E.S. The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev’d John Broadhurst, is resigning and says he is preparing to be a member of the Ordinariate, the body the Pope has created to give a home to disaffected Anglicans. He is the first Church of England bishop to take such a significant step, and in this his first interview since that announcement, he told me why he is doing it now.
The Church of England has been committed to unity with the Roman Catholic Church for thirty odd years and there was one time when I was a young priest when I thought that was really quite possible. What has happened recently is that the Church of England seems to have been distancing itself by its decisions; so we’ve got the whole thing in the Anglican Communion about gay marriage and in England women priests and women bishops and recently we’ve had the Pope’s very generous offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus (which is hard to pronounce but easy to understand) which is really saying to Anglicans like me, “there is a home for you if you want it”.
I don’t think with any integrity I can turn my back on that offer which really is what my ministry has been all about for the last 30 odd yrs.
E.S. Even though on the specific issue of women bishops which seems to be the issue that has brought things to a head for you, the battle isn’t over and there seems to be, if you listen to some people, a reasonable chance from your perspective that the decision will go your way — for a while at least.
No it can’t go …. I said in 1994 you can’t with any integrity have women priests and not have women bishops. Whatever women are, they are not inferior to men. Therefore if they are to enter the ministry they should have been made bishops in the beginning. We’ve always asked for living room for those who dissent from it. But that living room was going to have an ecumenical dimension anyway. So the best hope for people in the C of E is another ten years of battle, well there’s not much fun in that is there?
E.S. You have said some pretty tough things about the way the matter of women bishops has been conducted. You have talked about the Church of England being fascist, vindictive. Or at least that’s what the newspaper have reported you saying. What did you mean by that?
Many people on the other side have said to me they were appalled at the debate in General Synod last time round, particularly in the House of Clergy, interestingly. If you remember the Archbishops of Canterbury and York appealed for provision for us — it was rejected. I mean, my language is robust, it always has been, but actually its very intemperate to say to people like me who have been in the church for virtually all our lives, to say, “no place for you, goodbye”. And then they’ll say “we’re making provision for them” … but that provision is not the provision we’ve ever said we wanted.
Rather sad though to leave an institution that you’ve served for so long, accusing it of being vicious and fascist.
I didn’t accuse the institution of being vicious and fascist. I accused the House of Clergy in the General Synod. You know the Archbishop of Canterbury must have been terribly frustrated to have had his modest provision for people like me just kicked into touch.
E.S. You’ve presumably talked to him about this?
I haven’t because I am not his suffragan; I have talked to the Bishop of London about it.
E.S. …who said what?
Who said, “Yes, you must do what your conscience tells you”.
The people I have dealt with, I deal with nationally, are gentle, pastoral and caring. That isn’t the atmosphere — I have been on the General Synod for 25 years. I know what it’s like — and I’ve witnessed it deteriorating in the last 15 yrs.
E.S. What in practical terms happens to you now? You resign from the position of being the Bishop of Fulham. And then, what? You’ll be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church? Is that the plan?
That’s up to them; not up to me. All I can say is it’s my intent to resign at the end of the year, and I hope (and my words are very careful: I intend and I hope…) … I hope to enter the Ordinariate.
E.S. Just to be clear what that could mean: you presumably couldn’t be a bishop in Roman Catholic Orders because you’re married?
E.S. …but you’d hope to be a priest?
Yes, I’d hope to be a priest; but in the end, if I had to be a layman, that’s not the end. One of the things about the debate on women bishops — the ministry is not a career: it’s actually a vocation. So you do what the Church requires of you, not what you require of the Church.
E.S. And how many people would you — we are the beginning of the process — how many would you expect in the long term as this unfolds to follow your footsteps?
They’re not following my footsteps, they are following the Pope’s offer. To be honest with you, I think initially it will be quite small. I know other priests and indeed bishops who intend to take this offer. It will be small initially because for many priests, if you’ve got a wife and family and you’re living in a home, it’s very hard to walk away from that in a rather insecure situation — but I’ve received many emails from lay people saying “how do we enter this?” You can’t join something that doesn’t exist. So until the Ordinariate is up and running nobody can say how many are going to join it.
E.S. And just to be clear, you are absolutely sure in your own mind that you’re taking the right step; you’ve taken a long time to reach the decision, but you’re no doubts about it?
Absolutely sure. And I think you can’t go back if you publicly state where you are; that’s what you’ve have to do, and I’ll do it with hope.