Manchester report: the conclusions summarised

by
30 April 2008

Pat Ashworth digests the new report on women bishops

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch PA

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch PA

THE CHURCH of England must decide once and for all whether it wants to continue accommodating those who cannot accept the priestly ministry of women, says the report of the Legislative Drafting Group, under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Manchester.

The Synod has agreed by significant majorities in all three Houses to the basic principle of admitting women to the episcopate, and this report is concerned with how that might proceed.

It states: “The shape of legislation on women bishops turns crucially on how determined members of General Synod are tostretch as far as is theologically and ecclesiologically possible in order to accommodate the widest possible breadth of theological convictions.”

Those who had expected to see a steady contraction over thepast 15 years in numbers of people opposed to women’s ordination will have been disappointed, the report acknowledges. It notes that while only seven per cent of parishes (900) have passed resolutions A or B or requested extended oversight, “Such parishes continue to produce a steady stream of ordinands who themselves have conscientious difficulties over women’s ordination.”

Positive arguments for the “radical” first option of repeal and rescindment are: “Quite simply, that it is the approach that is clearest and has the most obvious ecclesiological and theologicalcoherence. Other churches would know that the Church of England had unequivocally and without mental reservation, committed itself to the view that all of its orders were open, without distinction, to men and women equally.”

Evidence to the working party made it clear that a significantnumber in the C of E believed the introduction of women bishops was the time for “a decisive break with the past”, the report says. But it suggests that those who accepted in good faith that the church wished to keep an honoured place for them would feel badly let down. “We have no doubt that many would conclude they could no longer remain within a Church of England that had ceased to be willing to provide any reliable, national provisions for their convictions.

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“There is no doubt that proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence within the Church of England. . . The [Church] that emerged at the end of the process might possibly be more cohesive. It would undoubtedly be less theologically diverse.”

The Church of England’s model of holding together within one Church people who differed profoundly on a major theologicalissue was “not something lightly to be set aside”.

Solutions that involve taking out particular parishes and clergy from the jurisdiction of a bishop and his or her diocese range from the creation of an additional province — a “maximalist approach” — to a new superstructure based on the diocese in Europe, and a religious society or peculiar-jurisdiction model. There is little enthusiasm for these, but the creation of new dioceses, one within the province of York and two within Canterbury, is viewed as a structural solution involving the least innovation.

The Church of England’s model of holding together within one Church people who differed profoundly on a major theologicalissue was “not something lightly to be set aside”.

Solutions that involve taking out particular parishes and clergy from the jurisdiction of a bishop and his or her diocese range from the creation of an additional province — a “maximalist approach” — to a new superstructure based on the diocese in Europe, and a religious society or peculiar-jurisdiction model. There is little enthusiasm for these, but the creation of new dioceses, one within the province of York and two within Canterbury, is viewed as a structural solution involving the least innovation.

Bishops for these special dioceses would have the same functions and duties as those of historic dioceses. Ministry would be restricted to male bishops who did not ordain or consecrate women and to male priests ordained by male bishops. The bishops would be ex-officio members of the House ofBishops. The new dioceses would have their own financial and administrative powers and responsibilities.

Such a solution would provide “space and reassurance” for those unable to receive women’s ordained ministry. The Synod would have to judge whether the impact on dioceses’ present geographical integrity was a price worth paying, the report says.

It says: “Someone has likened the outcome as something akin to a ‘Gruyère cheese’. Each of the traditional dioceses would have a number of ‘holes’ left by those parishes that had left to join other parishes some tens or indeed hundreds of miles away to form the new special dioceses.” The report also identifies complications arising from the different concerns of Catholics and Evangelicals.

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Four possible sets of arrangements using existing structures are carefully explored, with the caveat: “It is a traditional Church of England reflex to look for the middle ground.”

Variation one is for the Bishops to provide a statutory code of practice for oversight by “complementary bishops”. Their powers would be delegated by the diocesan bishop. Part II of the 1993 Measure, giving parishes a statutory right not to have a female celebrant or female incumbent, would be repealed. Variation two would retain that part of the Measure, so that that the code of practice would govern only the new provisions relating to women bishops.

