-verbal way of saying that the tissue holding together the Church of England is tenuous at best and that schism is all but certain. When bishops refuse communicatio in sacris to one another the unity of the Church is shattered.
All due respect to Bishop North—and for that matter for Archbishop Sentamu for enabling this scandal—but as important as fidelity to our theological convictions are, I believe that the unity of the Church is an even more fundamental commitment. I guess I believe that the unity of charity, the cor unum—even where there is profound disagreement—is a non-negotiable. I believe that when the Church, not an individual prelate or pastor but the Church, takes a step individuals are bound to yield individual reservations to the common faith. I am not saying that one must agree, but only that however strong the disagreement the bonds of communion—both Eucharistic and fellowship—must be maintained. I believe this is as true for us Catholics as it should be for the Church of England or any other Church. This is what saddens me in our Catholic Church whether it is when those on one end of the krazy spectrum proceed with the ordination of women priests or bishops or those on the other end ordain bishops or priests for the pre-conciliar rites without an apostolic mandate. At the end of the day we don’t have to agree but we do need to gather at the one table for the One Bread of Christ’s Body and the One Cup of Christ’s Blood.