POLITICIANS have been putting pressure on the Church to resolve
the issue of women bishops quickly.
The Labour MP Frank Field, who is a former member of the General
Synod, tabled a Presentation Bill in Parliament last Friday, which
sought to remove the Church of England's exemption from equalities
legislation. A statement from Mr Field's office said: "If passed,
the Bill would make it illegal for the Church of England to
discriminate against women when appointing bishops, as they
Mr Field said: "Parliament has a role in agreeing to or
rejecting the Synod's decisions, and I believe that MPs should now
use this role, in a helpful way, to ensure those firm wishes are
Speaking on BBC1's The Big Questions on Sunday, the
former Labour Cabinet Minister Ben Bradshaw said that members of
the House of Commons and the House of Lords had been united in
their "dismay" and "incomprehension" at the outcome of the Synod
"I don't think Parliament wants to act, but because of the very
special relationship we have with the Established Church . . . it
can't be allowed to rumble on for another five or ten years; it has
to be resolved within the next few months. If it's not, then I
think Parliament will do something."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last week that he shared
the disappointment of many at the vote on female bishops. The issue
was a matter for the Church to decide, however, and the Government
would not try to force the issue through using equalities
legislation. Mr Cameron told MPs none the less: "I'm very clear the
time is right for women bishops - it was right many years ago.
"They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the
programme. But you do have to respect the individual institutions
and the way they work, while giving them a sharp prod."
The Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, said that allowing
women to become bishops was "the right thing to do", but said: "in
the end it has to be a decision for the Church of England." He
continued: "Part of the work of all institutions is to be part of
the modern world. People will believe that having women bishops is
part of that."
Senior bishops were called to a meeting with peers and the
Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, on
Wednesday of last week, to discuss the implications of the
Sir Tony, who acts as the Church's link with the Commons, said
that he felt "extremely saddened" by the vote, which he would find
almost impossible to explain to Parliament.
The meeting was attended by more than 40 MPs and peers, and
there was an "overwhelming sense of frustration and of
disappointment", Sir Tony reported. "There was a real sense, too,
that this must not be allowed to rest here.
"There is a feeling that Synod is now not a parliament but a
gathering of the tribes. The Church of England does not belong to
Forward in Faith and WATCH: it belongs to parishes."
Although there was no sense of holding bishops to account for
the Measure's failure, he said that the General Synod, and the
Church as a whole, needed to get to grips with how it was perceived
in the wider world of Parliament and British society.
"The real risk the Church faces is of disinterest: that people
will now switch off and just see it as a sect. The Church will now
be taken far less seriously on issues like same-sex marriage, for
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday of last week, Sir
Tony said that the issue of women bishops could not "in any way be
parked for the next couple of years or so, while we await another
round of Synod elections. It must be understood that this issue
needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
"I hope that it will be convenient for the House if I seek to
arrange a meeting in the near future."
In an interview with The Guardian last
Saturday, the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, described the Synod
vote as "very disappointing. . . Obviously, it's for the Church of
England to run its own procedures and processes, but I really hope
that they've heard, loud and clear, the strength of feeling on
this, and that it acts quickly."
The Labour peer Lord Adonis tweeted after the women-bishops
debate: "My instinct is that the Bishops should call a
'back-us-or-sack-us' Synod next year, and make this a collective
test of their leadership."