Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tinkering At The Edges

The Conservative Evangelical body within the Church of England is a very strange beast indeed.

One its leading lights once told me that he had "never met a gay priest" while standing next to one whom he had known for decades. That speaker was not the Reverend Melvin Tinker (nor was he from the North East, for anyone who might be speculating), but for the present purposes he might as well have been.

I have suspected for some time, and I still expect to hear expressed in public, that more traditionally-minded sections of the Latin Church would quite welcome the routine ordination of married men, to which of course there has never been any theological objection (the idea that there is, is one of the ways of spotting well-meaning illiterates; there are several others), if they thought that that might reduce the incidence of homosexuality among priests of the Latin Rite below the 50 to 60 per cent that has obtained continuously throughout the last thousand years.

And based on the experience of the Church of England, it would. But only up to a point. Such tendencies have characterised between a quarter and a third of the Church of England's clergy throughout that institution's existence.

Just as the popular humour of Catholic countries is saturated with jokes about what we should now call gay priests, so the popular humour of England is saturated with jokes about what we should now call gay vicars.

Take Dad's Army. The Reverend Timothy Farthing's proclivities are as obvious as those of David Croft's other co-creation, Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served?

His relationship with the Verger is laden with such innuendo, and that office, which would in fact be quite unusual in a country parish, has been selected because its name sounds like "virgin".

In one episode of Are You Being Served?, Mr Humphries dresses up as a bishop, than which nothing could have been more camp either to the writers or to their enormous television audience.

Derek Nimmo managed to play both Anglican and Catholic variations on this theme, in both cases surrounded by others such, first in All Gas and Gaiters, and then in Oh, Brother! and Oh, Father! Tellingly, while the Reverend Mervyn Noote was a toff, Brother Dominic was a prole.

The zenith of the Church of England's career structure is a cathedral-based musical subculture that simply revolves around homosexuality.

It is notable that there is where the Book of Common Prayer remains in unchallenged use, and that upwardly mobile clergy organise their progress around arriving in such positions, where they never again have to use anything else.

Say what you like about the Modern Roman Rite, but it really is used, such as in Spain or in Belgium, even to marry princes and even to bury former Prime Ministers.

Yet the Reverend Mr Tinker would regard the old Prayer Book as a doctrinal touchstone.

We may safely assume that his parish's principal Sunday service is not conducted according to it. That speaks many a volume.

But there will be plenty of use of it at York Minister, which is not, Catholics and others ought to understand, under the authority of Dr John Sentamu, who merely has there a throne from which to rule the land beyond it, not the place itself.

Catholics ought also to consider the extremely high incidence of homosexuality, among other things, among those whom the media insist on calling "Anglican traditionalists", as if they were somehow mainstream English Anglicans of the 1950s. They could not be less so.

It is more or less accurate to think of the main body of the Church of England's laity, in particular, as suburban and rural, as middle and upper-class, as white, as Southern but not too London, as right-wing or at least as Tory-voting, and as so utterly heterosexual that the question does not even present itself.

Anglo-Catholicism has always been a reaction against each and every aspect of that, and the more advanced it is, the more pronounced is that reaction.

Thus, at its extremities, it is any one or more of very inner-city indeed, very working-class indeed, very ethnic minority indeed, very non-Southern or very London indeed, very left-wing indeed, very anti-Tory indeed, and very LGBT or beyond indeed.

Among clergy and laity alike, numerous of those who remain most opposed to the ordination of women, and most insistent on the Roman Rite, fall into many, or even all, of those categories.

In the Anglo-Catholic citadel of the Diocese of London, where no diocesan bishop and relatively few suffragans have ever ordained a woman to the presbyterate, over half of the clergy are gay, often having been ordained by bishops who have gone on to become monsignori.

A recently retired area bishop of that theological persuasion has lived with his male partner for many years. He was one of at least two gay men to have been made bishops in the Southern Province while George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury. Both of them were and are what the public prints would call "traditionalists".

Reform, to which the Reverend Mr Tinker belongs, has been working with that tendency on various issues throughout its existence, a period of 22 years and counting.

His own City of Kingston upon Hull has no small history as a centre of their activities, and that is even truer of the northerly part of the Diocese of York. Has he honestly never noticed?

For that matter, has he honestly never noticed anything about the Church of England?

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