From the moment the General Synod voted for women priests in 1992, it was inevitable that it would also vote for women bishops. Conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics engineered a delay of 21 years, but I doubt they’ll be shocked by today’s decision. Some traditionalists have even been arguing that, although they were still opposed to the measure on principle, another ‘no’ vote would be a disaster for the Church of England. That strikes me as hopelessly muddled thinking, but remember that these are the people who brought you the Alice-in-Wonderland notion of ‘flying bishops’.
How will Pope Francis react? Some Anglicans suspect that he’s secretly pleased: they see him as a fellow liberal who would be open to ordaining women if only John Paul II hadn’t declared it to be a theological impossibility. They’re wrong. Francis talks about expanding the ‘ministry’ of women, but when he’s pressed on the subject he makes jokes about bossy priests’ housekeepers and Adam’s rib. There’s definitely a streak of old-fashioned Latin American misogyny in the Holy Father.
On the other hand, the Pope won’t lose any sleep over this, since he doesn’t believe that Catholics and Protestants should waste time debating irreconcilable doctrinal differences. His message to the CofE’s new women bishops will be: join me in spreading the Gospel.
Conservative Anglo-Catholics now face a simple choice: stay in an established Church that has reaffirmed its liberal Protestantism by this vote, or seek full communion with Rome, either as ordinary Catholics or as members of a self-governing Ordinariate that celebrates Mass in Cranmerian English. I hope they move to Rome, but I can understand why many Anglo-Catholics – especially those in gay partnerships – will find it easier to stay put. I just wish they’d ditch the pretence of being Roman Catholics in all but name. Last week I saw their leader, Bishop Jonathan Baker of Fulham, swanning down Notting Hill Gate in a bright pink Roman soutane. I bet Jorge Bergoglio never wore such a garment in the streets of Buenos Aires. And it did make me think that, these days, Anglo-Catholicism is mostly about dressing up.