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Swing voters say they will now back women bishops

04 July 2014

THE pivotal votes of a small num­ber of members of the General Synod who helped to defeat the women-bishops Measure in Novem­ber 2012 have swung to the Yes camp.

The earlier Measure was lost by six votes in the House of Laity. Instrumental to the defeat were a handful of members who, despite being in favour of the consecration of women as bishops, voted against the Measure, prompted by a concern that it did not offer enough provision for those who were opposed on principle. 

Five of these members told the Church Times this week that they now planned to vote in favour.

"The Measure that is before us this month . . . is a totally different animal," Tom Sutcliffe (diocese of Southwark) said on Tuesday. "It makes suitable provision for most of those who don't believe women can or should be bishops and priests. . . If the Measure now before us were to fail, I think it would be a total disaster."

Keith Malcouronne (diocese of Guildford) concurred: "The focus of the new package has shifted. The dog's breakfast of 43 diocesan schemes and an as-yet-unwritten Code of Practice that emerged from the legislative wringer in 2012 would not, in my judgement, have kept the whole Church of England together in healthy mutual respect and flourishing, which the current package now does."

Mary Judkin (West Yorkshire & the Dales) said on Wednesday that the new Measure had secured "a much more of an honoured place" for those who could not accept women bishops. "I  am quietly confident that it will go through."

Two other Synod members, who asked not to be named, indicated that they, too, would vote in favour.

The news will be welcome to Synod managers, who have shown signs of nervousness about the vote on 14 July. 

Although happier than before, traditionalists will vote against the new legislation on principle. On Tuesday, Prebendary David Hould­ing, a member of the Catholic Group, expressed his hope that the Measure would go through. But he said that he and other traditional­ists would vote against it: "I don't expect people to abstain from the Catholic side at all.

"My colleagues and I think it is a good package deal, and I don't believe we will get anything better on the table again. We would be very foolish not to welcome it." But, he said, "People who in conscience remain opposed to the principle are, none the less, duty-bound to vote against it. We cannot vote for it. Abstention is a waste of a vote." 

Conservative Evangelicals on Synod are even more adamant. On Tuesday, Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, said that he expected most in his party to vote against the Measure: "Those who have always in principle been against women bishops are going to want to register that principle in their voting. . . Reform is clear that this is a wrong move for the Church." But he did pay tribute to the "very real and genuine attempts that have been made to find a way forward".

A sixth switched vote in the House of Laity comes from Adrian Vincent, who describes himself as "half Anglo-Catholic, half Evangeli­cal" with "some theological reserva­tions" about the ordination of women. He said on Tuesday that, having voted against in 2012, he would vote in favour this month. 

"What has persuaded me to vote in favour this time is the House of Bishops' statement of five prin­­ciples," he said. "The risk is that that is a statement of intent and there isn't really a legislative provision backing it up; so I will be stepping out in faith, as it were."

Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori inter­viewed

Question of the week: Should the women-bishops legislation now be passed? 

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