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No sign of compromise over women-bishops legislation

07 September 2012


THE House of Bishops will meet next Wednesday to discuss the next step in the legislation to allow women bishops. The response to a con­sultation in August suggests that opinion remains polarised.

The legisation, as it stands, con­tains Clause 5(1)(c), inserted by the Bishops before the July sessions of the General Synod in order to cater for traditionalist parishes. It stipulates that the Code of Practice should cover "the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of wo­men" of the PCC. The clause was so divisive that a vote on final approval of the legislation was post­poned until November ( News, 13 July).

The steering committee proposed seven possible options in relation to the contentious clause ( News, 27 July). A total of 120 submissions were received, it was announced on Wednesday. A third (41) were for simply deleting it; just under a third (35) were in favour of retaining it.

The committee had proposed five alternative compromise versions. Option 3 attracted "relatively little support". It suggested replacing "consistent with" to selection that must "respect" or "take account of" the PCC's convictions. Options 4 to 7 won "some support and also some criticism".

The House of Bishops' standing committee has suggested that the House discuss Option 2 (removal of 5(1)(c)); Option 4 (removal of any indication of the criteria that the Code of Practice would employ in giving guidance on selection, but refer­ring to consultation with the PCC); Option 5 (referral to the selec­tion of someone whose ministry ap­pears "appropriate" for the parishes concerned); and Option 6 (referral to the selection of someone whose ministry "respects the position, in rela­tion to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care" of the PCC).

A new option to be discussed, suggested by a Synod member, refers to selection "in a manner which re­spects the grounds on which Paro­chial Church Councils issue Letters of Request" for alternative oversight.

Option 7, which required the Code to give guidance on the pro­cedure of selection, has not been recommended for more discussion.

Members of the House of Bishops have the right to table amendments before 5 p.m. next Tuesday. All the amendments will then be voted on the following day by simple majority. If no amendment is passed, the draft Measure will return to the General Synod unchanged, i.e. with Clause 5(1)(c) still in place.

On Wednesday, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, a member of the steering committee, said that the aim of the House must still be "to find a way between those two polarities" i.e. retaining clause 5(1)(c) as it stands, or removing it.

"To retain 5(1)(c) would not be desirable, because it would not gain consent from Synod as a whole. To remove it in its entirety would make it more difficult for those for whom we are committed to making pro­vision to accept the legislation."

He suggested that some reference to the diocesan bishop's consulting PCCs was the way forward. "Any bishop would wish to discuss and consult with a PCC that issued a Letter of Request. . . to be able to say 'I have listened clearly, openly, fairly' . . . That is what paying respect im­plies: it's the result of consultation."

Clause 5(1)(c) had become "to­temic" for a number of people, Bishop Willmott said. "There are other points in the proposed legis­lation that give confidence to those who are unable, on grounds of theological conviction, to accept the ordination of women bishops." His own view was that it was "im­portant that, connected to legisla­tion, will be the Code of Practice, which is bound to give support to the diocesan bishop but require him to set for­ward a scheme which will enable those two things to occur. I would want legislation to be as clear as possible . . . but with a code of prac­tice that will spell out the pro­cesses and content of a diocesan scheme."

Question of the week: Should the House of Bishops aban­don the compromise options?


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