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Dioceses with a vacant see should ‘prepare’ for a bishop who does not ordain women

22 June 2018

The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye (left), and the Archbishop of Canterbury (right) arrive for a General Synod meeting, in 2016

The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye (left), and the Archbishop of Canterbury (right) arrive for a General Syno...

DIOCESES with a vacant see need to be educated that, given the Five Guiding Principles, it is possible that a bishop who does not ordain women will be appointed.

This is one of the findings of a report by the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, which outlines lessons learned from the nomination of Bishop Philip North to the see of Sheffield (News, 22 September 2017).

In writing it, Mr Nye has drawn on conversations with 13 people, including Bishop North; the Sheffield Diocesan Secretary, Heidi Adcock; the former Sheffield Dean of Women’s Ministry, Canon Abi Thompson; the national and diocesan communications directors; and the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary.

Among his conclusions is that, after the passing of the women-bishops legislation, “not enough was done to educate those in dioceses of the possibility of non-ordaining bishops continuing to be appointed to sees”. He notes that the Vacancy-in-See Guidelines have been amended to include this, and that the Appointments Secretaries are “working more closely with dioceses at these early stages to ensure that they understand this”.

Forward in Faith has welcomed this. “We hope that, when the next traditional Catholic is nominated to a diocesan see, the fruit of its work will be seen in much more generous responses within and beyond the diocese concerned,” a statement said.

It goes on to note that the House of Bishops’ Declaration that accompanied the women-bishops legislation said that it would be “important that senior leadership roles within dioceses continue to be filled by people from across the range of traditions”. The statement continued: “The non-implementation of this commitment over the last four years suggests that educational work might usefully begin within the House of Bishops itself.”

In his report, Mr Nye accepts the part played by National Church Institutions (NCIs) in the failure “to anticipate the extent and nature of the reaction to Bishop North’s nomination and to prepare plans in advance for handling it”.

There was, he concludes, “no clear point of contact or line of communication between the nominee, the receiving diocese, and the National Church Institutions”. After the announcement of Bishop North’s nomination, “many of those in Church House with a legitimate interest were either not aware of the scale of negative reactions in some parts of Sheffield diocese to the announcement of Bishop Philip’s nomination, or felt it was not their role to address it. Any additional support from the National Church Institutions therefore came too late in the process.”

Confidentiality around the Crown Nominations Commission process is a problem, he writes; it meant that, often, only two senior staff members knew the name of the nominee until shortly before the announcement, leaving them with a great deal of work, and “awkwardness and tension” with those who were still in the dark. It could also mean that the nominee had “little or no personal support in what can be a time of huge transition”.

Mr Nye’s report recommends that the “circle of confidentiality” within the receiving diocese be widened to include: the Acting Diocesan Bishop; the Diocesan Secretary; and the Diocesan Director of Communications. It is envisaged that this group will work with national staff, bringing in other “key stakeholders” as appropriate. These could include the Dean of Women’s Ministry or Provincial Episcopal Visitor.

Communications training on how to handle “potentially difficult questions or topics” could also be improved, Mr Nye suggests. He recommends that more colleagues may need to be involved, and that the training should begin earlier.

The overall approach of better collaboration between the diocese and NCIs had already been put into place in planning for recent appointments of a new Bishop of London and a new Bishop of Bristol, he said.

He writes: “We must endeavour to keep learning and adapting our processes to ensure the best for the whole Church, including individuals on all sides who can feel marginalised or alienated by some of the Church’s decisions.”

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