Legislation drafted for women bishops

30 December 2008

by a staff reporter

Preferred: the women bishops' group photo at the Lambeth Conference in July 2008 LAMBETH CONFERENCE

Preferred: the women bishops' group photo at the Lambeth Conference in July 2008 LAMBETH CONFERENCE

FLYING BISHOPS would remain in the C of E in all but name to serve those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops, under a draft Measure and Code of Conduct pub­lished on Monday. Critics of the legislation fear it would lead to a series of petitions for judicial review.

The drafts have been produced by the group chaired by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel Mc­Culloch (minus the Revd Jonathan Baker, who resigned from the group after the General Synod rejected any structural provision for traditional­ists last July).

The draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure states that “The archbishop of each province [Canter­bury and York] shall, from time to time, nominate one or more suf­fragan sees in his or her province from which the holders (being men) may be selected by diocesan bishops of that province to exercise, in relation to parishes in their dioceses whose parochial church councils have, on grounds of theological conviction, requested arrangements to be made . . ., episcopal functions.”

Following the earlier report from the Manchester group, these bishops would be known as complementary bishops. Their authority would be delegated from the diocesan bishop, another bone of contention for traditionalists, though the group also states that “it would, in principle, be possible to go further, still within the Code of Practice,” for complement­ary bishops to exercise their ministry “under some measure of jurisdiction granted by operation of law rather than by delegation from the diocesan bishop”. The group leaves this for the Synod to initiate if it wishes to.

No Code of Practice can be agreed until the main Measure permitting the consecration of women as bishops has received final approval and Royal Assent. The Manchester group none the less provides an illus­trative Code (reproduced overleaf).

In this Code, the complementary bishop is able to function fully as a bishop for any “petitioning parish” that has requested alternative over­sight on the grounds of theological objection to women’s ministry. These functions include presenting candid­ates and appointing clergy, recom­mending candidates for ordination, and exercising discipline.

The Manchester group envisages that these functions would vary from parish to parish, depending on how much ministry parishioners were prepared to accept from their dio­cesan bishop. Where the comple­ment­ary bishop comes from else­where in the province, the group suggests that he be made an assistant bishop in the diocese.

Under the draft Measure, a dio­cesan bishop who could not in con­science ordain women must make a written declaration to this effect within one month of the new legis­lation’s coming into force, or within a month of consecration. Each must make provision for the “promotion and support” of women clergy in his diocese.

One key question has been how enforceable the Code of Conduct might be. The draft Measure states simply: “Any person who exercises any functions, whether episcopal or other functions, shall be under a duty to have regard to any Code of Practice issued under this Measure.”

The notes to the draft Code follow the House of Lords in acknowledging that a statutory code does not have the same binding effect as a statutory provision or instrument. “What this means is that, where there is more than one reasonable view as to the right policy to be adopted, it remains lawful for the decision-maker to adopt a policy that is different from the policy contained in a statutory code, provided that he or she can give ‘cogent reasons’ for doing so.” The notes quote from a 2005 judgment of the Law Lords: “The requirement that cogent reasons must be shown for any departure from [a statutory code] sets a high standard not easily satisfied.”

The notes go on: “If a decision-maker cannot satisfy that standard, his or her decision is liable to be set aside by the High Court on an appli­cation for judicial review.” Never­theless, any code can be changed in the future with the con­sent of the General Synod. Even were that not to happen, Reform, a group of con­servative Evangelicals, pre­dicted on Monday that the proposals would lead to petitions to secular courts.

For traditionalist par­ishes, there would be a five-year transitional period where Resolu­tions A and B stayed in force; there­after, a new vote would have to be taken and then reaffirmed every five years.

A new Canon A4 is proposed, with the additional clause: “The Church of England affirms that its members may, with a good conscience, hold theological convictions which render them unable to receive the ministry of female bishops and priests. In mak­ing arrangements to respect those theological convictions, the Church of England nevertheless ac­counts and affirms those who are made, ordained or consecrated as de­scribed in paragraph 2 [i.e. lawfully] to be truly bishops, priests or deacons.”

The Manchester group states that, in attempting to strike a fair balance, it has encroached on the consciences of each side, placing “some limitation on the scope of the exercise of the ministry of women as priests and bishops”, and also placing a require­ment on traditionalists “nevertheless to accept that the ordination of wo­men as priests and their conse­cration as bishops . . . is valid in legal terms”.

Do you find the new draft Measure and Code reassuring and workable? Vote here

See www.cofe.anglican.org/news for full details of the Code


Do you find the new draft Measure and Code reassuring and workable? Vote here

See www.cofe.anglican.org/news for full details of the Code


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