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Dioceses given three months to vote on women bishops

14 February 2014

geoff crawford

Reassurance: the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, talking to the press after the Synod debate

Reassurance: the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, talking to the press after the Synod debate

IT WAS not the "hell-for-leather gallop" suggested by one member. The General Synod, none the less, set a brisk pace for the passage of the women-bishops legislation on Tuesday. As a result, the way was opened for a woman to be appointed a bishop "in the early months of next year", the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff (above), said after the debate.

The Synod was swift in its own proceedings. Comfortable majorities were secured for both the draft Declaration from the House of Bishops and the draft procedure for the resolution of disputes, with few queries from the floor.

The Draft Measure and Draft Amending Canon were both revised quickly - in full Synod, without a revision-committee stage. Amendments concerning the Equality Act fell, after reassuring speeches that parish representatives and patrons would have enough protection against claims under this legislation.

Bishop Langstaff, who chaired the steering committee that produced the new package, acknowledged: "We cannot, in the end, guard against legal challenge with 100-per-cent assurance." But, he said, there was "no doubt at all" that a PCC resolution "held on the grounds of the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of those worshipping in the parish" was permitted by the Act.

The Synod also carried the first consideration of the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, thus dismantling the present provision for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests.

Finally, members voted to suspend a clause of the Standing Orders to reduce from six months to three the period of time that diocesan synods will have to vote on the draft legislation when it is referred to them.

A few objections were raised to this. The director of Reform, Susie Leafe, spoke of "the pressure for us to get with the programme". Every poll and vote had suggested that about 25 per cent of regular worshippers had theological convictions that meant that they would seek provision under new arrangements, she said, and it was "vital" that diocesan synods, churches, and deaneries had time to understand the "package in which they are being asked to participate. . . We are missing an opportunity to build trust in every place where trust is most needed."

The Synod voted, however, in favour of the procedural motion by an overwhelming majority of 358 to 39, far in excess of the 75 per cent required.

Christina Rees, speaking as a member of WATCH, argued that the Synod had never rushed in its long debates on women's ordination and their consecration to the episcopate. "We are keeping faith in the diocese, and honouring the desire of the wider Church to have women bishops," she said. Delay would "continue to allow the Church and this Synod to be held up to ridicule, and our credibility will be further undermined".

Prebendary David Houlding, a traditionalist, agreed with Mrs Rees that there was no benefit from any delay.

The move means that the General Synod will be in a position to give the package final approval in July, should it vote to do so. The signs suggest that it will. Canon Simon Killwick, who chairs the Catholic Group in the Synod, said that he hoped for an "overwhelming" vote in favour of the Draft Declaration and dispute-resolution procedure, and that the package would progress "quickly and smoothly through its remaining stages". The Synod had been "blessed by the degree of reconciliation that has taken place recently through this process".

Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Bishop Langstaff reminded his hearers: "It is one thing to make something possible, and another thing for it to happen," he said. The Crown Nominations Commission would "need to believe that that person is the right person for that post".


THE legislation has been altered since it was last debated in November. Bishop Langstaff explained that the Bishops' Declaration included new amendments, including the majority required if a PCC were to pass a resolution seeking provisions under the Declaration.

"There will need to be either a majority of those present at a meeting attended by at least two-thirds of the members, or a majority of the entire membership, irrespective of how many attend the actual meeting."

This, he said, would "avoid a minority of the PCC frustrating the wish of the majority simply by absenting themselves when a vote was to be taken".

The new Declaration "does not claim to resolve every detail of every issue", Bishop Langstaff said. Instead, "it establishes a framework, not least of relationships, within which other issues may be resolved."

He also said that serious discussions were under way "and will continue" regarding questions about "the supply of one or more bishops who hold a conservative view on headship", and about "liturgical arrangements" for the consecration of bishops for traditional Catholics.

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