THE immediate effect of the statement by the committee commissioned to make sense of the women-bishops legislation has been to trigger another round of commentaries, any of which could have been written at any time in the past decade. The only difference is that the commentators have something to be disappointed with: the traditionalists with a concession that does not go far enough, i.e. no dioceses or provinces of their own, and others because there is any talk of concessions at all.
We applaud open government. It was right of the revision committee to produce some sort of statement. What it produced, however, is frustratingly opaque. As maths and science teachers the world over scrawl at the bottom of homework: “Show your workings!” Unlike some of those who have reacted to the statement, we assume that the committee did not set out on purpose merely to vex. It is, in fact, simply doing its job. When the committee was formed, its chairman, the Bishop of Manchester, said: “It is open season once again, and everything is reviewable.” And he went on: “The fact that particular amendments to the motion were defeated last July does not mean that members are now precluded from proposing changes to the texts to give effect to those defeated amendments.”
Something extraordinary can happen in a small group of people, however diverse, if they are committed to finding a solution to a problem. Sometimes the truth of a situation slowly asserts itself (think Twelve Angry Men). More often, what happens is simpler: the group members start to like each other. Arguing with friends is a different proposition from arguing with the guardians of sacred and opposing positions. Although the members of the revision committee were appointed with an eye to the balance of their opinions, they are not official representatives of the different constituencies in this wrangle, and they therefore have the freedom to act as individuals. The statement says that they “voted to amend the draft Measure”. Had the vote been unanimous, we suspect we would have heard; none the less, the group as a whole seems to have committed itself to an adjustment of expectations.
Until the committee reveals its deliberations in a final announcement, probably in January, it would be wrong, therefore, to condemn it. It might be wise, though, not to be over-enthusiastic, either. There are several examples where a small group runs ahead of the people who commissioned it, finding agreement where none exists outside. A case in point was the Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which was ignored and then rejected by the Vatican. A General Synod that is, in the main, sceptical about any agreement over women bishops can overturn any of the committee’s recommendations. The committee knows this perfectly well, and yet believes, clearly, that its preferred solution is worth fielding. It deserves an opportunity to make its case.