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Hill sceptical about leak of 'TEA' plan

THE House of Bishops' report on women in the episcopate is to be published on 16 January, three weeks before it is debated in the General Synod in February.

A working party led by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, has been drawing up the document, after the Synod's vote in July to begin the process of removing the legal obstacles to women's consecration as bishops. The bishops voted by 41 to six in favour, clergy by 167 to 46, and laity by 159 to 75, to start the process. But it will take three years of drafting legislation and diocesan debate before a decisive vote is taken.

Leaked information last year suggested that the bishops' preferred option to provide for those unable to accept women bishops would be TEA - "transferred episcopal authority". The arrangement appeared to be similar to the present system of Provincial Episcopal Visitors or "flying bishops", and the proposal was understood to involve the transfer of Resolution C parishes to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The chairman of Forward in Faith (FiF), the Rt Revd John Broadhurst, commented at the time of the leak: "If that's where they are going, they have ceded the first and major point: that jurisdiction cannot lie with the diocesan bishop" ( News, 28 October 2005).

FiF resolved at its national assembly in October that a single-clause Measure, even with a code of practice, would be inadequate to meet the needs of those opposed to women bishops. It invited the House of Bishops to consider the "structural solution" of a third province, contained in a Measure under which Resolutions A and B would be repealed, and PCCs would vote whether to take their parish into a new province.

Newspaper reports before Christmas of a further leak, confirming the bishops' approval of TEA as the most realistic way forward, were received with some scepticism by Bishop Hill. He commented on Tuesday: "Judging by one or two quotations and technical phrases, it seems to me to be based on a first draft of the report, and not its current version." The use of the word "commissary" as in "Provincial Episcopal Commissary", for example, had been dropped as early as 4 October.

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