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Bishops in Communion? The Unity of the Episcopate, the Unity of the Diocese and the Unity of the Church

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image of Ecclesiology

This article addresses the current state of ecclesiological dissonance in the Church of England and analyses the theological and pastoral issues that are at stake. It tackles the two ecclesiological anomalies that now face the church and compromise its received polity. (a) The College of Bishops includes bishops who are unable to recognise the priestly and episcopal orders of their female colleagues and are unable to be in full sacramental communion with them. This situation raises the question of the ecclesial integrity of the College of Bishops: is there now a single College? (b) Some bishops are unable in conscience to recognise the priestly ordination of some clergy – male as well as female – within their diocese because these clergy are female or have been ordained by a female bishop. Is it possible for the bishop, in that situation, to exercise a full episcopal ministry in relation to those female clergy? The article goes on to explore, by means of the concepts of reception, economy and charity, whether a modus vivendi is possible that would enable the Church of England to live with these two anomalies with theological integrity.

Affiliations: 1: Editor-in-Chief; Honorary Professor, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Durham; Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, UK,


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