THE Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has said that his Church’s current settlement on women’s ordination was working, after a failed attempt at the Governing Body to remove some of the conscience provisions for traditionalists.
Although Archbishop Davies abstained on the vote over the proposals, he said after the meeting that, as far as he was concerned, there was no need to change the code of practice. “I’m happy to have heard [in the debate] many positive stories about the way people with different views are working alongside each other and respecting each other.”
Neither of the Church in Wales’s two female bishops had reported any concerns over their interaction with those who opposed women’s ordination either, he said.
The Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Peggy Jackson, had proposed a motion which sought to bar traditionalists who sought ordination to the priesthood from utilising the conscience provisions set out in the Bench of Bishops’ code of practice in 2014.
Although she insisted that it was not her intent to drive conservatives or Anglo-Catholics out of the Church, her proposals provoked anger and fear among traditionalists. But, after every speaker in the Governing Body debate opposed the motion, it was defeated by 63 votes to 19.
Archbishop Davies rejected suggestions that the debate had exposed the lack of trust between various factions in the Church. “I think motions of this nature inevitably encourage some to express, on occasions, entrenched views, and that can sometimes give a false impression [that] there is distrust in the Church,” he said. “People’s consciences are their consciences, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a breakdown in trust.”
He said, however, that the code of practice was purely in the hands of the bishops, and could be torn up tomorrow should they so wish: a situation that was bound to cause concern to traditionalists. “There is, perhaps, a lack of security.”
When the Church in Wales came to a conclusion on what provision to offer same-sex couples, any conscience clauses would have to be enshrined in canon law, Archbishop Davies said, to reassure the dissenting minority that their rights would not be stripped away later.
At the same meeting of the Governing Body, members voted to extend the process of choosing a new Bishop of Monmouth, who had retired due to ill health the day before the session had begun.
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, had spent the preceding nine months on unexplained leave from his post — a situation which had caused a degree of consternation in the diocese. In January, a spokeswoman acknowledged speculation about a breakdown in relationships within the diocese’s senior leadership, and said that Archbishop Davies was engaged in a process of mediation (News, 11 January).
At the Governing Body, however, Archbishop Davies said that Bishop Pain’s sudden announcement of retirement was genuinely due to ill health and was not a cover for internal strife with his colleagues.
“From what I know of the people concerned, it would be unwise to comment on that. This is genuine ill health, and it would be doing a disservice to him to say otherwise,” he said. “There is a real sense of bewilderment and bereavement, because Bishop Richard was fondly loved by all of us.”
It was pleasing that the Governing Body had agreed with his suggestion to extend the deadline for an electoral college to select a new bishop until October, he said.