Women vote now rests substantially with the Bishops

09 February 2012

by Ed Thornton and Glyn Paflin

Still out in the cold? A pro-women-bishops vigil outside Church House, Westminster, for the start of Synod GEOFF CRAWFORD

Still out in the cold? A pro-women-bishops vigil outside Church House, Westminster, for the start of Synod GEOFF CRAWFORD

THE General Synod has asked the House of Bishops not to amend the draft women-bishops Measure “substantially”, after a three-hour debate on Wednesday afternoon.

The Synod backed Canon Peter Spiers in amending the Southwark amendment, so that it implied support for the Bishops to exercise their power to amend the legislation, but not to the extent that it would be likely to necessitate a new reference to the dioceses.

The decision whether any amend­ment is “substantial”, and therefore requires a further diocesan reference, is not, however, in the hands of the House of Bishops, but in those of the so-called “group of six”: the two Archbishops, the two clergy Pro­locutors, and the chair and vice-chair of the House of Laity, taking legal advice.

The Spiers amendment was carried in a division by Houses: Bishops: 40 to five, with one re­corded abstention; Clergy: 122 to 70, with one recorded abstention; Laity: 107 to 85, with four recorded ab­stentions. The vote on the Southwark amendent as amended was carried: Bishops: 26 to 16, with five recorded abstentions; Clergy: 128 to 64; Laity: 111 to 85, with one recorded abstention.

At this late stage, the Synod has no power to dictate what the House of Bishops does or does not do to the legislation, but it will take note of what members have requested, and of the voting figures.

The main motion, from Manches­ter diocesan synod, had requested that the Bishops, at their meeting in May, amend the legislation in the way proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2010 (News, 9 July 2010).

Their chief proposal, which the House of Clergy narrowly voted down at the time, was that the au­thor­ity of a traditionalist bishop requested by a parish would derive from the Measure, and not be dele­gated from the diocesan bishop, who might be a woman; though without detracting from her own juris­diction.

Canon Spiers replaced the South­wark amendment’s request that the House of Bishops “not . . . exercise its power . . . to amend the draft Measure” with “in the exercise of its power . . . not . . . amend the draft Measure substantially”.

The Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann, who presented the Manchester motion to Synod, said that the Archbishops’ amendment had been voted down by such a narrow margin — by five votes in the House of Clergy — that it “merited further consideration”. Furthermore, the draft legislation that was debated by dioceses “does not sufficiently address matters of concern to traditional Catholics and some conservative Evangelicals”.

The Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett, moving the Southwark motion, said that Synod “ought to trust” the answer it had been given from the dioceses, and not “rehash old argu­ments or set new hares running”.

During the debate, members made impassioned contributions on both sides. The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, spoke strongly in favour of the Manchester motion; he asked the Synod to give the Bishops a chance to make provision for tra­dition­alists “without changing the substance of the legislation”.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, spoke against. “The draft legislation unamended represents a huge sacrifice by the supporters of women bishops,” he said. “The draft legislation is the compromise: it is the middle way.”

The group of six have not given any indication whether they would regard the Archbishops’ amendment or any other specified change as “substantial” in terms of the Synod’s standing orders.

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