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Women bishops: Synod asked for its views

26 July 2012

SHUTTERSTOCK

SUGGESTIONS for resolving the dispute over the women-bishops legislation have been sent to members of General Synod in a discussion document issued by the secretary-general, William Fittall, on Wednesday.

Commissioned by the House of Bishops standing committee on 9 July, the last day that Synod met, the document (GS Misc 1033) sets out seven possible options in relation to clause 5(1)(c), an amendment made to the legislation by the House of Bishops in May. Unhappiness over the amendment prompted the General Synod to adjourn final approval of the whole Measure when it met in York earlier this month.

The discussion document has been produced by the episcopal members of the steering committee (the Bishops of Manchester and Dover) and those who had formed the Code of Practice working group, working in consultation with other members of the steering committee.

At this stage in the legislative process, all but Clause 5(1)(c) is set in stone. The clause covers how the House of Bishops will draw up guidance in a Code of Practice, to be attached to the Measure, on making provision for those who cannot receive the episcopal or priestly ministry of women.

Seven options are laid out. The paper warns that the first two - to retain the clause as it stands or remove it - risk the rejection of the Measure in its entirety. Voting patterns in the General Synod suggest that either option would be unlikely to procure the required two-thirds majorities when the Synod reconvenes in November.

The five other proposals -"not intended to be exhaustive" - entail replacing Clause 5(1)(c) with a new version (see below, and panel overleaf).

The Seven Options
THE paper suggests that there is a case for retaining Clause 5(1)(c), in that it fulfils the objectives of giving those who cannot receive the episcopal or priestly ministry of women "some assurance that they will properly be provided for", and of "stating expressly that, at least for some, there were theological convictions that mean that maleness would be "necessary but not sufficient". It also rebuts suggestions that the clause as it stands would allow parishes to "choose their own bishop". It warns, however, that, in the light of the large majority who voted for an adjournment in York, "there must be a real question" whether simply retaining the clause would enable the legislation to attract the necessary majority at final approval.

This is also a risk of deleting the clause, the paper suggests. The House of Bishops would have to consider the "adverse impact" on those that the clause was designed to reassure, and the consequences of not addressing the "necessary but not sufficient" issue on the face of the Measure. This, however, is the course of action advocated by many in the wider Church.

The third option suggests that, instead of referring to the selection of male bishops or priests who exercise a ministry "consistent with" the theological convictions of PCCs as to the consecration and ordination of women, as at present, the clause refer to selection which must "respect" or "take account of" such convictions. The authors acknowledge, however, that leaving the phrase "theological convictions" in the clause may "prove an unsuperable objection for some".

The fourth, "more radical", option, would be to remove any indication of the criteria that the Code of Practice would employ in giving guidance on the selection of male bishops and male priests. It could, however, say something about the process of selection, for example, a consultation with PCCs.

The paper warned that this would provide "no assurance" that the guidance would result in the provision of ministry that parishes would be able to receive. Its "vagueness" as to criteria might also be "problematic".

A fifth option would be to build into the provision a reference to the "suitability" or "appropriateness" of the person selected for the particular context in which he was to exercise ministry. It would also refer to the process of selection, involving consultation with the PCC. This would address the "necessary but not sufficient" question. However, the words "suitable" and "appropriate" were "very broad".

A sixth option would be to define the basis for the criteria for selection, but refer not to "theological convictions" but to their "outworking in practice".

The exercise of ministry of selected bishops or priests would need to "respect" or "take account of" the position of PCCs "in relation to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care".

Finally, a seventh option would be that, rather than simply requiring guidance to be given as to selection, the Code would also give guidance on the procedure of selection.

Diocesan bishops are now expected to discuss the paper with Synod members. The steering committee and the three bishops from the Code of Practice group will meet on 30 August to discuss the feedback, the deadline for which is 24 August. Synod members may also send comments to Mr Fittall.

The House of Bishops will then meet on 12 September to reconsider the clause. The responsibility for the final Measure rests entirely with them: the General Synod will not have the power to make amendments when it meets in November. Before then, it will also be necessary to satisfy a sub-group - the "Group of Six" - that any proposed amendment does not alter "the substance of the proposals embodied in the Measure" that was approved by 42 of the 44 dioceses in 2011.

If the House of Bishops does amend the Measure (options 3 to 7), the Convocations and the House of Laity will have the right to debate it immediately before the November Synod, as they did in July. In this event, the final-approval debate can go ahead only if these bodies approve it by simple majorities.

1. Retain clause 5(1)(c).

2. Amend the draft measure by removing clause 5(1)(c).

3. Replace "consistent with"
"(c) the manner in which arrangements for the selection of male bishops and male priests are to [respect] [take account of] the theological convictions as to the consecration and ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3."

4. Focus on broad subject area (and perhaps process)
"(c) the selection of male bishops and male priests to exercise ministry in parishes whose parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3;"
or, if something about process were included:
"(c) the selection, after consultation with parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3, of male bishops and male priests to exercise ministry in the parishes of those councils."

5. Focus on suitability or appropriateness
"(c) the selection, following consultation with parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3, of male bishops and male priests, the exercise of ministry by whom appears to the persons making the selection to be [suitable][appropriate] for the parishes concerned."

6. Revised formulation of what parishes need
"(c) the selection of male bishops and male priests the exercise of ministry by whom [respects] [takes account of] the position, in relation to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care, of the parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3;"

7. Option six plus some process
"(c) the manner in which arrangements for the selection of male bishops and male priests are to [respect] [take account of] the position, in relation to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care, of the Parochial Church Councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3."

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