First woman bishop by 2015?

31 October 2014

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

As independent reviewer, Sir Philip will be responsible for considering grievances from PCCs that believe a bishop, or other priest, has acted inconsistently 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 that, on grounds of theological conviction, require ministry from a male bishop; and requires the bishops to provide a disputes-resolution procedure for these cases.

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 about the November meeting of the General Synod, which will be held on 17 and 18 November. On the Monday, the Synod will be invited to promulge Amending Canon No. 33 to allow women to be bishops. The Secretary General of the General Synod, William Fittall, said that the outcome was "not really in doubt": a simple majority on a show of hands was all that was required. He would be "surprised" if a woman were 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.

Under the current system, he said, bishops were "invited to identify people who they think are suitable for greater responsibility. Over the past months, they have been invited to think about women; so the system is ready to go. From 17 November, if the Crown Nominations Commission [CNC] or a diocesan asks, 'What is the pool of people?', names of women are already there." There had also been "work to ensure that those women who might be identified as suitable have been prepared for that".

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"We do have the possibility of using positive action," Mr Fittall continued. Under the law, this meant that, if there were a dead heat between two people, "we are able to say, 'We will go for the woman rather than the man,'" since women were under-represented. It was "rare" that such dead heats came about, but the possibility was there.

Currently, there are four diocesan sees vacant for which the CNC might, after 17 November, consider a woman: Southwell & Nottingham, Gloucester, Oxford, and Newcastle. Six suffragan sees are also 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.

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