A SHORTER and simpler form of legislation for women bishops is
envisaged by the working group convened to advise the House of
News, 21 December). It is suggested that this may not be
incompatible with achieving "a greater sense of security" for
A consultation document, over the signature of the General
Synod's Secretary General, William Fittall, issued to all members
of the Synod today, sets out "ideas and issues that are beginning
to emerge" after "facilitated discussions" on Tuesday and Wednesday
Its first proposition is that the draft Measure that fell at the
November General Synod must be abandoned: "it would not be sensible
to try to take the rejected draft Measure as a starting point and
tweak it. . . Though so narrowly lost, its moment has passed."
The second proposition is that "any new approach should not seek
to reopen questions around jurisdiction and the position of the
diocesan bishop, in law, as the ordinary and chief pastor of
everyone in the diocese." Any transfer or sharing of jurisdiction
risks "introducing confusion where there needs to be clarity" and
"any notion of a two-tier episcopate is anathema."
The third proposition is that "there needs, so far as possible,
to be a complete package of proposals that can be assessed in its
entirety before final approval, without the possibility of further
amendments to some parts of it between the final approval of the
legislation and its coming into force."
The final proposition, described as "arguably the most important
and also the most subtle", is that "From the recent conversations
it is clear that any new package needs to try, so far as possible
to achieve two things. While at first sight they appear to be in
tension with each other, they may in fact offer a possible way
The two objectives are: "Produce a shorter, simpler Measure than
the one that was defeated; Provide, through the totality of the
elements in the package, a greater sense of security for the
minority as having an accepted and valued place in the Church of
England while not involving the majority in any new element of
compromise on matters of principle."
The document confesses that there remain "significant
differences of view" in the working group which "are not easily
reconciled" in a "polarised" environment.
The document sets out the arguments for and against the two
polarities in the debate: the emphasis on "trust rather than
enforceable safeguards", and the desire for "key relevant
provisions" for opponents to be written into the Measure
It hints that the the sympathies of the House of Bishops are
likely to lie with the former. It states that the second approach
would not "sit very easily" with the House of Bishops' statement on
11 December (
News, 14 December) calling for a new legislative package of
The document also warns of the Church of England's "general
tendency of going in for too much regulation and prescription" and
a concern that, the more substantial and complex any Measure is,
"the more anguished and hesitant the Church of England risks being
over a development that, for most people within the Church of
England, should be a cause of affirmation and joy."
It warns that such a Measure may not command the support of
those who voted for the November Measure despite considering it to
be "at the limits of acceptable compromise and complexity", and
speaks of a "real risk that Parliament might baulk at approving a
measure that seemed too elaborate and hedged about".
Although the document speaks of the urgency of resolution, the
group has concluded that "further consultation is needed over the
next few weeks". Members of the General Synod will have until 28
February to respond to the consultation, and their contributions
will be reviewed at the next meeting of the working group on 4
Today, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd
Nigel Stock, who chairs the working group, said that he had been
"very impressed by the honesty, openness and commitment" of
particants in discussions this week.
The ten members of the working group had been joined by 15
additional participants, including representatives of Forward in
Faith, the Catholic Group, the National Association of Diocesan
Advisers in Women's Ministry, Reform, Church Society, and WATCH;
and six individuals, including the Revd Janet Appleby, who produced
the "Appleby amendment" (
News, 14 September) to the Measure that fell in November. These
15 would continue to contribute to conversations, he said.
A desire had emerged this week, he said, for "a change of
behaviour on all sides, so that the atmosphere can be created in
which people can be constructive rather than defensive".
The discussions had been facilitated by a team headed by the
Canon Director for Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral,
David Porter, and participants had been "hugely encouraged" by both
the Archbishop of York's and the Archbishop of Canterbury's
presiding at holy communion at the start of each day, and "lending
their support and encouragement to what happened later".
The consultation document can be read here.