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Prospects in the Synod for the draft legislation on women bishops

by
18 November 2009

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From the Revd Jonathan Jennings

Sir, — Given that it seems inevitable that the General Synod will not opt for statutory transfer, it might be helpful to clarify the practical opera­tion and status that a code of prac­tice on women bishops would have.

Since this is the only means by which clergy and congregations in a minority position (whether in Southwark or Chichester) might look for protection, the Synod should be invited to confirm its commitment to its minorities by clarifying within the Measure:

i) that a breach of a code of practice by a bishop, priest, or deacon would ultimately fall under the Clergy Discipline Measure, as directly constituting either conduct unbecoming or neglect of duty; and

ii) that a finding of a significant or repeated breach of the code would be treated as raising the serious likelihood of censure and, ultimately, disqualification from office.

This would mean that clergy became directly answerable and individually accountable and properly interrogable in relation to statements made and actions and decisions taken either by or in respect of the dissenting minority.

I fear, however, that once it became clear that a code might have proper force and effect, we would then find the revision committee unable to agree on the provisions that a draft should contain.

JONATHAN JENNINGS
St Augustine’s Vicarage
Rock Avenue, Gillingham
Kent ME7 5PW

From Professor Anthony Berry

Sir, — The revision committee has found itself back where the Synod had expected it to start.

A way forward might arise if the opponents of women priests and bishops could acknowledge that the Church of England (Catholic and reformed) has the legal authority to ordain women as priests and bishops, even though they have doubts about the validity of women’s orders.

Therefore if opponents could recognise the legitimate authority of a future woman bishop in a diocese of the Church of England, and accept that she may delegate some of her functions to a person whom the opponents regard as being valid, then we may have a route forward.

(Of course, this is similar to the present arrangements for delegation to Provincial Episcopal Visitors, arrangements that we all seem to have learned to trust enough.)

In these posited circumstances, a code of practice to which all must “have regard” (itself a forceful legal requirement stronger than the Act of Synod) can contain exacting pro­cedures to make provision for those unable to accept validity of women’s orders.

But for us to move forward will turn on a question of trust in and for each other. If opponents of women’s orders take the view that there can be no trust in a proposed process very similar to one that has worked well enough in the recent past, then they must explain why that is the case.

ANTHONY J. BERRY
Synod member for Chester
24 Leafield Road, Disley
Stockport SK12 2JF

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