The CofE needs a fresh start to reconcile its differences

The consecration of women bishops, supported by Archbishop Justin Welby, has caused significant tension within the Church of England.Reuters

There's no word for the opposite of divorce, but there should be. "Reconciliation" perhaps serves best, but what is happening here could be worthy of a new term.

The anger and hostility that have riven the Church through half a century of debate and more over women's ordination can still undoubtedly be felt, bubbling behind the lines. Heavy tolls have been taken on all sides over many decades, and this distress is not going to disappear overnight.

Gifted women have over lifetimes been denied the ministry of service to the Church and the world to which they have been called. Despairing men have left the Church, convinced beyond all argument that it has strayed irrevocably from the catholic faith of their fathers. But many remain and rejoice to witness the first women bishops settle into their new ministries.

Sir Philip Mawer, the ombudsman-styled independent reviewer in the Church of England tasked with resolving disputes over the introduction of women bishops to bring about "mutual flourishing", has in the last few days published his first two reports. Many at this stage in their lives would be enjoying retirement but Sir Philip has been called on, like Solomon, to discern paths through the most difficult disputes.

In the first case, Hilary Cotton, chair of Women and the Church, wrote to Sir Philip protesting that the "alternative" chrism masses held by and for traditional catholics in the Church of England to renew their priestly vows were a "powerful expression of disunity". She wrote: "Their existence has always been a cause of much pain to clergywomen and their supportive male colleagues, and an expression of division within the diocese." She described the masses as "thoughtless challenge to mutual flourishing".

Sir Philip dismissed the complaint. He concluded that the existence of the chrism masses was a "consequence" and not a cause of division and that "mutual flourishing" is not the same as "my flourishing".

In the second case, Forward in Faith complained to Sir Philip about the licensing of a woman priest in a team ministry in the Gloucester diocese, where one of the parishes did not wish to receive the ministry of women priests.

Sir Philip's response was that the licence was "deficient" and failed to make "appropriate pastoral and sacramental provision" for the traditional catholic parish. The licence needed more clarity in terms of defining the role of a woman priest in such a team ministry, he ruled.

This complaint is particularly significant because the Gloucester diocese is now headed by the first woman diocesan, the Right Rev Rachel Treweek. Forward in Faith had in its complaint alleged to Sir Philip that under its previous leadership, the diocese was "widely perceived as hostile to traditional catholics."

Sir Philip is retired from his professional life but before becoming Secretary General of the General Synod in 1990 he was a top civil servant. Among his many roles he worked with Lord Scarman in investigating the Brixton riots of 1981, and Scarman described him as "a brilliant man in handling questions of principle." For those of us who knew him on the synod, he was both like and unlike the best of them in the sitcom 'Yes Minister'. He had all the cleverness of those manipulative civil servants, and not an iota of their incorrigibility.

He was a true servant of his country and now the Church. To the incalculable benefit of all in the Church of England, Anglican Communion and the wider Church, he remains a master of diplomacy, his work underpinned by the principles of Christian love.

His plea at the end of this second ruling is beyond heartfelt.

Noting that the allegations of "hostility" to traditional catholics were "strongly rejected, he continues: "I simply note that the arrival of a new, female diocesan bishop in the diocese provides an opportunity for all concerned, whatever their hopes and whatever their fears, to make a fresh start. I can only hope that they will take the opportunity to do so."

Therein lies a message for the entire Church. A fresh start is what living the gospel is all about. We have faith that God will hear his prayer. We can only hope that the Church does as well.