Practical objections

John Shepley sums up the practical failures of a Code of Practice which will create far more problems than it could possibly solve

 

A single clause Measure with a Code of Practice has long been the aim of Watch, Gras and all those who have found the Act of Synod restrictive and offensive. It is, at first sight, a neat solution to a pressing problem. But simple solutions, in such circumstances, are not necessarily the most workable. One cannot legislate opposition out of existence.

To replace the 1993 Measure and the Act of Synod with a non-statutory Code of Practice would be to replace legislative and quasi-legislative provision with a Code which relied entirely on the good will of those administering it. A Code depends on good will; but it cannot create it where it does not exist.

Firstly, it would reflect badly on a Church which had given solemn assurances upon which serious decisions had been taken about future allegiances, careers and vocations.

Men have been ordained to the priesthood on those assurances, others have given a dozen years of faithful service on the strength of them.

They (and others) will surely ask whether, having been betrayed by the Church they serve on this matter, they can trust it on any other. The deficit of trust would undermine the very fabric of the Church's life, and last for decades.

Secondly, the end of trust would begin a period of instability, perhaps even open warfare, between factions which would inevitably extend to other bones of contention.

Making a particular viewpoint illegal does not make it disappear: it may instead only encourage it as a cry of rebellion. So much of the life of the Church of England depends upon a spirit of mutuality and co-operation: this would simply disappear.

Thirdly, there is the considerable financial cost. Sooner or later clergy, whose position had been rendered untenable by the removal of legal provision, would seek redress in the courts. Constructive dismissal and judicial review would prove expensive and protracted.

The church has so far proposed no financial provision for those who would be forced out, no doubt because it could not afford to do so a second time. But can it afford the legal costs which would almost certainly accrue? The assurances made in the name of the Church of England by those with the authority to do so back in the Nineties would be eminently bankable in a court of law.

Legal costs apart, however, there would still be a cost in terms of the Church's evangelism and mission. One of the arguments for women priests and bishops has always been a missiological argument: that we must do these things so that the Church will be credible to the world in which it ministers. But a Church that was at war with itself about its own orders would be unlikely to exhibit that credibility.

A divided Church would be speaking to a divided world; for inadequate provision in the eyes of opponents, you can be sure, will not end the battle but exacerbate it.

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