Women bishops: hope for traditionalists

09 October 2009

by Bill Bowder

Debate: coverage of the General Synod session in July 2008

Debate: coverage of the General Synod session in July 2008

THE COMMITTEE responsible for the progress of the women-bishops legislation through Synod is seeking to reverse the decision made in July 2008 to proceed by code of conduct only. Those who cannot accept the authority of women bishops have argued that their position should be protected by statute.

A statement issued on Thursday by the revision committee, chaired by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, suggests that it agrees.

"The committee received nearly 300 submissions, including more than 100 from members of General Synod. Many of these offered alternatives to the proposal in the draft legislation to make provision by way of statutory code of practice for those unable on grounds of theological conviction to receive the episcopal and/or priestly ministry of women."

The committee states that it "voted to amend the draft Measure to provide for certain functions to be vested in bishops by statute rather than by delegation from the diocesan bishop under a statutory code of practice".

During a long and, at times, acrimonious debate in 2008, the General Synod decided by a clear majority that it was satisfied that a code of practice would be enough to protect traditionalist parishes where the diocesan bishop was a woman. Traditionalists, on the other hand, argued that no code of conduct could be made binding enough.

But the committee concluded that objectors needed greater reassurance if they were to continue to play their full part in the Church.

The committee said that it planned to work out the consequences of its decision in subsequent meetings, and would complete its task by Christmas. Its report would be ready for Synod to debate it at its February meeting in London.
"The Committee has considered each of these alternatives: additional dioceses; the vesting by statute of certain functions in bishops with a special responsibility for those with conscientious difficulties; the creation of a recognised society for those with conscientious difficulties; and the adoption of the simplest possible legislation without a statutory code of practice.

Synod could still amend the draft legislation to return it to the 2008 motion. Thereafter, a majority of diocesan synods would have to vote for the legislation, before it came to the Synod for final approval. The statement concludes: "On any basis it is unlikely that the first female bishop will be consecrated before 2014."

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