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‘Good’ of women bishops in jeopardy

by Ed Beavan

THE Archbishop of Canterbury challenged the Synod on Tuesday to find a resolution to the issue of women bishops that allowed “some measure of continuing dignity” to all parties.

Dr Williams, speaking during his presidential address, acknowledged that many felt frustrated after the postponement of the debate on women bishops’ legislation.

He said that while “most hold that the ordination of women as bishops is a good”, this good was “jeopardised in two ways — by the potential loss of those who, in conscience, cannot see it as a good, and by the equally conscience-driven concern that there are ways of securing the desired good that will corrupt it or compromise it fatally”.

He said that for many women, and the majority of traditionalists, there was a strong feeling that “the Church overall is not listening to how they are defining for themselves the position they occupy”; rather, they heard the rest of the Church saying “Of course we want you — but exclusively on our terms, not yours.” This was translated in the ears of many as “We don’t actually want you at all.”

Dr Williams said that whatever route Synod decided to take, it needed “to look for a resolution that allows some measure of continuing dignity and indeed liberty to all — in something like their own terms. It isn’t enough to brush aside the problems some find with codes of practice or others find with the need for women bishops to transfer authority automatically.”

On Monday, the Revd Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative Evangelical group Reform, sent an open letter to Bishops and Synod members, outlining the “great difficulties of conscience and practice” that the consecration of women bishops would bring.

The letter, which was signed by 50 clerical members of Reform, says that their concern is derived from scripture, which, they believe, states that “overall leadership in the Church is to be exercised by men”. It also suggests that the move towards women bishops came because the Church of England was losing its nerve “in the face of pressure from society”.

The signatories state that they are not saying “for a moment women are less valuable than men, and nor does scripture”. They admit that this had been “the point which we find hardest to communicate”, as “by making this point we are thought to be ‘anti-women’,”

The letter moots the creation of new charitable trusts to pay for alternative training, which would reduce their capacity to contribute to diocesan funds, they say.

Such a move would be seen as “a form of retaliation”, the signatories believe, but “this could not be further from the truth.” They “longed to contribute to the wellbeing of the Church of Eng­land”.

On Monday evening the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, updated Synod of the work of the revision committee on the draft legislation for women bishops (see story below).

In response, the Catholic Group in General Synod issued a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed and dismayed”. If legislation were passed in its present form, it would trigger “the exclusion from the church of a large number of faithful Anglicans”.

It added that, without the provision of alternative Episcopal oversight by the revision committee and General Synod “then those who hold to the traditional teaching of the Church must either leave or sacrifice their consciences. We cannot believe that is just or right.”

The group will push to amend the draft legislation when it returns to Synod, and is “determined to ensure that those who have been assured over the course of the past 15 years that they are loyal Anglicans with an honoured place in the national Church will not be excluded from the spiritual home which they continue to serve with commitment and integrity”.


THE full Synod will have to return to the issues that have slowed the revision committee’s work on the women-bishops legislation, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch (top), warned on Tuesday morning.

In a statement to the Synod, Bishop McCulloch reported that the committee had met 13 times in nine months, most recently on 22 January. It had been clear from the outset that it faced “a daunting task”. There had been about 300 sub­missions, including 114 from Synod members. Not all had exercised their right to attend meetings, but it had been “an extraordinary logistical challenge”.

Synod members had been “perfectly entitled” to suggest a significantly different Measure, and the committees had had “an absolute obligation to take them seriously”. Draft legislation always allowed for earlier arguments to be run again, “alongside fresh arguments and proposals”.

The revision committee had voted “by a clear majority” on 8 October to go for the transfer or vesting route, a “significant decision”. But, when all the specific vesting proposals were defeated at the next meeting, it meant that the committee had “rejected all the options which would have in­volved conferring some measure of jurisdiction on someone other than the diocesan bishop”.

Consequently, the legislation that would come back to the Synod “will, therefore, be on the basis that any arrangements that are made for parishes with conscientious diffi­culties about women’s ordination will be on the basis of delegation from the diocesan bishops. That much is already clear.”

Since November, the committee had been looking at the Draft Measure clause by clause “to see how much of the original drafts should be retained, whether some pro­visions should be dropped or modified, and whether others should be added”.

The Bishop expressed the com­mittee’s regret that it had not met its February target. The business com­mittee was prepared to make as much time available in July as was needed. The whole Synod would have to “revisit many of the arguments with which we have agonised for so long”.

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