CofE and doctrine of “taint”

Fran Porter, freelance social and theological researcher, writer and teacher, explores the current debate on women as bishops and the doctrine of “taint,” which is the refusal of some male priests (and some parishoners) who will not take communion from a female celebrant, but also the refusal of some clergy to take communion from their male diocesan bishop because he ordains women. From Ekklesia:

The Fawcett Society has called 30 October ‘Equal Pay Day’. Launched in 2008 as ‘No Pay Day’, the date has been chosen because the current gender pay gap means that women effectively receive their last pay cheque at the end of October and work the last two months of the year for free.

Also during October and November 2009, WATCH (Women and the Church) are publishing five articles reflecting on the current proposals for women bishops in the Church of England, in particular exploring the doctrine of ‘taint’ which is enmeshed in this debate.

For those who argue that opposing women bishops is not about the secular discourse of equality but about the theological discourse of faith, the two issues of the gender pay gap and women’s potential inclusion to the episcopate do not speak to each other. Indeed, it may be possible to support the former while opposing the latter.

The Church of England has excluded its own governance and practice from equality legislation by claiming the Section 19 exemption for organised religions in the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. This means women clergy (deacons and priests) are not covered by the legal employment protections of that Act.

In particular, a Parochial Parish Council (PCC) can advertise for male clergy only to apply for vacancies of incumbent, curate or non-stipendiary minister and may also ban a woman priest from celebrating the Eucharist within parish boundaries.


The draft legislation under scrutiny from the General Synod Revision Committee due to report to General Synod in February 2010, includes provision for any male bishop to declare he will not ordain women as bishops and priests, thereby keeping himself unsullied by women.

This provision “introduces the idea of ‘taint’: that anyone who ordains women as priests or bishops is ‘tainted’ by those actions and therefore ‘unacceptable’ to those opposed.” It “endorses in law that for many of those opposed it is not sufficient to have the ministry of a male rather than a female bishop, but that the only acceptable bishops are those who have kept themselves separate from their episcopal colleagues in not ordaining women as priests or bishops. This is a powerful declaration of separation.” [6]

It is also out of step with a long-established theological principle originating in the fourth century and later expressed in Article 26 of the 39 Articles that “individual qualities of a validly ordained minister or priest (or bishop), do not have any ‘affect’ on the authenticity of the sacraments administered by that individual” [7] because the authority and authenticity of the orders and sacraments rests in Christ’s commission and not in the character or conduct of the individual person.

Discrimination, segregation, stereotyping – all factor in to women’s lives. In this context, can we really believe that the focus on women’s femaleness (in contrast to their humanity) and its supposed deficiency within debates about ordaining women, is not joining in the current conversation about women in wider society?

Read more at Ekklesia.

Past Posts