Keeping faith

with the synodical process

Simon Killwick, Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod, summarizes the reasons why we need to see the General Synodís legislative process through

Our vocation as Catholic Anglicans has always been about witnessing to the Catholic nature of the Church of England, rooted in the faith and order of the undivided Church. Our vocation is about witnessing to the Catholic Faith both to England, and to the Church of England. We witness to the wider Catholic unity of the Church, which must include both Roman Catholic and Orthodox. As part of that witness, we and our forebears have keenly supported the ARCIC dialogue, with its goal of the visible reunion of Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.

We have never been about simply becoming Roman Catholics; we have been about being Anglican and Catholic, looking for the reunion of the Churches. If we were simply about becoming Roman Catholic, we could and should have left the CofE long ago.

Our vocation is bigger and more complex; nothing has changed yet to prevent us from exercising this vocation with integrity. Were the Church of England herself to deny her own Catholicity and heritage by consecrating women bishops without provision at least for a line of bishops who hold to the faith and order of the undivided Church, then our vocation would become impossible to fulfil.

 

Still in play

Nothing has changed yet. The CofE is governed by the General Synod, under the constraints of the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. According to that Measure, the only way the CofE can make a definitive statement about where it stands in relation to worship and doctrine, is by giving Final Approval to either legislation or liturgy. Any resolution of the Synod prior to that is simply an expression of the opinion of the Synod at the time of the resolution being passed.

The vote to the effect that there were no theological objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood was just such an expression of opinion. Only when Final Approval was given to the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure was the matter definitely settled (and then, of course, it was settled with specific provisions for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests).

When the Synod voted in July 2008 asking for a legislative process to begin for women bishops, with code of practice for those opposed, this was another expression of the Synodís opinion at that particular time. In February this year, it seemed that the mood had changed, as the beginning of the legislative process was formally approved, with anunprecedented number of Synod members voting against even beginning the process. We now know that the Revision Committee will bring forward draft legislation along the lines of a code of practice.

 

The mind of the Synod

However, the Revision Committee is not representative of the Synod as a whole: about half of it is made up of the Steering Committee (all of whose members must support the draft legislation) and the other half incorporates a range of views; the Revision Committee as a whole therefore has a strong inbuilt majority in favour of the draft legislation, with a code of practice.

The draft legislation will come back next year for Revision in full Synod, when the balance of voting could be different from July 2008 (remember that even on that awful occasion, 50% of the Synod voted for statutory transfer to be considered; the feel of the Synod in February 2009 was markedly more sympathetic).

Only after that Revision Stage will the final shape of the legislation be known.

It will not be until 2012 (at the earliest) that the draft legislation comes back for Final Approval (after making a tour around all the diocesan synods). A two-thirds majority for the legislation will then be needed in all three Houses; the flimsier the provision for opponents, the higher the chances that it will not get the necessary majorities (the size of the vote against in the House of Laity increases each time the question is put; 38% voted against in July 2008).

 

Not over yet

Were the legislation to fall at Final Approval, the Southwark Diocesan Synod Motion calling for the Act of Synod to be rescinded would then come to be debated. If we are seen to have behaved honourably and with integrity throughout the process, we may even be able to see off the Southwark motion.

We are therefore engaged in a long process with an uncertain outcome; our engagement in it may well be a way of the cross, but that is a noble and very proper Christian vocation. Ultimately, this is about the nature of the Church of England. Is she to maintain her Catholic heritage, or is she to deny it?

We as members of the Church of England are fully entitled to participate in the decision-making process; indeed it is our duty to do so, a proper fulfilment of our vocation as Catholic Anglicans. ND