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Women-bishops proposals: ombudsman in new package

01 November 2013


THE package of proposals produced by the Steering Committee that was given the task of preparing fresh women-bishops legislation represented a "new and hopeful phase", the Secretary General of the General Synod, William Fittall, said last Friday.

The package was presented to journalists at a briefing at Church House. In a press release issued at the same time, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote: "It is significant that the 15 members of the Steering Committee . . . who represent the widest possible range of opinion on the matter, have been able to reach substantial agreement on a package of proposals to put to General Synod in November."

The package comprises a draft Measure and Amending Canon, a draft House of Bishops' declaration, and draft regulations establishing a procedure for resolving disputes. It is accompanied by a report from the Steering Committee, which was appointed in July, and includes five members who voted against the most recent Measure on women bishops (News, 26 July).

The report notes that two of the 15 members, the Revd Paul Benfield and Susie Leafe, decided to record abstentions when the other 13 voted to commend the package to the General Synod and the House of Bishops. This was because the Committee had been restricted, by a motion passed by General Synod in July, to drawing up legislation based on "Option One" of the report from the House of Bishops on new legislative proposals (News, 5 July).

Nevertheless, the Committee's report states: "We all agree that the balanced package . . . gives full and effective expression to that motion. And the belief of those of us who commend this package is that, in all the circumstances, it now offers the best way forward for the Church of England in its ministry and mission and a possibility of securing an early resolution of this unfinished business."

Among the 13 who commended the report are three members who voted against the most recent Measure on women bishops: the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, the chairman of the House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings, and Prebendary Rod Thomas, the chairman of the conservative Evangelical network Reform.


The draft Measure consists of four clauses and a single schedule; whereas the Measure that fell in November 2012 ran to 12 clauses and four schedules. It makes no changes to the structures of the Church of England, and leaves unaltered the position of each diocesan bishop as Ordinary.

It also preserves the historic requirement for canonical obedience to the diocesan bishop. The report notes that taking this oath "does not mean agreeing to obey the bishop whatever he or she may purport to instruct the clergy to do. Nor does it entail acting contrary to theological conviction."

The second clause contains an amendment to the Equality Act 2010, which makes it clear that the office of bishop is not a "public office" as defined in the Act. The report states that the Steering Committee had secured "some reassurance" about the risk of cases being brought against PCCs under the Equality Act, although "nothing can entirely eliminate the possibility of legal challenge".

The report also states, however, that: "We believe that diocesan bishops should accept the responsibility to act as the protector of the interests of the parish in the light of any resolution it has passed."

An Amending Canon provides for the admission of women to the episcopate. It also, the report explains, imposes a duty on the House of Bishops "to make regulations prescribing a procedure for the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements for which the proposed House of Bishops' declaration makes provision". Finally, the Amending Canon states that the House of Bishops would need to secure a two-thirds majority in all three Houses of Synod in order to amend the regulations set out in the declaration.

The report states that both the Bishops' declaration and the grievance procedure should be agreed before the Measure and Canon are brought to the Synod for final approval.

A draft Bishops' declaration is set out in the Committee's report. It begins with the five principles commended by the House of Bishops in May in its report on the new legislative proposals (News, 24 May).

Running to 40 paragraphs, the draft declaration speaks of the importance of "simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality". It states that "reciprocity will mean that those of differing conviction will do all within their power to avoid giving offence to each other."

It sets out arrangements for parishes where the theological convictions of the PCC lead them to seek the ministry of men.

The declaration addresses the question of "supply". It states that the sees of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors will continue to exist, and that the House of Bishops "accepts that the presence in the College of Bishops of at least one bishop who takes the Conservative Evangelical view on headship is important for sustaining the necessary climate of trust."

Also set out in the report is a suggested procedure for the resolution of disputes. The Committee recommends an ombudsman scheme, whereby an "independent reviewer" is appointed by the Archbishops, with the agreement of the chairs of the Houses of Laity and of Clergy, to hear grievances brought by PCCs. The report warns that: "Any failure on the part of bishops and other clergy to participate in the procedure would lay the person concerned open to a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003."

