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Independent reviewer for new women-bishops era named

24 October 2014


Westminster figure: Philip Mawer stands outside the Houses of Parliament, in February, 2002  

Westminster figure: Philip Mawer stands outside the Houses of Parliament, in February, 2002  

DISPUTES over the implementation of arrangements for parishes who seek oversight from a male bishop will be heard by Sir Philip Mawer, a former Secretary General of General Synod, it was announced on Friday.

As independent reviewer, Sir Philip will be responsible for considering grievances from PCCs who believe that a bishop, or other priest, has not acted consistently with the House of Bishops declaration - part of the legislative package on women bishops agreed by the General Synod in July (Synod, 18 July).  The declaration included arrangements for congregations who, on grounds of theological conviction, would seek oversight from a male bishop. It requires the bishops to provide a disputes resolution procedure for PCCs who feel the guiding principles have not been followed by clergy.

Sir Philip, who was Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from 2002 to 2007, has accepted an invitation to take on this part-time appointment until the end of 2017.

The announcement was made during a press briefing on the November meeting of the General Synod. The Synod's secretary general, William Fittall, told journalists that he would be "surprised" if a woman was not appointed to the episcopate by the end of 2015.

"When we have half the human race who have not been eligible for consideration, at the point at which they do become eligible, there are many people who might have been considered in the past and who have already done important and senior jobs in the Church of England, and it would be surprising if they were not considered," he said.

"We do have the possibility of using positive action," he continued. Under the current system, he explained, bishops were "invited to identify people who they think are suitable for greater responsibility". Until now, they had not been able to recommend women for the episcopate. But, "over the last few months, bishops have been invited to think about that; so the system is all ready to go. So, from 17 November, when the CNC or a diocesan wants to say 'What is the pool of people?' there are names of women already there. The system has been gearing itself up."

There was also, he said, "work to ensure that those women who might be identified as suitable have been prepared for that."

Under the law, positive action meant that "if you got into a dead heat with a particular appointment . . . they scored equally. . . If you say 'We are under-represented' . . we are able to say 'We will go for the woman rather than the man.'" It was "rare" that such dead heats came about, he said, but the possibility was there. 

There are currently four diocesan-bishop vacancies for which the CNC might, after 17 November, consider a woman: Southwell & Notting­ham, Gloucester, Ox­­ford, and Newcastle. There are also six suffragan sees vacant, but, as the diocesan bishop takes the lead on the appointments processes, it is not clear how many of these will still await an appointment after 17 November.

The Synod will also hear a presentation on violence against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, and be invited to endorse a call by the Final Report of the Joint Implementation Commission to take forward further work on the interchangeability of the ministries of the Anglican and Methodist Churches. There will be a debate on the Spare Room Subsidy, also known as the "Bedroom Tax", and a take-note debate on the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy, in which the question of the seal of the confessional raises its head again. These will then be returned to the Convocations.  

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