No promises were broken, says GRAS

by
14 September 2011

by Ed Thornton

A NEW report published by the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod (GRAS) says that promises made to opponents of women’s ordination “have not been broken”. Traditionalists should be confident that provisions in the draft legislation for women bishops will be upheld, it argues.

Promises — kept, broken or never made?, which was published this week, says that the provision made by the General Synod for those who are unable to accept the ministry of women bishops is “very similar” to that made for opponents of women’s ordination in 1993. Last year, the Synod approved a code of practice for traditionalists, the contents of which have not yet been worked out (News, 16 July 2010). It fell short of the statutory provisions for which traditionalists had asked.

The author of the new report, the Revd Rosalind Rutherford, a Team Vicar in Basingstoke Team Ministry, examined records of the debates in General Synod in July and November 1993, when the Act of Synod was proposed and debated. The Act introduced the concept of extended episcopal oversight and of Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs), or flying bishops, to care for parishes that could not accept women priests.

The report says that the Arch­bishop of Canterbury at the time, Dr Carey, and speakers in the debates did not envisage that the Act of Synod “would be used to set up what would become, in effect, parallel jurisdictions under the PEVs”.

It also says that “unambiguous promises” about the permanence of the Act of Synod were not made: “what was promised ‘for as long as is needed’ was episcopal oversight clearly exercised in full co-operation with the diocesan [bishop] who would retain jurisdiction, not a totally separate oversight”.

The report concludes: “The more we look carefully at what was actually said in its entirety, the more we dis­cover that what is being proposed now in the legislation to enable women to be appointed bishops is very close to what those who voted for the Act of Synod in 1993 thought they were getting.”

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Speaking at a press briefing organised by GRAS on Tuesday, the Canon Steward of Westminster Abbey, the Revd Jane Hedges, said: “People may feel that they have something to fear, but they really don’t need to have that fear. We need to learn to trust each other, and, if we act in Christian love, it will be OK.”

Ms Rutherford said: “I want the legislation that we currently have to go to Synod [and] to be passed by Synod. For those members of Synod concerned that they are letting people down, [they] are not.”

A statement from WATCH (Women and the Church) this week said that “more than one third of the 44 dioceses have now voted, all in favour of the draft legislation for women bishops”.

Last week, Leicester diocesan synod voted in favour of the draft legislation across all three Houses, with a total of 92 in favour, 12 against, and three abstentions. Last Saturday, Sheffield diocesan synod also voted in favour, though it was close in the House of Clergy: 13 voted in favour, 12 voted against, and five abstained.

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