I am one of that “number of bishops” referred to by Bishop John Crowley in his admirable letter of 23 June and further challenged to reveal themselves by John Mulholland in his letter of 30 June. Your correspondents are seeking to raise the whole issue of ministerial priesthood, male or female, in today’s Church. It is clear to me that this is a debate which needs to be taken seriously.
I serve as a committee member of the Movement for Married Clergy (MMaC) and, as a committee, we have repeatedly requested that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales should establish a commission, comprising bishops, priests, deacons and laity, so that there can be a proper and official discussion about the ordination of married men. Our repeated requests have received no substantial reply.
We are not saying that celibacy should be abolished – it is a precious gift in the life and history of the Church – but we are saying that priesthood and marriage are not mutually exclusive. Bishop John has taken the debate a step further to include the possible ordination of women. All these questions are current at various levels in the Church and proper and considered discernment needs to be made.
I, and MMaC with me, am continuing to ask that the debates, taking place informally among our people and in many of our parishes today, should become official, so that a proper discernment can be made. The matter is urgent and the diminishing number of priests is real. I have said it before and I say it again: “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”
Retired Bishop of Portsmouth