Plans for the creation of the Society were announced by the catholic bishops of the Church of England on 24 September 2010 ‘to provide a place within the Church of England where catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater churches of East and West’. They placed it under the patronage of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda, two English saints with a passion for the unity of the Church.
The context was set by draft legislation for the ordination of women to the episcopate which would have repealed the legal provisions made in the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, replacing them and the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 with a Code of Practice. The Society was intended as a constructive initiative, creating structures to enable those who, for theological reasons, are unable to receive the ministry of women ordained to the priesthood and episcopate to flourish and grow within the Church of England.
In the event, the draft legislation failed to receive final approval in November 2012. Steps towards a new legislative process began in 2013. New legislation received final approval in July 2014 and came into force in November 2014. Information about the provisions for those who are unable, for theological reasons, to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests may be found here.
In a letter to supporters dated 18 November 2013, the Council of Bishops reported on developments and explained the relationship between the Society (as an ecclesial body) and Forward in Faith (as the membership organization which supports it).