The independent reviewer would have no powers to impose penalties, but a critical report would have "a significant impact", the report argues. Although grievances would be brought only by PCCs, it is proposed that anyone should be able to register concerns with the independent reviewer about the operation of the Bishops' declaration.

On Friday, the Archbishops commended the Steering Committee's proposals.

At the General Synod meeting in London later this month, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who chairs the Steering Committee, will make a short presentation on the evening of Monday 18 November. On Tuesday morning, Synod members will meet in small groups to discuss the package privately. On Wednesday, Bishop Langstaff will move a motion welcoming the package of proposals and inviting the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod in February a draft declaration and proposals, for a disputes-resolution procedure.

The Synod will then give first consideration to the draft Measure and Amending Canon. Rather than propose that the draft legislation be referred for revision by a Revision Committee, the Steering Committee will move that the legislation be "considered for revision in full Synod".

The report by the Steering Committee envisages that it may still be possible for the legislation to go to final approval during 2014.  

On Friday, Mr Fittall said of the package: "This is the first time since the discussion of women bishops started in 2000 that a complete package has been agreed by people with such a wide range of views."

'I cannot share his hopefulness'

CONSERVATIVE Evangelicals are unlikely to vote in favour of the package put forward by the Steering Committee, the director of Reform, Susie Leafe, suggested this week, writes Madeleine Davies.

Mrs Leafe was one of two members of the committee who abstained from voting to commend the package to Synod. On Tuesday, she said: "The Steering Group were under no illusions that I or others who voted against the Measure in November could or would vote in favour of this package." Mr Fittall was "well aware that without a jurisdictional solution I cannot share his hopefulness".

The committee was given the task of preparing a package based on "Option One" of the report from the House of Bishops on new legislative proposals. "We had to participate in the discussions knowing that this was, and always was going to be, an unacceptable way forward," Mrs Leafe said. "Removing issues of jurisdiction from the discussion meant that an outcome that truly satisfied the needs of conservative Evangelicals was not possible."

She was "encouraged that throughout this package self-sacrificial male headship has been recognised as an authentic expression of Anglican theology". Nevertheless, "throughout the various debates, it has become very clear that there is little understanding of self-sacrificial headship theology."

The other member of the Steering Committee who abstained from the vote, the Revd Paul Benfield, Vicar of St Nicholas's, Fleetwood, and a member of Forward in Faith, said on Monday: "I feel that, within the constraints we were given, what we have done is good. If I had not been happy with that, I would have voted against it. While I could not quite commend it, I am not saying it is bad."

In July, Fr Benfield proposed that "provision made for those who cannot receive the ministry of female priests or bishops should be made by Measure or regulations under Canon" (News, 12 July), and on Monday he said that he had "felt that it was the mind of Synod that we should be able to look at a much broader package than Option One".

He reported, however, that he had been "pleasantly pleased" with what had been done. There had been a "very good atmosphere", and he felt hopeful.

A statement issued by Forward in Faith last Friday said that the House of Bishops' declaration, and mandatory disputes resolution procedure, "represents a new and different approach which deserves careful consideration". It would be "examining the proposals closely over the coming weeks to see how far they would ensure that our parishes and their clergy and people have continued access to a ministry that will make it possible for us to flourish within the life and structures of the Church of England".

The Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod, Canon Simon Killwick, said: "Naturally, such a complex package will need careful study and prayer by all rather than instant responses, and we will comment further in due course. However, as important as the detail of the proposals themselves will be the spirit in which they are received and taken forward - a spirit of reconciliation and trust, which we believe has been growing this year, by the grace of God; it is in that light that we shall study them."

On Saturday, a vice-chair of WATCH, Canon Anne Stevens, said: "It's good to see draft legislation that is so clear and concise, and we look forward to a day of great national rejoicing when women are finally made bishops. We're grateful to the Steering Committee for all their hard work on the Bishops' Declaration, which offers people on all sides of the debate a new opportunity to move forward in a spirit of trust and openness to one another."

On Friday, during the second reading of the Equality (Titles) Bill in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, amused members by suggesting that he was "sorely tempted to slip in an amendment to the effect that women bishops could be ordained in the Church of England".


Remainder of Synod agenda
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