Women Bishops in the CofE - The Latest Round

The Church of England has news of the latest events in the ongoing tussle over the seemingly inevitable acceptance of women bishops:

The Church of England has today published the 142-page report of the Revision Committee that has been considering in detail the draft legislation to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.  Also published is an amended version of the draft, eleven clause Measure and associated draft Amending Canon.

The Committee has met on 16 occasions over the past 12 months and considered 114 submissions from members of the General Synod and a further 183 submissions from others.  After much discussion the Committee rejected proposals aimed at fundamentally changing the approach of the legislation, whether by converting it into the simplest possible draft Measure or by creating more developed arrangements – whether through additional dioceses, a statutorily recognised society or some transfer of jurisdiction – for those unable to receive the ministry of female bishops.

More simply put, there's been a couple more months of talking but no change – ultimately there is going to be no effective provision for conscientious objectors.

The Church Mouse has an interesting article with comments from Pete Broadbent, Suffragen Bishop of Willisden and member of the legislative committee looking at this issue. Pete, who is on the board of Fulcrum Anglican (ed: my mistake, Pete has emailed me to clarify his is not on the board, nor a “member” of Fulcrum – apologies, Pete), has this to say:

Well, the timing is straightforward. It needs to be ready for the House of Bishops Meeting next week. We wanted to get it to them as early as possible (and to Synod members), and we only signed it off at our last meeting on 30th April. So no conspiracy there.

There are 4 defining motifs:

1. It's rooted in monepiscopacy (one Diocesan Bishop having authority in the Diocese) – which has become a kind of faux catholic shibboleth for a certain sort of liberal catholicism. That determines everything else, because on that presupposition you can only have one bishop and no dual or twin track arrangements. What we've produced is internally consistent with that approach.

2. It doesn't give women bishops an entirely clear run, so it won't satisfy those who want the ministry of women to be untrammelled and equal in the Church. But it probably does enough to satisfy WATCH – though they have to compromise their position.

3. It doesn't do the job for traditionalist catholics and conservative evangelicals, whose desire for “sacramental assurance” and “headship” respectively aren't met. (These are doctrines that I personally don't believe in, but they have been clearly laid out very clearly by those who espouse them, and what the Revision Committee has produced simply doesn't deal with this) So we know before July that those two groups will seek to amend the report to take account of their concerns. Read the report – we crossed a rubicon at paragraph 148.

4. The report gives a good account of all the arguments and would repay reading (I would say that…) But the content of a Code of Practice isn't yet worked out, and is likely to be pretty minimalist, giving less to those opposed than the earlier woman priests legislation.

Biggest problem is that the CofE varies hugely regionally (lots of clergy and parishes opposed in the big city dioceses; very few opponents in many rural areas). That, plus the fact that loads of people have been ordained since the 1992 legislation and don't see why we should be making “provision” will, I fear, make the whole debate in July a dialogue of the deaf.

The report itself is available here [doc]. Its long, and I haven't had time to work through it yet. But 2 conversative bodies of different persuasions have and their response is predictable. ForwardinFaith have this to say:

Forward in Faith notes with interest the publication of the Report of the Revision Committee on Women in the Episcopate.

It is of course disappointing – though not surprising – that, after nearly two years' work, the Committee has so singularly failed to take proper account of the needs of all those loyal members of the Church of England who are unable in conscience to receive the innovation of women bishops (and this despite the best efforts of those members of the Revision Committee who are committed to proper provision for traditionalists).

The inevitable result of this corporate failure will be that, in July, this draft legislation will need to be submitted to the most critical examination and, we trust, substantial amendment.  We are confident that the senior leadership of the Church of England will recognise that the legislation will not be able to proceed in its present form without excluding a substantial body of loyal Anglicans from the Church of England of the future.

Further to this, 3 FiF members who sat on the Revision Committee issued their own response:

  We came to this part of the legislative process on the ordination of women to the episcopate in good faith. Our aim, in accepting membership of the Revision Committee, was to work on the legislation sent to that Committee by the General Synod,  in partnership with the other committee members, so that (in a notable phrase of the Bishop of Norwich in the July 2008 debate) we might return legislation to the full Synod which offered a sense of joy to every member of the Church of England: joy for those who earnestly desire the admission of women to the episcopate; joy for those who, for reasons of conscience and theological conviction, are unable to assent to that proposed development.

