Archbishops propose last-ditch solution on women bishops

by
24 June 2010

by Paul Handley

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have published their inten­tion to amend the women-bishops legislation that is being discussed at the General Synod next month, in order to help secure the continued place of traditionalists in the C of E.

In a long note, issued on Monday morning, the Archbishops propose what they describe as “small but significant changes” to the draft Measure. The key proposal is to make the provision of traditionalist bishops part of the Measure itself. As a result, the authority of these men would derive from the Measure, and not be delegated by the diocesan bishop, who might be a woman.

At the same time, the diocesan bishop, male or female, would re­main “legally entitled to exercise any episcopal function in any parish of the diocese”. He or she would, how­ever, refrain from doing so in a parish that had made a formal request for a traditionalist bishop.

The system would continue to be governed by the national Code of Practice, which is still to be drawn up, and mediated through a diocesan scheme, as outlined in the existing draft legislation. Crucially, the dio­cesan bishop would still nominate the bishop who would minister to tradi­tionalist parishes.

The Archbishops call this “co-ordinate jurisdiction”: the diocesan bishop remains the ordinary, but there would be a “co-ordinate” bishop with responsibility for tradi­tionalist parishes. They say that a similar form of overlapping juris­diction can be found in the courts and other statutory bodies.

The amendment has not yet been formally submitted; so it is not known precisely how the Arch­bishops propose to change the draft legislation. They are expected to table the amendment at the last possible moment, 5.30 p.m. next Wednesday (30 June), in order to prevent its being further amended.

The Archbishops are known to have been frustrated by the inability of the two sides in the women-bishops debate to find any sort of compromise agreement. They appeal to the spirit that has maintained the present “mixed economy” system, set up after the ordination of women as priests in 1994. This has worked, they say, “because a great many people on all sides have wanted to make it work”.

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The pro-women group WATCH argues that the present system has not worked, and that the General Synod has specified that it should not be carried over into the new system. In a reaction issued on Tues­day, it said that it was “not convinced that the issues raised regarding jurisdic­tion will be re­solved equitably when the practical steps of implementation are worked out”.

The pro-women group WATCH argues that the present system has not worked, and that the General Synod has specified that it should not be carried over into the new system. In a reaction issued on Tues­day, it said that it was “not convinced that the issues raised regarding jurisdic­tion will be re­solved equitably when the practical steps of implementation are worked out”.

If a diocesan bishop is required to share power, it says, “we are, in effect, back to automatic transfer.” WATCH also criticises the Archbishops’ tim­ing, coming after the revision com­mittee has finished considering all the earlier proposals “in great and thought­ful detail”.

It goes on to ask: “In what way are ‘nominated bishops’ not actually flying bishops with extended juris­dic­tion? Are we not creating a two-tier episcopacy of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ bishops with all that implies about how the Church con­tinues to view women?”

By contrast, the traditionalist body Forward in Faith issued a short note saying that it “warmly welcomes” the Archbishops’ statement, and is looking forward “with great interest” to seeing the texts of the amend­ments.

Prebendary David Houlding, a prominent member of the Catholic group in Synod, writes in this week’s Church Times that the statement “seeks to achieve what is necessary to maintain our unity. . . All this seems to point us in the right direction,” he concludes.

In a contrasting article, the Revd Dr Jane Shaw argues that “enshrining opposition to women bishops — what many people would call miso­gyny — into legislation” oper­ates against the forging of mutually trust­ing relationships. Such relation­ships, she says, need to be “at the heart of any way forward”.

Comment and analysis, including the full text of the Archbishops’ statement

Press, page 30

Comment and analysis, including the full text of the Archbishops’ statement

Press, page 30

Question of the Week: Does what the Archbishops propose point the right way forward?

Question of the Week: Does what the Archbishops propose point the right way forward?

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