The legislation of variation three would make delegation to a complementary bishop mandatory. The fourth variation would transfer rather than delegate oversight: “material difference for those who, while they acknowledged [the diocesan bishop’s] legal authority, nevertheless had conscientious difficulties over accepting his or her headship, or seeing themselves as part of the college of presbyters over which he or she presided”.

Under all of the variations, the parish and its priest would remain within their existing diocese. “The diocesan bishop would continue to exercise those powers not passed to the complementary bishop and would, in particular, retain responsibility for pastoral reorganisation throughout the diocese, though with an obligation to consult the complementary bishop. The latter would in each case be a male bishop.”

Clear advice has judged the legal significance of Canon A4, the interpretation of which has been hotly debated at Synod, to be essentially historical, the report declares. “It does not have the effect of requiring general recognition or acceptance of the validity of all clergy ordained within the Church of England.” The report identifies the crux of the dilemma for many supporters of women’s ordination to be whether any special arrangements would be tantamount to acknowledging doubt on the part of the Church of England over the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops.

Crucially, any possible solution needed therefore to incorporate “a clear statement by the Church of England that, in admitting women into the episcopate, it is now fully committed to opening all orders of ministry to men and women”.

A new Canon A4, designed to “meet the needs of the 21st century rather than those of 400 years ago”, should be produced, making it “unambiguously clear that the Church of England’s willingness to provide space for those who cannot in conscience receive the ministry of women bishops and priests does not in any way call into question the Church of England’s recognition of and commitment to the orders of all bishops, priests and deacons ordained according to its rites.”

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The report can be seen in full at
www.cofe.anglican.org/info/papers/womenbishopsreport.

The report can be seen in full at
www.cofe.anglican.org/info/papers/womenbishopsreport.

OPTION 1: SINGLE CLAUSE MEASURE

“The simplest possible statutory approach with no binding national arrangements”

One Measure opening the episcopate to women candidates, making no provision for those who oppose the move. This would logically involve the repeal of the 1993 Measure and the rescinding of the 1993 Act of Synod, making it no longer legally possible for parishes to oppose women priests. This might be replaced by a code of conduct.

Pro: clearest and most obvious ecclesiological and theological coherence;clearly ends discrimination against women.

Con: even if the 1993 Measure is not repealed, there would be greater legal uncertainty about parishes’ ability to decline women priests; “many priests and congregations would undoubtedly leave.”

OPTION 2: ‘MIDDLE WAY’

“Legislation that would provide some basis for special arrangements for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops, such arrangements to be made within the present structures of the Church of England”

Pro: the diocesan bishop would continue to exercise a measure of authority in relation to all the parishes of the diocese.

Con: the degree to which a bishop’s authority is transferred, ranging from discretionary to mandatory, might be unacceptable to one or other of the parties.

The report suggests four variations:

Variation 1: minimal legislation but a statutory code of practice delegating pastoral oversight to a complementary bishop; the repeal of part II of the 1993 Measure, removing the statutory right of parishes to decline the ministry of women priests;

Variation 2: as Variation 1, but keeping the 1993 Measure in full;

Variation 3: introducing legislation to require the bishop to delegate the prescribed functions to a complementary bishop;

Variation 4: introducing legislation to transfer (rather than delegate) the oversight of parishes and priests to the complementary bishop.

OPTION 3: STRUCTURAL CHANGE

“Legislation that would create new structures within the Church of England for those unable to receive the ministry of women priests”

The creation of new structures and a new legal framework. This might be a new province, but the report focuses on the creation of new special dioceses. There would probably be two special dioceses in the Canterbury province and one in York. Bishops would be appointed by the Crown. There would be separate legislative and financial arrangements.

Pro: recognises the degree of separation that exists between the two sides;simplifies the nature of the historic dioceses, where objections to women would no longer apply.

Con: risk that fellowship would suffer further;

administrative duplication;

Con: risk that fellowship would suffer further;

administrative duplication;

geographical clustering of objecting parishes could lead to large “holes” in historic dioceses.

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