General Synod: Creation of Religious Communities Canon approved

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


AMENDING CANON No. 40, whose first section creates a new Canon, Of Religious Communities, returned to the General Synod for final approval.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that the Church was already seeing the revival of religious life. “The Church continues to be blessed” by communities from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well, he said. He said that he felt a “sense of shame and disgust” at the IICSA report on Peter Ball, and the first recommendation of that report related to safeguarding in religious communities. Religious communities needed to be part of the legal entity of the Church of England so that the Church could fulfil IICSA’s requirements. No changes had been made since the religious communities Canon had been presented at the Synod before.

Should this canon be approved, the Synod would need to turn its attention to the regulations that the House of Bishops would use for the religious communities, Dr Walker said.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) said that he was deeply appreciative of Dr Walker and the Legal Office’s work on this canon. Religious communities were very pleased by the progress of this debate. He said that it was inimical to the religious communities to think of the religious as the way of being a better Christian. There was a danger that people end up condescending and looking down at other Christians. All Christian callings were part of the royal and priestly calling from Jesus Christ, he argued. There was no lessening of that calling because one was particular.

Sister Catherine Harvey SLG (Religious Communities) said that her appearance was a declaration of interest. She said that she was a not very robust specimen of an endangered species. She had 20 Sisters in the SLG, and none was aged under 50. It was ironic that this was at a time when religious communities were in decline. The need for this canon was safeguarding, she said, which had been highlighted by the death of Peter Ball. She emphasised that the regulations required what communities were already doing, in the main; but work was needed in making safeguarding improvements. She urged members of the Synod to start a conversation with religious communities which would rekindle their hope.

Final approval was given in a vote by Houses: Bishops 23 nem. con.; Clergy 100 nem. con; Laity 111 nem. con.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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