Synod’s women-bishops committee draws back from code of practice

by
14 October 2009

by Pat Ashworth

SUPPORTERS of women bishops have expressed shock at a decision by the revision committee for the draft legislation not to go further down the route of a statutory code of practice. Traditionalists say that the change of direction proposed does not go far enough.

The General Synod voted in July 2008 for “special arrangements”, embodied in a statutory code of practice, to be drawn up by the legis­lative drafting group.

The Bishops supported the motion by 28 to 12; the Clergy by 124 to 44; and the Laity by 111 to 68 (News, 11 July 2008). The full Synod had its first consideration of the draft legislation last February, and voted to commit it to a revision com­mittee of the Synod.

The committee, chaired by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, said in a statement last week that it had received nearly 300 submissions, including 100 from Synod members.

It had considered each of the alternatives proposed: “additional dioceses; the vesting by statute of certain functions in bishops with a special responsibility for those with conscientious difficulties; the crea­tion of a recognised society for those with conscientious difficulties; and the adoption of the simplest form of legislation without a statutory code of practice”.

After hearing oral evidence and after long discussions, the committee had “voted to amend the draft Measure to provide for certain functions to be vested in bishops by statute rather than by delegation from the diocesan bishop under a statutory code of practice. The committee will now be working through the con­sequential details flowing from this decision.”

Committee members are reported to have agreed not to discuss any detail beyond that given in the statement or to speak individually to the press, so as to avoid what one called “being unduly pressurised by interest groups on both sides”. Three more meetings are to be held before February, when the matter comes back before the Synod.

Advertisement

WATCH (Women and the Church) called in a statement for further clarification from the com­mittee. It said that statutory transfer could not avoid creating a two-tier episcopate, which would be both degrading to women and funda­ment­ally damaging to the office of bishop.

Christina Rees of WATCH de­scribed the committee’s decision as a shock. “The reactions are also anger and a sense of betrayal. This is seen as a retrograde step and as the revision committee not doing what General Synod specifically and explicitly asked it to do.”

Inclusive Church said that it was “deeply disturbed” by the commit­tee’s “move away from the expressed will of Synod in July 2008 — that there should be legislation to con­secrate women as bishops on the same terms as men”. The decision “reflects a further undermining of the Anglican understanding of the role of the bishop as the pastor of, and focus of unity in, the diocese”. It continued: “The bias shown against women in this proposal will mean that the Church continues to be seen as institutionally discrim­inatory.”

Forward in Faith issued a state­ment regretting that the revision committee had not supported the Catholic Group’s proposal for new dioceses overseen by male bishops only. An amendment to that effect, pro­posed by the Revd Simon Kill­wick, had been lost. “We continue to believe that new dioceses would be both a better and a fairer way forward for all in the Church of England.”

It conceded, however, that the statutory transfer of jurisdiction to complementary bishops could be “the basis for a way forward”.

Prebendary David Houlding was an observer at the revision commit­tee meeting, which he described on Sunday as “historic” and as having “passed a significant hurdle”. He insisted that it was doing the oppo­site of legislating for discrimination, as opponents had suggested.

“If you’re going to spend all your time negotiating on the authority of a woman in episcopal orders, that really is a diminishment of the Church’s life as a whole. The whole value of what we’re trying to do here is to set up something that will remove that sense of struggle and negotiation,” he said.

Margaret Brown of the Third Province Movement said: “We are still standing out for a number of dioceses for tradition­alists. We want our own dioceses and our own bishops.

“It’s come to the point where we shall have to say, with great reluctance and after very careful thought, that if something more is not done on our favour, we shall seriously consider cutting quota payments and con­secrating our own bishops.”

Advertisement

Reform, a conservative Evangelical group, welcomed what its chairman, the Revd Rod Thomas, declared to be the Church of England’s “change of heart” on the issue. “This could be what is needed to avert a split and preserve unity among people who dif­fer on the issue,” he said.

Reform would continue to “try to persuade the wider Church” that “the introduction of women bishops was not supported by the Bible’s teach­ing.”

Leader

Giles Fraser

Leader

Giles Fraser

Letters

Has the revision committee chosen the right way forward? Vote here.

