A NEW REPORT, released on Monday, says that the Church of England should no longer delay to implement its decision to consecrate women as bishops. It warns, though, that the process is likely to take until 2014.
The report (digest here) has been produced by a group under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch. The group was commissioned by the General Synod in 2006 to review the practical steps needed to introduce women bishops into the C of E, in fulfilment of earlier Synod votes that this should be done.
The report sets out a series of options, some of which, it says, go to the very heart of what sort of Church the C of E wishes to be. “Far better that those issues are faced calmly, honestly, and prayerfully now than that the Synod should set off down a road which may, ultimately, fail to command sufficient consensus,” it suggests.
Options before the Synod range from proceeding with no legal agreements for those opposed, to the creation of additional, non-geographical dioceses. Four variations of a “middle way” transfer progressively more of a bishop’s authority within existing structures.
The report will go first to a residential meeting of the House of Bishops, from 19 to 20 May, at which they will decide how to put the matter before the Synod.
If the Synod were able to make a decision in July, first consideration of the legislation could be expected in February 2009. If the revision stage could be completed in 2010, a legislative package could be referred to dioceses in the lifetime of the present Synod. A new Synod could take it up in July 2011 or, more likely, February 2012. But even if each stage was taken as expeditiously as possible, women would be unlikely to be consecrated before 2014.
The Church in Wales put the matter aside last month after failing to achieve a two-thirds majority in the House of Clergy in favour of women’s ordination as bishops. The option of mothballing it in the Church of England had not been part of the working party’s brief, Bishop McCulloch said on Monday.
“We are in a much more complex situation than the Church in Wales. The Church of England is more a microcosm of the Anglican Communion, with so many differing viewpoints, each held with considerable backing,” he said.
“I do feel that this is such a major issue that, at some point, the matter does have to be faced. I’m not persuaded there would be any advantage gained for anyone by simply kicking the whole matter into touch at this time.”
Early responses this week indicated approval of the report’s comprehensive and analytical nature.
The option of a simple Measure, making no provision for those who object, was strongly commended on Monday by WATCH (Women and the Church).
Christina Rees, who chairs WATCH, took issue with the report’s view that “proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence within the C of E.” The past 20 years had hardly been a “period of calm and a golden era”, she suggested.
“This would end the uncertainty for the 2000-plus women in orders in the Church, and for the vast majority of church members who find nothing problematical with women in holy orders.” She described 2014 as “a rather gloomy prediction”.
Forward in Faith and the Catholic Group on General Synod have been opposed to this option from the outset, believing such a course would unquestionably “fail to command any degree of consensus whatsoever”.
They said in a joint statement: “We believe that consensus will only be achieved if arrangements are made which are acceptable to those for whom they are intended, and which will . . . ‘remain in perpetuity’ for as long as they are needed.”
The chairman of Affirming Catholicism, Jonathan Clark, said that his group’s criteria were “definitely there in the mix. We are committed to the continuing diversity of the Church as one body, and want a solution for those unhappy with the decision to have a full place in the Church, without wanting to create no-go areas or little places where people can pretend it hasn’t happened.” Mr Clark was glad to see that the idea of a third province had been “quietly laid to one side”.
The Revd Rod Thomas, who chairs the conservative Evangelical group Reform, said on Wednesday: “It’s very important that any provision made for those who dissent to the idea of female bishops actually meets their needs rather than being just an offering of crumbs from the hierarchy.”
Mr Thomas acknowledged that the only option he felt would satisfy Evangelicals — the transfer of legal authority to an acceptable bishop (called a “complementary bishop” in the report) — had caused “consternation” elsewhere in the Church when it was discussed under the earlier TEA proposals. “But it has to be recognised that, unless that is the one pursued, there is every prospect that any legislative endeavour that finally comes before Synod will be turned down.”
Reform would, however, be urging the House of Bishops to think again about whether this was the right time to bring forward legislative proposals at all.
Should provision be made for those who oppose women bishops on principle?