            We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of the Committee's work. Not only has there been no progress towards the desired outcome we have described above, but the provision for 'complementary bishops' – successors to the present-day Provincial Episcopal Visitors, popularly known as 'Flying Bishops' – has been swept away. The draft Measure as it now stands offers nothing but the prospect of local arrangements whereby a parish may ask – at the discretion of the Diocesan Synod – for the ministry, in certain very circumscribed areas, of a male bishop or priest rather than a female one. This discrimination on grounds of gender alone is precisely the opposite of what members of the Catholic Group have long argued for. It means that, for example, the ministry of a female priest can be avoided or declined; but that no reservations can be held about the ministry of a male priest who has been ordained by a female bishop. This clearly drives a coach and horses through any continuing sense that two views can be held with integrity in the Church of England about the sacramental ministry of women priests and bishops.

            The draft legislation is deeply flawed in other respects; for example it removes the rights of lay people – hitherto enshrined in Resolution 'A' of the 1993 Measure – to require that all priestly ministry in a parish should be carried out by male priests. This is detail. Fundamentally, the draft legislation would render it virtually impossible for anyone to live the Christian life within the Church of England, who had conscientious objections about the ordination of women. Why does this matter? Not only because the ordination of women continues to be a contested development in the life of the universal Church, but also because Anglicans in general – and the Church of England in particular – have always insisted that no-one is to be penalised or marginalised for adhering to the traditional view about gender and the ordained ministry. Those who hold this view are not dissenters or reactionaries but – as the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops has agreed – are loyal members of their church and deserve an honoured place in it.

            While the situation has no doubt been in some ways a messy one, the Church of England has lived with a diversity of views on this issue since 1994. 'Traditionalists' have remained committed to the life of the national Church and have contributed – as they wish to continue to do – to its mission to all the people of England. But this legislation would cut off their life blood, and force them out from that same Church of England, to its great detriment. A narrower and more exclusive church would be the result.

            We hope and pray that the House of Bishops, and the General Synod, will pause and think again. There must be a better way ahead, which will be good news for all in the Church of England.

Reform, representing many conversative evangelicals, have also issued a press release:

The Revision Committee’s report on Women in the Episcopate published on 8th May “provides no adequate framework for recognition of our future ministry in the Church of England and so could lead to a serious squeezing of the pipeline for future ordinands” said Revd Rod Thomas, Reform chairman today.

He continued: “It is very disappointing that the Committee, despite a lengthy discussion of the implications of these decisions, has voted to give no adequate statutory provision to those who cannot accept the oversight of a female bishop on Scriptural grounds.

“We very much hope that amendments will be made at July’s General Synod so that we are able to vote on a piece of legislation that seeks to include rather than exclude our ministries now and in the future.”

As evidence of the strength of feeling concerning this innovation, 100 Reform clergy have signed a letter sent to every bishop in advance of the House of Bishops’ meeting next week. This follows a similar letter signed by 50 of the clergy sent in February, and sets out why “the consecration of women bishops would be a mistake and would raise for us great difficulties of conscience and practice, as well as being wrong for our Church as a whole.”

A major practical consequence highlighted by the letter is the pipeline of future ordinands. The 100 churches represented by the letter have sent 286 men into ministry in the Church of England over the last 10 years, of whom 120 were under the age of 30. But these numbers would be seriously squeezed in the future, with Reform clergy encouraging young men to undertake training for ministries outside the Church of England’s formal structures, although within an Anglican tradition.

To read the letter sent to all the bishops, link here

And so we arrive one step closer to the point where traditionalists, from both the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical wings, find themselves squeezed out of the church for not moving one iota in their position. My question now is, given the seeming inevitability of the matter, what will be done? +Broadbent, despite his support for the consecration of women, seems keen that proper provision is made for dissenters. But how far will he and others go to ensure that it is protected and signal this intent?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Comment - but please pay careful attention to the house rules