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July might be too soon to return to fray, bishops warn

07 December 2012


Looking up: the Very Revd Vivienne Faull presides over the raising of an Advent wreath, three metres wide, in York Minster last Friday, with chil­dren from the cathedral school. The following day she was installed as Dean

Looking up: the Very Revd Vivienne Faull presides over the raising of an Advent wreath, three metres wide, in York Minster last Friday, with chil­dr...

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 suggested.

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 proposals."

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 arrangements".

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 everyone."

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 the world".

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.

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