THERE are growing signs that a procedural motion will be tabled to delay the women-bishops legislation when it goes to the General Synod for final approval next month.
Under Section 94 of the Standing Orders, a motion can be moved from the floor of the Synod to send the draft Measure back to the House of Bishops for further consideration. Supporters of women bishops have expressed their reluctance to vote for the Measure since the Bishops added two amendments (News, 25 May).
If the Synod were to adjourn the debate, the soonest it could be reconsidered would be February 2013, unless the business committee decided to reassemble the Synod in November.
The object of such a move would be to prevent the possible rejection of the legislation, which could lead to a much greater delay. The Measure needs to pass by a two-thirds majority in the Houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity. The opponents of women bishops, although some welcomed the Bishops’ amendments, are still unlikely to vote in favour, and to their number will be added those who cannot stomach the changes introduced by the Bishops.
Sally Barnes, spokeswoman for the campaign group WATCH, said on Wednesday: “It is quite likely that this [postponement] will happen. But there is a debate to be had about what the House of Bishops might do if it gets back to them.”
Dr Elaine Storkey concurred. “The alternative is to pass a Measure that a large number of people don’t want.” Supporters did not want women bishops “at all costs. . . We must have something that works not just for dissenters but also for those who want women bishops.”
Dr Storkey, who says that she cannot now support the Measure, hoped that the Synod’s business committee would make the procedural issues clear to Synod members when they gathered in York (6-10 July).
Christina Rees, a former WATCH chairwoman, said: “For the women-bishops Measure to fall now would be a disaster and a tragedy for the Church of England and our wider mission to the world. If it is voted down, it would take another six to eight years before we could reach final approval stage on a new Measure.”
WATCH issued a long statement this week saying that it “cannot support the Measure as it now stands. . .
“Our consultation suggests that the amended Measure is at grave risk of being voted down by the very Synod members who most strongly support women becoming bishops. It is a tragedy that after so much work and so much compromise, this should be the situation a month before the final vote.”
WATCH says it is not telling members how to vote: “It will fall to General Synod members to make up their own minds and decide whether, in good conscience, they can support the legislation as amended.”
On the other side of the argument, the Catholic Group in the Synod has welcomed the Bishops’ amendments, but says that they do not go far enough. It, too, is not instructing members how to vote, but its spokesman, Martin Dales, said: “The Bishops’ amendments are helpful, but it’s not enough for support at final approval.”
He, too, raised the prospect that the vote on final approval next month might be postponed. But he added that if the Measure failed in July, it would not be the end of the matter, describing moves towards opening the episcopate to women as a “work in progress.” He emphasised: “We are better together than apart.”
The Evangelical Group in the Synod has mixed views on the issue of women as bishops. The conservative Evangelical group Reform is due to release the results of its consultation shortly, and has called a prayer meeting on 27 June in London.
The less conservative group Fulcrum has posted a series of perspectives on its website. In one, the Fulcrum chairman, the Revd Stephen Kuhrt, says that it is “difficult to say” whether the legislation in its current form should be carried by the General Synod in July. “The deep ambivalence that the amended legislation has brought about amongst so many brilliant and dynamic women clergy shows that its impact has already been disastrous.”
The Revd John Dunnett, who chairs the Evangelical Group in the Synod, said this week: “I have three concerns right now: that we will lose the confidence of the nation if York puts us back on the starting blocks; that we will score an own goal for mission if we fail to make secure provision for those who, in good conscience, object to women bishops; and that we should conduct ourselves over these few weeks in keeping with Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Ephesians 4.2-3” [“. . . endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”].