Welsh women Bill ‘gives bishops a blank cheque’

by
29 November 2007

by Pat Ashworth

“Totally convinced”: the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, told the meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in April that he was persuaded by theological arguments for women bishops

“Totally convinced”: the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, told the meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in April that he was pers...

ONE HUNDRED CLERICS and ordinands in the Church in Wales have expressed their “concern and dismay” at the wording of the Bill to allow women to join the episcopate.

Women were first ordained as priests in the Church in Wales in 1997. Those who cannot in conscience accept their ministry have had recourse to a Provincial Assistant Bishop, the Rt Revd David Thomas.   

The problem is that the new Bill, published in July, contains no equivalent provision, say the protesting clerics, led by the Revd Alan Rabjohns, Vicar of St Saviour’s, Roath, in Cardiff. They express their objections in a letter to the Church Times this week.

Clause 2 of the Bill “offers only a vague, non-defined indication of pastoral care and support from the same Bench of Bishops”, they say, while Clause 3 “leaves open the possibility of disciplinary action for not accepting the novelty; and the abandonment of exemptions under the civil law would leave us open to persecution.”

The Church in Wales has 696 clerics, 160 of them women. About two-thirds of those on the list of signatories are serving clergy, and one third are retired; three are women. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has expressed himself “totally convinced by the theological arguments” for ordaining women to the episcopate. His press officer said on Tuesday: “All the proposed amendments to the Bill have been received and will be considered by the select committee of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales.

“The Bishops have produced pastoral guidelines with the Bill, which aim to balance the recognition of the jurisdiction and authority of any woman bishop who may be ordained with the pastoral issues that may arise as a result. They believe that these guidelines will work effectively if there is a continued building of trust between those of differing views.”

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Mr Rabjohns argued on Wednesday that, at the very least, there would need to be an expanded role for the Provincial Assistant Bishop. “The problem with the legislation as it stands is that it spells out absolutely nothing — it simply says that those who ‘object’ will be given pastoral care and support.

“That’s too vague. How can you ask the Governing Body to vote for a blank cheque like that? The Archbishop’s letter, which went with the Bill, said we wouldn’t know the nature of this provision until a woman had actually been appointed a bishop. One wonders whether that’s asking a bit much on both sides.”

Canon Mary Stallard, Chaplain to the Bishop of St Asaph, said on Wednesday: “The most precious thing for me in all of this is what we’re doing to protect and preserve our church unity. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that many of our women would want to hold this up as something to treasure.”

 This was a really important issue about integrity, said Canon Stallard. “It’s sometimes really easy to think we’re being reasonable by talking about ‘two integrities’, but if we changed the language of the debate and made it a debate about ethnicity or race, then we would see this isn’t the way we talk about it at all.

“That’s too vague. How can you ask the Governing Body to vote for a blank cheque like that? The Archbishop’s letter, which went with the Bill, said we wouldn’t know the nature of this provision until a woman had actually been appointed a bishop. One wonders whether that’s asking a bit much on both sides.”

Canon Mary Stallard, Chaplain to the Bishop of St Asaph, said on Wednesday: “The most precious thing for me in all of this is what we’re doing to protect and preserve our church unity. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that many of our women would want to hold this up as something to treasure.”

 This was a really important issue about integrity, said Canon Stallard. “It’s sometimes really easy to think we’re being reasonable by talking about ‘two integrities’, but if we changed the language of the debate and made it a debate about ethnicity or race, then we would see this isn’t the way we talk about it at all.

“One of the good things about the way ordained women in the Church in Wales have conducted themselves in this debate is that we haven’t put down markers and demands, and have carried on in a Church that hasn’t always been inclusive.

“I will be arguing strongly at our Governing Body that, unless we can welcome this wholeheartedly, then we shouldn’t do it. If we have to put in the kind of legislation that will effectively break up our Church, then it is too great a cost.”

 The select committee will consider amendments and make its own suggestions on the Bill, which the Governing Body will consider again in April 2008.

“I will be arguing strongly at our Governing Body that, unless we can welcome this wholeheartedly, then we shouldn’t do it. If we have to put in the kind of legislation that will effectively break up our Church, then it is too great a cost.”

 The select committee will consider amendments and make its own suggestions on the Bill, which the Governing Body will consider again in April 2008.

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