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Women bishops: New attempt at consensus

21 June 2013

The women-bishops working party came together after the collapse in November to seek a new way forward. They came up with four options. Nigel Stock explains

FROM the outset in this whole debate, the General Synod has signalled that it wants to do two things. One is to remove the legal obstacle to women becoming bishops. The second is to make arrangements so that those who are unable to receive the ministry of women priests or bishops on theological grounds can nevertheless remain within the Church of England.

Between 2006 and July 2008, the last Synod struggled to come to a view on what those arrangements might be. At one end of the spectrum, some people wanted no national framework, so that arrangements would be entirely local to each diocese.

At the other end were ideas of creating wholly new structures, for example a third province, or additional dioceses where the traditionalist bishops would exercise jurisdiction.

In July 2008, however, the Synod rejected both of these approaches. It also came down against anything that would modify or qualify a diocesan bishop's ability to exercise ordinary jurisdiction throughout the diocese.

This was the legislation that came to the General Synod and narrowly failed in November 2012.

THE 2013 working group went back to consider all the views about arrangements for those unable to accept that women be admitted to the episcopate, and set out four possible options for proceeding.

These are arrangements within the 2009 to 2012 spectrum, as there was no evidence that the "extreme" ends of the spectrum rejected in 2008 would command the necessary majority in the Synod.

The group's report set out five elements of a possible vision around which all those who aspire to keep the Church of England as a broad Church might be able to gather. There remain varying views over the best means of achieving those ends, but the main difference from the past is that everything must be on the table before the final vote.

The distinction between the options is as follows:

Option One

The Measure and amending canon would make it lawful for women to become bishops, and would repeal the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure. In addition, the 1993 Act of Synod would be rescinded.

There would be arrangements for those with theological difficulties over the priestly and episcopal ministry of women. They would be set out either in a formal declaration by the House of Bishops or, if the Synod so preferred, in a new Act of Synod.

Neither a declaration nor an Act of Synod could create legal rights and duties; so they would, in effect, be setting out expectations of what should happen. In addition, the House of Bishops' report says that it would put in place a mediation process for addressing grievances from parishes that believed that they had not been treated consistently with the agreed arrangements.

Option Two

This would be the same as Option One, in that it would not create enforceable rights and duties; but it would make it harder for them to be changed subsequently. This would be achieved by writing into the legislation a provision that it could not come into force until the Act of Synod (which would have been made before final approval) setting out the arrangements also came into force.

In addition, the Measure would provide that the Act of Synod could not be changed in future without special majorities.

Option Three

This would go a stage further, by retaining, in a modified form, the present ability of PCCs to pass Resolutions A and B in relation to the ministry of women priests.

Arrangements in relation to episcopal ministry would, however, be set out in a declaration from the House of Bishops rather than in law.

Option Four

Under this approach, all the relevant arrangements would be set out in legislation. This would mean that enforceable rights and duties could be created.

The Rt Revd Nigel Stock is Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich. He chaired the working group that produced the four options.


Once legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops, the Church of England will be fully and unequivocally com­mitted to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and
will hold that those whom
it has duly ordained and ap-
pointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus de­­serve due respect and canonical obedience;

Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must then be prepared to ac­­know­ledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;

Since it will continue to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, in­­cluding the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discern­ment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;

Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests will continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England will remain com­mitted to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and

Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of Eng-land will be made without specify­ing a limit of time, and in a way that maintains the high­est possible degree of com­munion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

From the reports of the Work­ing Group Women in the Epi­s­copate, and the House of Bishops.


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