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News > UK >

THE legislative process to admit women to the episcopate should be "restarted" in July, when the General Synod meets in York, the Archbishops' Council said this week.

During discussions at a residential meeting in Sheffield, on Tuesday and Wednesday, "there was agreement that the Church of England had to resolve this matter through its own processes as a matter of urgency," a statement from Church House said.

"The Council therefore recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight's time [on 10 and 11 December], put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year, with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July."

Members of the Council had "commented on the degree of sadness and shock that they had felt as a result of the vote (News, 23 November) and also of the need to affirm all women serving in the Church - both lay and ordained - in their ministries".

The chairman of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, Canon Simon Killwick, and the chairman of Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said on Wednesday that they had "received acknowledge­ment" from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York of a request "for talks to break the deadlock" over women-bishops legislation.

They said in a joint statement: "If agreement can be reached at round-table talks on fresh legislation which provides clearly and fairly for all members of the Church of England, there is no reason why fresh legislation should not be fast-tracked through the Synod before the next elections in 2015.

"It has never been our intention to prevent the consecration of women as bishops; our concern has always been for legislation which also made clear and fair provision for the substantial minority."

The General Synod's Standing Orders prevent only the reconsid­era­tion of the same legislation dur­ing each quin­quennium, not the bringing of new legislation before it.

Prebendary Thomas said on Monday that Reform would like the talks to be chaired by the Archbishop-designate, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby. "We feel very much that Justin Welby has been put by God in this place with a unique set of gifts to help us resolve this problem; he has our complete trust in seeking to move forward."

Campaigners for women bishops who are angry at the outcome of last week's vote have, however, indicated that they will press for a single-clause Measure, without provision for traditionalists enshrined in it.

The Rt Revd John Gladwin, a former Bishop of Chelmsford and the honorary vice-president of WATCH, said that opponents of the Measure had "blown up the bridge to any compromise solution". The "only . . . route" that could now be taken, he said, "is the route which removes all discriminatory provisions from the life and ministry of the Church".

The Times reported on Monday that, in an internal memo to members of the Archbishops' Council, the Secretary General of the Synod, William Fittall, said: "There will be renewed calls for a much wider, simpler approach that confines itself to removing the current prohibition on the consecration of women while leaving provision for those opposed to that development as a matter of policy and choice rather than law."

Speaking on BBC1's The Big Questions on Sunday, Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops' Council and a campaigner for women bishops, said that conservative Evangelicals were "using finding the perfect arrangements [for opponents] as a smokescreen. I think basically what they want is never to allow the Church of England to have women bishops."

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who also sits on the Synod, told the same programme: "The reality is there is never ever going to be anything good enough for them [opponents of the Measure]. . . Really what they're saying, tied up behind theological arguments, is 'Not in my lifetime­­'. . .

"What I really hope is that our Church will have the courage of its convictions, and that when it comes before the Synod again it will come with a single-clause [Measure]."

The Revd Stephen Kuhrt, who chairs Fulcrum, an Evangelical group that supports women bishops, said: "What there cannot be is any further concessions to opponents beyond those contained in the Measure just rejected. It is impossible to go further than the legal requirement for respect to be shown to opponents' convictions without ending up with women being established as semi-bishops rather than full ones.

"Opponents of women bishops need to wise up to this if they are not to end up with the single-clause Measure that many now want and which may well be best."

Welsh timetable. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, told BBC News last week that he hoped that women would be ordained bishops in the Church in Wales "at least in principle, before very long".

Dr Morgan said: "I think it will be September next year that we will bring the Bill hopefully enabling women to be ordained as bishops. Even if we accept them in principle next year, it can't come into force until there are some pastoral provisions for those who are opposed."


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