Letters

Has the revision committee chosen the right way forward? Vote here.

THE news that the revision committee has chosen not to explore the option of the single clause with a statutory code of practice any further, and has gone for “certain functions to be invested in bishops by statute” will strike despair into the hearts of many. What the committee is proposing takes a step back from the position Synod thought it had reached in July 2008.

My concerns are on several levels. First, these proposals appear to institutionalise mistrust in legislation: the opponents of women’s ordination do not trust the bishops to make proper provision. Is that really what we have come to?

THE news that the revision committee has chosen not to explore the option of the single clause with a statutory code of practice any further, and has gone for “certain functions to be invested in bishops by statute” will strike despair into the hearts of many. What the committee is proposing takes a step back from the position Synod thought it had reached in July 2008.

Second, it destroys the ecclesiology of the Church of England, making it legitimate to “choose your own bishop”. Are there to be any limits as to the grounds on which you might petition to do this?

Third, it seems wildly impracticable: something very similar, Transferred Episcopal Authority, has already been found wanting, and it must remain doubtful whether such discriminatory legislation would pass parliamentary scrutiny or stand up to challenge by judicial review.

But the major factor must be the astonishing inability to reckon with what the large majority of people in this country make of their Church’s failure to step into the new world and give effect to what has been agreed. The Church does not have much cred­ibility in the public domain, and there are people who will feel embarrassed, demotiv­ated, and ashamed of their Church if what is proposed were to be adopted. Of course, people at all levels in our Church and on both sides of the argument may be tempted to go — which would be a tragedy.

Advertisement

The reality is, we have agreed to women bishops, and we cannot adopt discriminatory legislation. We need a simple, unambiguous Measure; a rich and robust code of practice; and to work hard at building trust. If we can­not do that among ourselves in a Church that prides itself on modelling unity in diversity, what gospel do we have for the nation?

David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury

 

David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury

 

ONE thing is certain: alongside the wish of its majority that women should be admitted to the episcopate, the Synod has also insisted on provision for those who, in conscience, could not go along with this development. It is difficult to estimate the size of this minority, but more than a third of the Synod might vote against any final legisla­tion, should this provision not meet the needs of those for whom it was intended — and herein lies the difficulty.

ONE thing is certain: alongside the wish of its majority that women should be admitted to the episcopate, the Synod has also insisted on provision for those who, in conscience, could not go along with this development. It is difficult to estimate the size of this minority, but more than a third of the Synod might vote against any final legisla­tion, should this provision not meet the needs of those for whom it was intended — and herein lies the difficulty.

It is all too easy to categorise these groups as Anglo-Catholic or conservative Evangelical; but a variety of people from all traditions remain unconvinced that this

is the mind of Christ for his Church, as revealed in scripture and tradi­tion. Conversely, you might argue that such is the import­ance of a bishop’s ministry in giving the Church its unity and common order that the ordination of women to the episcopate should not be embraced until it is possible to achieve it with universal consent, i.e., a one-clause Measure is all it would take.

This, however, is not where we are, nor where the Synod has reached in its debate so far. The Act of Synod, despite its imperfections, has given space to many to flourish and grow. Embracing the principle of “reception”, it provides for extended episcopal care, under the Ordinary. Once a woman is ordained a bishop, there is correspondingly a much higher degree of impair­ment of communion. We have never had to face this situation before. This is why, I suggest, it is proving so hard for us to get our minds around the new solution required.

The decision last week of the revision committee to provide by means of law for the transfer of episcopal authority is, therefore, a real turning point in helping us reach the decision that will need to be made. Anything by way of code of practice or delegation can only lead to a diminution of a woman’s ministry. To provide for both positions to co-exist alongside one another by statute rules out the possibility of any further wrangling. By creating proper space and the necessary boundaries, the Church is including everyone.

Women in the episcopate remain a contested develop­ment in the wider Church, and therefore the principle behind the nature of provision must be inclusion for all. The Archbishop of Canterbury has enunciated this more than once in speeches to the Synod: “the others (who­ever they may be) are not going away.” Our task is to hold the Church together for the sake of its mission and to ensure that we live together in the highest degree of communion possible.

David Houlding, Pro-Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury

Church Times: about us

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read six articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)