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Draft legislation for women bishops

07 January 2009


From Mr O. W. H. Clark
Sir, — Once again, members of the Church of England are much in­debted to the Bishop of Manchester and his colleagues on the legislative drafting group for a further report (GS 1707) that is lucid, concise, and charitably and eirenically motivated. It is to be hoped that the General Syn­od will follow this example in Feb­ruary next and eschew the sheer nastiness that pervaded so much of its deliberations on this issue in July last.

While commendably faithful to its mandate, the drafting group — of diverse individual views — has not failed as a body to think more broad­ly, not least in the area of jurisdiction and the possibility of that being accorded by operation of law.

How different, it seems, is the attitude of the House of Bishops, which has, once again, demonstrated its incapacity or unwillingness to offer any sort of corporate leadership — and scant guidance — as the General Synod enters on the legislative process.

It is commonly observed that the C of E is “episcopally led and synodically governed”. But what hap­pens when there is no episcopal leader­ship? The answer would seem to be that the synodical machine takes over, subject to the dynamics and dictates of a timetable originally seen as indicative and tentative but fast becoming, in effect, all-dominant.

It is clear, as widely predicted, that the Illustrative Draft Code of Practice (GS 1710) is no more than — in Luther’s terms — a thing of “straw”, and cannot be otherwise. It is fairly stated (GS 1707, para. 28) that the Code of Practice option “necessarily involves the diocesan bishop having a measure of discretion”.

In fact, almost everything of sub­stance in the 71 paragraphs of the Illustrative Code depends upon the decision, consent, invitation, discre­tion, or good will of the diocesan bishop, whose assurances can only be personal and time-limited. The Code’s only “enforceability” lies in the hollow concept of “having regard to”, which (notwithstanding the introduction of “cogent reasons”) anyone with experience of the former Pastoral Measure will know to be virtually worthless. A Code of Practice cannot deal adequately with any of this. It will not do.

I am ready to be part of a C of E that admits women to the priest­hood and episcopate. I can accept that the ordination of such women is “valid in legal terms” (GS 1707, para. 9), and that they are the lawful occupants of the sees and offices to which they have been duly appoint­ed. Certainly I would expect to work with them with mutual respect, and as closely as possible.

But I cannot accept their sacra­mental ministrations, nor can I accept the capacity of women bishops to confer authority and jurisdiction by delegation. In honesty, I cannot account them “truly bishops and priests”, as Canon A4 requires.

I am desperately anxious to remain in the church of my birth and baptism, and to banish as much discrimination as possible, but I must have justice and parity of recognition, and treatment in accordance with my theological convictions, together with legally entrenched safeguards and an assured future for myself and my children as loyal Anglicans within one Church of England.

None of this is possible in a Code of Practice that, as stated in GS 1710, para. 11, “does not have the binding effect which a statutory provision or a statutory instrument would have”.

Those who think as I do will therefore oppose a Code of Practice at every stage in every synod. Those who are sincerely anxious to see the earliest possible introduction of women bishops should beware lest their persistent adherence to procedure by Code of Practice results in a defeat of the whole legislative package.
5 Seaview Road,
Highcliffe, Christchurch
Dorset BH23 5QJ

From the Revd Edwin Butcher SSC
Sir, — May I refer to your report on draft legislation for women bishops (News, 2 January), in an attempt to clear up a misconception? The report refers to “any petitioning parish that has requested alternative oversight on the grounds of theological objection to women’s ministry”. Would that it were so simple!

The Church could not do without the ministry of women. Indeed, if traditionalists speak of women’s ministry in this way, they denigrate the ministry of women in the past as well as those in the present.

We traditionalists do not doubt that some women have lawfully be­come priests or bishops in the Angli­can Church. What we do question is whether they are priests or bishops within the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, and whether in purporting to ordain and consecrate women into those orders, the An-

gli­can Church (in our case the Church of England) has forfeited its claim to be part of the Catholic Church.

The great Churches of the East and West say that women cannot be priests or bishops; so traditionalists must err on the side of certainty where there is doubt, especially when it comes to the validity of the sacra­ments that an ordained or conse­crated woman purports to admin­ister.

To speak of our principled theological objections to women as priests and bishops as objections to women’s ministry is to reduce those objections to the level of misogyny or a petty squabble about leadership, and illustrates the refusal of many proponents of women priests and bishops to take seriously the conscientious grounds on which opponents stand.

For us, the whole matter is a salvation issue, tearing apart the sacramental communion of the Church. That is why we keep on saying that the provisions so far being offered for those who in conscience cannot accept that women can be priests or bishops fall a long way short of the minimum alternative episcopal structures to which we have always laid claim.

It is now, and always will be, a matter of obedience to the orders of the Catholic Church. If the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church were to meet in council and decide that women priests and bishops are the will of the Holy Spirit for the Church, then it would be a matter of obedience to that as well.
23 Quarry Road, Ryde
Isle of Wight PO33 2TX

From Mr John Freeman
Sir, — I am writing to congratulate the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, and his legislative working group on their masterful, reasonable, and fair report (GS 1707) on women in the episcopate. It has cut through the Gordian knot on the subject handed to it after last July’s General Synod. The report deserves to be welcomed and accepted with thanks by all members of the Church of England.
Stable Court, 20a Leigh Way
Northwich CW8 3PR

From the Revd Oliver Harrison
Sir, — Many thanks for your illuminating Back Page Interview with the Revd Rod Thomas of Reform (2 January). It was particularly interesting to note two things.

First, he regards “the Bible as being the living word of God”, which struck me a higher view of scripture than scripture itself warrants and bordering on bibliolatry. Second, he believes in “male headship of the local church because it’s a visual aid of Christ’s relationship with his people”.

Really? Surely there are stronger and better arguments to can be made for male headship than that. What about scripture and/or ontology? If those reasons don’t convince me (and they don’t), I’m hardly likely to be swayed by an appeal to “visual aids”.
Holy Trinity Vicarage
Glascote Lane
Tamworth B77 2PH



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