Women-bishops draft legislation and amendments: debate continues

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07 July 2010

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From Mr O. W. H. Clark

Sir, — As one who, through the courtesy of your columns, has more than once castigated “the Bishops” for a failure to intervene as a House in the current consideration of the draft women-bishops legislation, may I say how much I welcome the very recent declaration of intent by the two Archbishops to move critical amendments at the July Synod meeting, which, in my view, would do much to resolve the present impasse.

The Archbishops have grappled specifically with what is for “dissenters” a fundamental objection to the legislation as now before the Synod.

No one pretends that co-ordinate jurisdiction is the perfect solution overcoming at a stroke all difficulty. There is no perfect solution. Neither “side” can expect to secure all that it thinks it must have. “Discrimina­tion” (as it appears to some) will be present in any arrangement that seeks to provide for “assenters” and “dissenters” to live together in peace and with integrity and mutual respect within one Church of England.

The Archbishops’ proposals do, however, remove a diriment impediment. They make possible a progressive dialogue, which, with generous goodwill, mutual respect, and Anglican restraint, could succeed.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Peace and unity with fairness and integrity are now more than a possibility. I hope that the Synod — and not least Anglican Catholics and traditionalists of every hue — will seize the moment and give the Archbishops’ proposals (or something very like them) their unequivocal support.

O. W. H. CLARK
(Sometime Chairman of the House of Laity of the General Synod)
5 Seaview Road, Highcliffe
Dorset BH23 5QJ

From Dr Stephen Cretney QC (Hon.)

Sir, — Lawyers are used to innuendoes such as that in your leading article (25 June): the proposals put forward by the Archbishops are, it is said, probably best regarded as a “lawyer’s trick”.

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In fact, the central feature of the proposals (i.e., that nominated, presumably exclusively male, bishops would have power to exercise episcopal functions in parishes that feel unable to accept the ordination of women) emphasises an important truth. This is that the jurisdiction of such nominated bishops would derive directly from the Measure itself rather than from any act of delegation by the diocesan bishop.

Indeed, any such Measure would be part of the ordinary law of the land, the ultimate authority for which is the UK Parliament.

Under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, a joint parliamentary committee (the Ecclesiastical Committee) is responsible for reporting to Parliament “stating the nature and legal effect” of the Synod’s proposal, and the Committee’s views on “the expediency thereof, especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all Her Majesty’s subjects”. If the Committee reports adversely, the proposed Measure will not in practice go forward for the approval of Lords and Commons.

These constitutional rights have, in recent years, been vastly increased by decisions of the Courts and by legislation, notably the Human Rights Act 1998 (e.g. prohibition of discrimination) and, most recently, the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. discrimination whether direct or indirect on grounds of sex to be “prohibited conduct”).

It therefore seems inescapable that the Ecclesiastical Committee would have to consider the constitutional rights of those who would apparently be debarred from certain offices in the Church for no reason other than because they are women.

Of course (as lawyers are given to saying), the outcome of such a process is not beyond doubt. But since 1994 Her Majesty’s subjects have themselves had the opportunity to experience the ministry of ordained women (without whom, it can surely be demonstrated, the Church would no longer be able to offer its present nationwide ministry, not least on occasions of national mourning, commemoration, or celebration).

So it is perhaps strange that no one seems to be interested in ascertaining the feelings of these ordinary people or even of those who regularly attend church. Surely no Parliament is today going to rubber-stamp legislation avowedly intended to preserve traditions that are wholly contrary to every recent manifestation of legislative policy with absolutely no evidence that this would be acceptable to those whom the Church of England is there to serve?

STEPHEN CRETNEY
8 Elm Farm Close
Wantage OX12 9FD

From Mr Jeremy Goldsmith

Sir, — In order to prevent schism in the Church, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have attempted to find a compromise position in the debate over the consecration of female bishops in their provinces.

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This would allow certain parishes, who cannot accept the ministry of ordained women, to be placed under the episcopal oversight of a male bishop belonging to the apostolic succession.

The proposal has attracted criticism from those firmly in favour of female bishops, not least because the General Synod decided not to adopt a compromise position in its earlier debates on the subject. Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu have recognised, however, that the provision of “episcopal oversight” may prevent a considerable number of Anglicans’ breaking away from the Church of England, either to join the Roman Catholic Church, or to form a “Third Province”. If such a definite break can be averted, and the positive reaction of those opposed to female clergy suggests it may, all steps should be taken to ensure that this plan succeeds.

It is, none the less, important that this is not seen as a permanent settlement, but as a transitional stage. After a period of years the policy should be reviewed, once the positive benefit of female bishops has been evaluated, in order that the Church of England may move forward in agreement with this significant but laudable change in Anglican tradition.

