THE PROSPECT of women bishops in the Church in Wales received an indefinite setback last Wednesday, when the House of Clergy in the Governing Body failed to achieve a two-thirds majority in their favour.
The House of Bishops was unanimously in favour of the Bill to enable women to be ordained as bishops, and the Laity voted for it 52-19, but in the House of Clergy it was 27 for to 18 against, just 60 per cent in favour.
The Bill had been published in July 2007, and a select committee was established to consider amendments from the dioceses, of which 12 had been included in their report to the Governing Body meeting in Lampeter last week. At the start of the debate, however, all but the select committee’s own two amendments were withdrawn.
The Bill was a simple one. After a brief preamble it stated:
1. Henceforth in the Church in Wales men and women may be ordained as Bishops.
2. The Bench of Bishops will provide pastoral care and support for those who in conscience object to the ordination of women as bishops.
3. No bishop shall be obliged to bring proceedings before the Disciplinary Tribunal in respect of a cleric or other member of the Church in Wales who dissents in conscience from the terms of section 1 of this Canon.
4. For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that wheresoever in the Constitution of the Church in Wales or in any form of service lawfully authorised for use in the Church in Wales reference is made to a bishop that reference shall henceforth be deemed to include any woman who may be ordained bishop in accordance with section 1 of this Canon.
5. The provision of this Canon shall come into force an effect on such day as the Bench of Bishops shall appoint.
It was section 2 that caused the greatest stumbling block to the Bill’s acceptance. The select committee was divided, but by a “bare majority” it proposed an amendment that the Bench of Bishops should provide “pastoral care and support for those who in conscience cannot accept the ordination of women as priests and bishops through the ministry of an assistant bishop or bishops” [our emphasis].
It was a widely held view that, if such an amendment had been accepted and those who felt they could not accept ordained women could have their own bishop, the Bill would have been passed without difficulty.
Judge Nicholas Cooke QC, who had chaired the committee, said there had been general agreement that it was time when “women should move on”. There had been “no rancour or bad feelings . . . but there was no hiding the fact there was a substantial difference of opinion about the provision for those who could not accept women bishops”.
Anthony Jeremy (Llandaff) said the legislation was a defining moment in history, but “the polity of the Church should not judged by our six bishops but by the Christian Church of the Western world handed down through the centuries.” He said the reasons the priesthood and episcopate was restricted to the male sex was the incarnation of Jesus as man, that only men were apostles, and unbroken obedience to the Church.
To change the tradition was outside Anglican competence. The Bill as it had been drawn up would tear the Church in Wales apart.
The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Dominic Walker, explained the ecclesiological objections to the proposed amendment. He said that the present Assistant Provincial Bishop, the Rt Revd David Thomas, ministered on behalf of the bishop of each diocese. This arrangement would not be possible if the diocesan were a woman whose authority the assistant bishop could not accept.
Episcopé was personal to the diocesan who was the suffragan of the Archbishop. “Flying bishops”, like those in England, were a fudge that led to other fudges. The prime task of the Bench of Bishops was to maintain unity, and pastoral care for those who could not accept a woman diocesan could better be given by that diocesan’s inviting the help of one of her male fellow-diocesans.
Canon Tudor Hughes (St Asaph) said that there was still opposition to women priests in the Church, even though the clergy all worked well together. This was largely due to Bishop Thomas. “His role is vital to us who cannot in conscience accept women’s ordination. Surely it is right that the Church should support the cause of justice for those who conscience cannot accept the ordination of women as bishops.”
Canon Peter Williams (Swansea & Brecon) said he had no problem in seeing women in authority, but the amendment looked like a solution to the difficulty, and would allow members of the Church to live together and to flourish. A lot of the problem was fear of the future. “If the Bill goes through in its present form, who will replace Bishop David? I trust the present Bench of bishops to make it work, but what if we have different bishops in ten years time?”
Canon Dr Peter Sedgwick (co-opted) said that the problem of the amendment was that it “stymies those who eventually come to be appointed women bishops, serving a church that is facing two ways”.
The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd John Davies, asked whether they should put their faith in constructing legislation for disagreement, or for creative love.
“Throughout the ministry of women, great care has been taken for those who oppose them. But what of the ordained women who have to accept those limitations? What the Bench of Bishops is most concerned to do is not to build disunity into the constitution. Pastoral care is to do with shepherding. It requires generosity and kindness, but is also about moving the flock into new territory.
“Most biblical images of the shepherd have to do with that kind of courage — to move to fresh places. What we have proposed is a change for all of us, but we must draw on God’s gifts of generosity.”
Canon Jeremy Winston (Monmouth), a member of the select committee, said that women bishops would be “an enormous anomaly” for those who wished to continue in the Church in Wales. He was delighted at the talk of shepherding, and, yes, they did need to move on to new ground, but also to be protected from danger and untruth.
