21 FEBRUARY 1987, Page 5



There have been many attacks on Dr Robert Runcie, the present Archbishop of Canterbury. This paper has often criticised him. But in one important respect, at least, Dr Runcie has set a fine and characteristi- cally archiepiscopal example: he has valued the unity of the Church of England very highly and worked for the greater unity of the universal Church of which his Church is a part. His tactic, which more often than not has been right, has been to tread the Anglican via media.

Next week, the General Synod will discuss the ordination of women. The subject raises the question of unity (in both the universal Church and the Church of England) much more acutely than any other in modern times. As recently as 1984, Dr Runcie believed that his custom- ary way of proceeding would work. He told the Synod:

In regard to the great question concerning the ordination of women, I have consistently driven down the middle of the road and I am surprised to find that I have survived this dangerous ordeal.

As the matter becomes more real, how- ever, and the details appear in all their complexity, it is clear that if Dr Runcie and the Synod stay in the middle of the road there will be an appalling crash.

For in matters of this kind, the unity of the Church means something much deeper than a spirit of friendly compromise. It means the ability of the Church to continue to exist and minister as one.

In its report on the subject submitted to the Synod, the House of Bishops addresses this problem. It imagines all sorts Of stratagems to protect the feelings of those who are against women priests, in the event of women being ordained. By doing so, it only emphasises the inevitability of division. How can it be, for example, that the Church, in all its due forms, makes women fully priests and yet declares: 'We consider that there should -be a safeguard in the legislation which would enable the laity to prevent a woman priest exercising priestly functions in the parish . . .'? The bishops are saying that true priests can be kept from their duties just because a congregation does not approve of their sex. This is nonsense. If women are priests, they are priests for everyone in the Church which priests them. There can be no `reasonable safeguards' to enable con- tinuing disagreement about who is or is not a priest.

Since accommodation is not, in consci- ence, possible, it follows that the Bishop of London is right to confront the question of schism. It follows that the Measure to allow the ordination of women could equally well be entitled 'A Measure to split the Church of England'. It follows that Parliament, whose duty is to safeguard the Church of England in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer, would be within its rights to confront the Synod and reject the Measure. It follows that priests who, by maintaining the orthodoxy in which they were ordained, are forced into separation from their Church, would be entitled to demand churcli money and church build- ings.

And it follows from all of this that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops can only protect the unity of their Church by opposing the ordination of women. For the most violent supporters of women priests cannot argue that a Church which refuses to ordain women is not a Church at all. They are members of a part of a universal Church which has not done so in its entire 2,000-year history. They accept the validity of that Church's orders and rites. They may reasonably long for a change. They may not reasonably promote the change in such a way as to undermine the unity of the Church which they claim to love.