JEREMY GOLDSMITH
120 North Gate
Newark-on-Trent
Notts
NG24 1HJ

From Mrs Mavis Jacobs

Sir, — Some years ago, my mother-in-law and her sister, both in their 80s, and in the last few months of their lives, indicated that they had received no visit from their vicar of two years, but that in any case, in conscience, they could not receive the Sacrament, as their incumbent was a woman.

At their request, I contacted a male priest in a neighbouring parish. He promised to care for them to the end, and to take them communion on the following Saturday. As a matter of courtesy, he contacted the vicar, who angrily told him that on no account was he to visit the two ladies. She herself called at the appointed time, and told them that the priest “was unable to come”. She was shown the door.

I rang the vicar later, and politely asked her to reconsider, as these ladies were unlikely to change their views. One was in an advanced stage of motor neurone disease, and the other, who had always been difficult, was sinking into senility. She was entirely unsympathetic, even when I asked her whether she could accept the conclusion that she might be responsible for their never making their peace with God.

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The woman with motor neurone disease subsequently received the Sacrament regularly from a chaplain when she visited the local hospital. The other, who was probably in greater need, never again received communion or had any spiritual counsel.

The local diocesan replied to my letter, and was at pains to point out that women clergy were finding things “difficult”.

I do not suggest that other women clergy would have reacted in this way: I am sure many will read this with horror; but it does indicate why we need more than a Code of Practice when we are considering episcopal oversight. We cannot be certain that we will be treated fairly and sympathetically.

MAVIS JACOBS
34 St Augustine’s Gate
Norwich
NR3 3BE

From the Revd Sue Langdon

Sir, — Like others, I wonder just how big the opposition to women bishops really is.

Sometimes, misguided loyalty to their friends who belong to Forward in Faith can prevent someone who has come to a change of heart from expressing their real views.

It has been my experience to be told by more than one conflicted individual, “If it wasn’t for my friends, I would now be receiving communion regardless of the priest’s gender.”

Such misguided loyalty needs compassionate understanding at the same time as offering the hand of welcome and support to those who have the courage to be honest about their real feelings.

SUE LANGDON
The Gatherer of the Pilgrimage
Community of St Wite
St Wite House
Whitchurch Canonicorum
Dorset
DT6 6RQ

From Canon Keith Punshon

Sir, — I mourn the loss of a broad Church. If it is true that there is neither male nor female in Christ, then it must also follow that there is neither traditionalist nor liberal feminist.

There is no question but that women are to be made bishops in the Church of England. The question has always been whether or not traditionalists are to be allowed to remain with integrity rather than being characterised as misogynists. We disagree over holy orders. Do we therefore fail to understand baptism? To exclude many of the baptised from our communion on the grounds that they disagree with liberal theology is no basis for mission to the whole nation.

I would far sooner belong to a Church founded on the New Testament and the Tradition than to one founded on the principles of The Guardian. I always understood that in the Church of England I did. But, alas! no more?

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KEITH PUNSHON
St Peter’s House
Minster Close, Ripon
North Yorkshire
HG4 1QP

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — I worship with a Forward in Faith congregation, in Tottenham, of about 300, with two excellent priests, and I am very happy to be with them. I will not be leaving the Church of England, however, and so I felt it necessary to think my way through the issues, and what I would do if they go over to Rome.

I am sad at the thought that I will not be able to receive communion from my friends, as I am sad that a Roman Catholic priest may not share communion with me; but love is the overriding biblical priority. So, if they all join Rome, I shall be very glad to receive their blessing, as I am to receive one at the Roman masses I attend.

I still stand where I stood at the Oxford synod when the issues were first debated. I abstained. Taking an angel’s-eye view of Christendom: if it is ever to be united, we will all have to consider respecting the integrity of each ordination as a true calling of the Holy Spirit, as judged by the ordinands themselves and their Christian peers. Perhaps there is already very much that unites us all in faith, but we cannot see it, because of entrenched and verbose ecclesiastical structures.

We have no power to control whom the Holy Spirit will call to an ordained ministry in the variety of denominations in the many different countries and cultures to which they minister, nor when he will call them; nor when that call will be noticed by individuals.

I very much hope that the General Synod will give Forward in Faith what it asks for in the way of separate male bishops united in love within the Anglican Communion — because, in its way, this is the kind of relationship I would like to see between all the Churches, episcopal or not.

PAUL NICOLSON
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

From Mr James Townsend

Sir, — In recent weeks, your pages have been filled with many thoughtful contributions to the women-bishops debate. I hope that they guide the General Synod to a decisive conclusion at York next week.

When so many people are in need of the Church’s ministry, we cannot afford any longer to indulge our own grievances on the issue. This Synod must take a position. What­ever that position is, we must live with it.

Failure to conclude this debate now will serve only to plunge our Church into new depths of perceived irrelevance for a new generation of young people.

JAMES TOWNSEND
Manchester Representative, Church of England Youth Council
9 Northern Angel
15 Dyche Street
Manchester

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