The Revd Dean Atkins (Llandaff) said he had tried to find out what pastoral care actually was. It didn’t seem to offer anything precise or particular to people like him, or to show that he was loved and cared and valued.
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Barry Morgan, said he could see why people who were sympathetic to women in the episcopate were also in favour of the amendment as a Christian solution for the pastoral care of those who were not.
But to appoint a bishop to care for those who could not accept a woman diocesan was crucially different from the appointment of the Provincial Assistant Bishop 11 years before. It would not only undermine the bishop who was a woman, but would undermine the integrity of all the bishops. It carried the implication that a bishop could not have pastoral care for the whole of a diocese.
It also separated pastoral care and sacramental ministry from total care and jurisdiction. Episcopé was pastoral, sacramental, managerial, and juridical; they were all part of a larger whole. The amendment to clause 2 might seem innocuous, but who defines pastoral care? It would put into the constitution a huge potential for disagreement.
Canon Mary Stallard (St Asaph) asked whether the Church wanted to be defined by division or by hope. “Those of us who are ordained make our canonical promise not only to the diocese but to the diocesan.” Dr Jill Evans (Llandaff) said the Church had a history of disputing about who could be members of the inner core, starting from circumcision and the Gentiles. What should concern the Church was not gender but spirituality. The only criteria for a bishop should be academic and spiritual. “We don’t have to choose women bishops, we should have whom the Holy Spirit chooses.”
The Rt Revd David Thomas, the Assistant Provincial Bishop, said the debate was not, for him, an enjoyable experience when much of it was discussion of his own task for the past 11 years. He had no desire to institutionalise schism, but wanted to maintain unity.
What particularly troubled him was that, since he had announced his retirement to take place in July, nothing had been said about a bishop to replace him to care for the people he had tried to care for. If it had been said, when he had been appointed in 1996, that his position was to be merely temporary, he would have been unable to accept it.
The select committee’s amendment was then put to a vote by the whole Governing Body, and was lost by 48-71. The committee’s second amendment, to section 3, to remove the words “be obliged to”, was passed.
THE DEBATE continued on the general principle whether women could be ordained as bishops. There was a theological exposition in their favour from Archbishop Morgan who said he believed there was “an urgent gospel mandate for change”. He was supported by the Bishop of St Asaph who said it was a sign of hope for the future, and urged the Governing Body to support the Bill.
Canon Peter Williams said he had been encouraged by the civility of the debate, but was very concerned that no one on the Bench of Bishops had said anything about replacing Bishop Thomas when he retired in July.
Canon Andrew Knight (Swansea & Brecon) was one of those who said that, while he was a warm supporter of women’s ministry, he was still so worried about the lack of care for those who could not accept it that he would vote against the Bill. The Dean of Monmouth, the Very Revd Richard Fenwick, said they needed to be “bold and honest enough to say ‘not yet’”.
Helen Biggin (Llandaff) spoke of the way the Church was missing out on the talents that women had to offer; and Canon Tudor Hughes said that, as there was no sign of the deep division in the Church disappearing, he would vote against the Bill.
The Archdeacon of Merionnydd, the Ven. Emyr Rowlands, pointed out that they were only being asked to vote in principle for women bishops. There were not yet any women archdeacons or in any other senior posts, and it was be the 47 members of the electoral college who chose bishops, though ultimately it was the Holy Spirit who made appointments.
Canon Joe Griffin (Swansea & Brecon) said he had come to the Governing Body yearning to support the Bill, but was deeply perplexed by the silence of the Bench of Bishops on the matter of pastoral care and who would replace Bishop Thomas.
The Dean of Bangor, the Very Revd Alun Hawkins, reminded members that it was an enabling Bill. "It enables us to do it when we want to. It doesn't mean that, when the 47 members of the electoral college next meet, they will elect a woman; that will only be "if it seems good to God and the Holy Spirit". Dr Peter Sedgwick said the whole debate had shown a lack of hope. Bishop Thomas agreed.
Sandy Blair (co-opted) said he was concerned "so many people are seeking not only protection, but rejection". It was far from celebrating the progress the Church in Wales had made in the past ten years because it was rejecting the next step.
Replying to the concern of several members that the Bench of Bishops had not, as yet, made any statement about the future of the post of Assistant Provincial Bishop after Bishop Thomas retires, Archbishop Morgan said the announcement had been made while he himself was on holiday, and since he had returned there had not yet been a meeting of the Bench of Bishops when they could consider the matter.
The Bill was then put to a vote by Houses: Bishops 5-0 (100 per cent), Clergy 27-18 (60 per cent), Laity 52-19 (73 per cent). It was defeated by the lack of the required two-thirds majority in the House of Clergy. Had it been lost in two or more Houses, a three-year delay would have been imposed on the return of any similar legislation. The fact that it was lost in only one House means that the matter can be brought back at any time.