No sign of compromise over women-bishops legislation
THE House of Bishops will meet next Wednesday to discuss the
next step in the legislation to allow women bishops. The response
to a consultation in August suggests that opinion remains
The legisation, as it stands, contains Clause 5(1)(c), inserted
by the Bishops before the July sessions of the General Synod in
order to cater for traditionalist parishes. It stipulates that the
Code of Practice should cover "the selection of male bishops or
male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with
the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of
women" of the PCC. The clause was so divisive that a vote on final
approval of the legislation was postponed until November (
News, 13 July).
The steering committee proposed seven possible options in
relation to the contentious clause (
News, 27 July). A total of 120 submissions were received, it
was announced on Wednesday. A third (41) were for simply deleting
it; just under a third (35) were in favour of retaining it.
The committee had proposed five alternative compromise versions.
Option 3 attracted "relatively little support". It suggested
replacing "consistent with" to selection that must "respect" or
"take account of" the PCC's convictions. Options 4 to 7 won "some
support and also some criticism".
The House of Bishops' standing committee has suggested that the
House discuss Option 2 (removal of 5(1)(c)); Option 4 (removal of
any indication of the criteria that the Code of Practice would
employ in giving guidance on selection, but referring to
consultation with the PCC); Option 5 (referral to the selection of
someone whose ministry appears "appropriate" for the parishes
concerned); and Option 6 (referral to the selection of someone
whose ministry "respects the position, in relation to the
celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the
provision of pastoral care" of the PCC).
A new option to be discussed, suggested by a Synod member,
refers to selection "in a manner which respects the grounds on
which Parochial Church Councils issue Letters of Request" for
Option 7, which required the Code to give guidance on the
procedure of selection, has not been recommended for more
Members of the House of Bishops have the right to table
amendments before 5 p.m. next Tuesday. All the amendments will then
be voted on the following day by simple majority. If no amendment
is passed, the draft Measure will return to the General Synod
unchanged, i.e. with Clause 5(1)(c) still in place.
On Wednesday, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott,
a member of the steering committee, said that the aim of the House
must still be "to find a way between those two polarities" i.e.
retaining clause 5(1)(c) as it stands, or removing it.
"To retain 5(1)(c) would not be desirable, because it would not
gain consent from Synod as a whole. To remove it in its entirety
would make it more difficult for those for whom we are committed to
making provision to accept the legislation."
He suggested that some reference to the diocesan bishop's
consulting PCCs was the way forward. "Any bishop would wish to
discuss and consult with a PCC that issued a Letter of Request. . .
to be able to say 'I have listened clearly, openly, fairly' . . .
That is what paying respect implies: it's the result of
Clause 5(1)(c) had become "totemic" for a number of people,
Bishop Willmott said. "There are other points in the proposed
legislation that give confidence to those who are unable, on
grounds of theological conviction, to accept the ordination of
women bishops." His own view was that it was "important that,
connected to legislation, will be the Code of Practice, which is
bound to give support to the diocesan bishop but require him to set
forward a scheme which will enable those two things to occur. I
would want legislation to be as clear as possible . . . but with a
code of practice that will spell out the processes and content of
a diocesan scheme."
Question of the week: Should the House of Bishops
abandon the compromise options?