Synod: Synod given chance to signal its wishes on women bishops

18 January 2012

by Margaret Duggan and Ed Thornton

Spire threatened: an appeal was launched last week to raise funds to carry out vital repair work on St Bride’s, Fleet Street, in London. The spire of the Grade 1 listed church has deteriorated, and its stonework is damaged. It is feared that, without urgent repairs, the church could be forced to close. The appeal hopes to raise £2.5 million this year

Spire threatened: an appeal was launched last week to raise funds to carry out vital repair work on St Bride’s, Fleet Street, in London. The spire...

THE subject of women bishops will dominate the General Synod’s meeting in Church House, West­minster, next month.

Dr Colin Podmore, the new Clerk to the Synod, said at a press briefing a week ago that there were four separate items about it on the agenda, with ten documents to back them. It would be the first time that the membership of the current Synod, elected a year-and-a-half ago, has tackled the subject, and so it would be of great interest to see which way they might go.

The secretary-general, William Fittall, refused to speculate on any outcome. He said that it would be a very significant chapter in a debate that had already gone on for more than a decade. It would be a chance for the Synod to reflect on the draft legislation, and on the Illustrative Draft Code of Practice.

Members would be invited to make suggestions and recom­mendations, but not to make amendments; only the House of Bishops could amend the legislation when it met in May. Should any of those amendments be substantial, the legislation would have to be referred to the diocese again; otherwise, the final vote could be next July.

Mr Fittall emphasised, however, that “no one knows the end of the story.” Synod members were elected as individuals, not as party members as in Parliament. They might be known to have inclinations one way or another, and some might vote according to a party line, but others would listen to the arguments and then make up their minds.

There was no doubt from the voting in the dioceses, where only two of the 44 dioceses had voted against the principle of women bishops, that the majority were in favour of women in the episcopate; so the real arguments in Synod were “not so much about when” as about how to accommodate those who could not accept women bishops.

After the Code of Practice debate on the Tuesday afternoon, there will be a take-note debate on the Wednesday morning on the Business Committee’s report on the Article 8 reference to the dioceses. At this debate, following motions passed in diocesan synods can be discussed.

The key debate is on the Wednesday afternoon, when the Synod will focus on two diocesan-synod following motions that take opposing views on whether the House of Bishops should amend the legislation in May.

A motion from Manchester dio­cesan synod requests that the Bishops 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.

A motion from Southwark diocesan synod, which will be pre­sented as an amendment to the Manchester motion, takes the op­posite line. It asks the House of Bishops to note the “significant support” that the draft legislation has received from the dioceses, and make no further amendments to the legislation whatsoever.

The Synod has no power at this late stage to dictate what the House of Bishops does or does not do to the legislation, but it would be likely to take note of what Synod members request.

Mr Fittall said that the House of Bishops “may or may not make some amendments”, which could “range from the pretty small through to the very substantial”.

If the Bishops amend the legislation, it will then be up to the “group of six” — the two Arch­bishops, the chairman and vice-chairman of the House of Laity, and the two prolocutors — to decide, after taking legal advice, whether those amendments have changed the substance of the legislation. If so, it would have to be sent back to the dioceses for further consideration.

The “group of six” was invited to “offer any sort of steer or view” before the February Synod and the House of Bishops Meeting in May, but decided not to. “And that is that,” Mr Fittall said. “People may wish they would do so, but they’re not going to.”

Illustrative code

THE Code of Practice on women bishops cannot be settled until the Measure itself has been passed, but the Synod will debate an Illustrative Draft Code of Practice on the Tuesday of its next meeting, writes Glyn Paflin

Drafted by a House of Bishops working party, chaired by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, it supersedes the illustrative draft produced by another group in 2008, owing The House of Bishops debated the new draft code in December, and the Archbishops’ foreword to the report says that the House “does not wish to see any outcome that would entrench radical division or given any impression of a ‘two-tier’ episcopate”. But it is com­mitted to “the most adequate and sustainable provision for theo­logical dissent over the ordination of women”, and seeks “a balanced provision” that will enable all members of the Church of England to “flourish”.

The House has committed itself to three principles: (1) ensuring that bishops do not discriminate when selecting candidates for ordination on grounds of their theological convictions about the admission of women to holy orders; (2) paying heed, when new bishops are chosen to provide episcopal ministry under diocesan schemes, to the theological convictions on women’s ordination of those who issued the Letter of Request for their ministry; and (3) maintaining a supply of bishops who can minister to those unable to accept women bishops.

This appears to be in response to what the working group’s report refers to as “unresolved issues to be addressed”, particularly with regard to episcopal consecrations “come day the day when a woman is appointed as archbishop”; and also to the possibility that its authors envisage of guidance on the making of parochial appointments, so that “those concerned with making the appointment should not simply see their responsibilities as having been discharged by ap­pointing a male priest as incumbent or priest in charge. That, while nec­es­sary, will not in some cases be sufficient.”

The working party itself could not come to a common mind on what the Code should say about a parish’s request for the ministry of “a man ordained by a man”.
 “In theory the range of possibilities extends from saying nothing at all to giving guidance that, where parishes so request, the diocesan bishop should choose a bishop holding a suffragan see that has been designated by the relevant archbishop (or perhaps the House of Bishops) or is perhaps a member of a recognised society,” the report says.

While there was a real concern about “the notion of two classes of bishop or the concept of pedigree” and about the “genuine discretion of diocesan bishops”, the group was also aware that “while there are those for whom nothing short of a Measure conferring an ordinary jurisdiction will suffice, there are also those who want, if possible, to remain within the Church of England as loyal Anglicans and are looking for a signal in the Code of Practice that they are not to have to rely solely on decisions taken by individual bishops under individual schemes, diocese by diocese.”

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