Synod urged in two different directions on women bishops

19 June 2008

by Pat Ashworth

To be discussed: the General Synod meeting in February this year PA

To be discussed: the General Synod meeting in February this year PA

THE CHAIRMAN of the Catholic Group on the General Synod, the Revd Canon Simon Killwick, has described as “insulting” and “offensive” the motion on women bishops which the House of Bishops will put forward at the July sessions (News, 13 June).

The Bishops are backing the “single-clause measure” option, in which special arrangements for those opposed in conscience would depend on a voluntary code of practice rather than being enshrined in legislation. The Catholic Group had already dismissed the option as unsatisfactory in its earlier response to the Manchester report (News, 2 May).

“I think the wording of the motion shows there has been no real attempt to engage with us and with our view on the matter, and so no real attempt to achieve a consensus,” Canon Killwick said on Tuesday. “If that motion were passed unamended, there would undoubtedly be a split within the Church of England.”

Calls for a code of practice were hypocritical, he suggested, coming as they did from people who were calling for the Act of Synod to be rescinded. “The wording is insulting, and the very fact that they put it in this form is what is so offensive,” he said.

Recalling, however, that the General Synod had on three occasions rejected amendments that would have had the effect of introducing a single-clause measure and a code of practice, he said: “If past performance is anything to go by, I think it’s unlikely this motion will be passed unamended. The consistent mood of Synod is that, yes, it wants women bishops, but it also wants adequate provision for those not in agreement.”

While expressing the Group’s disappointment that “[the bishops] are putting so little on the table at the outset”, Canon Killwick said: “We should say in fairness that we are encouraged by the note from the presidents [the Archbishops of Canterbury and York] which accompanies the bishops’ motion, where they say they hope and expect that other options in the Manchester report would be put forward in the form of amendments in the debate.”


Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu wrote of “the different sorts of cost — to our sense of continuity, our mission to the nation, our confidence that we can find coherent and just patterns for our life as a Church”.

Earlier this week, the Secretary General of the Synod, William Fittall, acknowledged to journalists that the debate on women bishops was likely to overshadow the York sessions (News). “This is going to be the issue that is there throughout, and the whole Synod is a bit anxious because nobody is confident about what the outcome will be.” He described the Church of England as “at an unsettled moment”.

Christina Rees, who chairs Women and the Church (WATCH), described “dire predictions” of an exodus of 500 clergy if the Measure were passed unamended as “unfounded and untrue” on Tuesday. Of the 480 men who left when women were ordained, 80 have returned, of whom 30 have resumed stipendiary ministry. The exodus cost the Church £27.4 million in compensation: but no such package is on the table this time.

Ms Rees said: “It’s time for faith, not fear. The bishops have at long last given us a motion that is clear and positive on women bishops, and most of Synod, I am sure, will be able to support it.”

Arrangements for those opposed in conscience should be along the lines of the statement of intent published by the Scottish Episcopal Church, she said. This confirms that sacramental care and pastoral provision will be provided to anyone who does not want them from a woman bishop. Ms Rees said that all 15 provinces of the Communion that had voted for women bishops had kept special arrangements out of law: “It’s really important not to build in discrimination at this stage.”

The traditionalist Evangelical group Reform urged Synod to “pull back from the brink” of the “deep division” that voting for the single-clause measure would bring about. Its chairman, the Revd Rod Thomas, said a refusal to provide legal provision for those who opposed women bishops was “tantamount to a clear decision to exclude many faithful Anglicans from the Church of England”. A voluntary code of practice would provide “the barest minimum of reassurance”.

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