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‘Trust but verify’ summarises new women-bishops package, says Fittall

25 October 2013

CHICHESTER DIOCESE

Steering: the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, who joined cyclists for the annual Ride and Stride fundraising event to support Sussex Historic Churches Trusts last month

Steering: the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, who joined cyclists for the annual Ride and Stride fundraising event to support Sussex Histori...

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

The package was presented to journalists at a briefing at Church House. In a press release issued concurrently, the Archbishops said: "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 disputes resolution procedure. It is accompanied by a report from the Steering Committee, which was appointed in July, and includes five members who voted against the last women-bishops Measure (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 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 that "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 last women-bishops Measure: the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, the chair of the House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings, and Prebendary Rod Thomas.

The draft Measure consists of four clauses and a single schedule, compared with the one that fell in November, which ran to 12 clauses and four schedules. The second clause contains an amendment to the Equality Act 2010, which, the report says, will put the Church of England in the same position as all other denominations and faiths whose senior appointments do not require the formal involvement of the Crown.       

The 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 in order to amend the regulations set out in the declaration.

The report states that both the Bishops' declaration and grievance procedure should be agreed before the Measure and Canon are brought to 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, it speaks of the importance of "simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality". It also sets out arrangements for parishes where the theological convictions of the PCC lead them to seek the ministry of men.

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 House of Laity and Clergy, to hear grievances brought by PCCs.

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

The General Synod will meet in London from Monday 18 to Wednesday 20 November. The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who chairs the Steering Committee, will make a short presentation on Monday evening. On Tuesday morning, 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 an approach based on principle rather than rules, grace rather than law. . . 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. We are at the beginning of a new and hopeful phase."

He quoted from a leader comment in last week's Economist which asserted that "A simple idea underpins science: 'trust, but verify.'"

 

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