CAMPAIGNERS who want to see
a fresh Measure to admit women to the episcopate at the General
Synod next July may be disappointed, two bishops have
On Wednesday of last week,
the Archbishops' Council stated that the women-bishops issue should
be resolved "as a matter of urgency" (
News, 30 November). It urged the House of Bishops at its
meeting next week to "put in place a clear process for discussions
in the New Year, with a view to bringing legislative proposals
before Synod in July".
On Tuesday, however, the
Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, suggested that the
House "ought to be able to share with people a process" at the
Synod in July. "That will lead in due course to fresh legislative
Also this week, the Bishop
of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, called for a "concentrated period of
reflection". There were "good reasons" why the legislative group
and Synod had not pursued a single-clause Measure or "stronger
safeguards", and "the greatest problem would be if we started the
process quickly and ended up with another mess."
Bishop Willmott, who was a
member of the steering committee for the last Measure, also
expressed concerns about restricting it to a single clause. "We are
trying to get away from some of these words which actually are too
blunt: so, for example, a 'single clause'.
"It may be that the
legislation is simpler. But that is not necessarily to say it is a
single clause, as if that in itself can answer the twin desires of
the Church as we have articulated them. The Measure must allow for
women to be bishops, but it must also enable those for whom that is
a difficulty to flourish."
Reflecting on the previous
legislative process, Bishop Willmott said that it was "disingenous
to say that somehow [we will have] fresh conversations which were
not possible before - they were perfectly possible."
One of the difficulties of
the previous process, he said, was that it had not been possible to
present both the Measure and the Code of Practice: "My own view is
whatever we put on table ought to be there at the same time."
Bishop Willmott's view was
not shared by the campaigning group WATCH, however. On Monday, it
urged the House of Bishops to bring a single-clause Measure to the
Synod in July, and end a "wasteful" internal debate within the
Church which "has been so weighted to accommodating small
minorities that we have lost sight of the legislation's main
objective - to make women bishops."
Its statement says: "There
is no legal settlement that can be devised that will allow women to
be bishops while satisfying the demands of those opposed."
On Tuesday, the Dean of
Women's Ministry for the Two Cities Area, in the diocese of London,
the Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley, wrote to the Bishop of London and
the Bishop of Willesden encouraging them at the House of Bishops to
consider every option to introduce women bishops "including what
might seem the radical step of asking Her Majesty the Queen to
dissolve General Synod and hold immediate elections that will
produce a Synod more representative of the Church at large".
The letter was sent after a
meeting of more than 40 women clergy in the diocese on Monday.
On the same day, Christina
Rees, a member of the Archbishops' Council, said that its statement
last week reflected the fact that "we did not want the momentum of
the reaction to the vote to lapse or dwindle. . . The feeling is
that the sooner that we revisit this issue the better." She
predicted that there would now be "less attention on the
Opponents of the failed
Measure called this week for dialogue on the best way forward. "We
should begin by meeting around the table and discovering exactly
what we could agree to at final approval," the Revd Stephen Trott
said on Monday. "The new Measure could then be designed to embody
agreement rather than conflict, and an equitable outcome for
Susie Leafe, a member of the
House of Laity, said that the General Synod should have "heard that
it [the Measure] was not going to pass and worked harder to find a
better solution before we brought it to final vote at Synod".
On Thursday of last week,
The Times published a letter from eight members of the
House of Laity who voted against the Measure, despite "unreservedly
supporting the consecration of women", because of their "overriding
concern for the Church of England's minorities". It called for "a
new briefer Measure" which "could incorporate the 1993 Act of Synod
governing alternative oversight as we have it".
On Monday, the Bishop of
Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, addressed "errors and
misunderstandings" surrounding the vote, on his blog. He rejected
claims that the Measure was "a compromise and the best possible way
forward", and said that it was "driven 'over the cliff' by those
unwilling to agree proper provision". He called for "real
listening, engagement, and, above all, mutual charity".
On Saturday, the Bristol
diocesan synod passed a vote of no confidence in "the ability of
the General Synod to transact the clear will of the Church with the
urgency required to further the mission and witness of the Church".
Just three of the 52 members voted against the motion, proposed by
the Priest-in-Charge of St Matthew's and St Nathanael's, Kingsdown,
the Revd Mat Ineson.
Reflecting on the November
vote, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill told his synod
that he felt that "real democracy has been violated" and questioned
whether there was not a "moral pressure" on members of Synod to
"vote to support the diocesan view".
On Thursday of last week,
during a debate on violence against women in the House of Lords,
the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, apologised for
the lack of women on the Bench of Bishops and suggested that this
was "not unrelated to how women are treated generally throughout
Next Wednesday, a debate on the Synod vote is scheduled to take
place in the House of Commons. It will be introduced by Ben
Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, who is a patron of the Group for
Rescinding the Act of Synod.