The Next Steps

Simon Killwick, leader of the Catholic Group in Synod, looks to the future

Every diocesan synod is being asked to vote as to whether or not they approve the draft Measure for women bishops, and to report their votes to the General Synod office by 14 November 2011. Diocesan synods may choose to consult other bodies, if they wish; many dioceses will ask deanery synods to discuss the draft Measure, and to record their views on it.

Pressing the point

Wherever this draft Measure is debated, we need to be ready to make our case. Some dioceses may ask PCCs to discuss the Measure too; it would help a parish’s representatives on the deanery synod to know the mind of their PCC. We need to be prepared to make our case wherever and whenever this draft Measure is debated. We need to explain (1) why we believe bishops should be men, and (2) why this draft Measure does not provide for those who cannot accept the episcopal oversight of a woman bishop. The reasons why we believe bishops should be men have been well-rehearsed in New Directions over the years; I hope they will be rehearsed again in other articles this year.

Broken promises

The principal reason why the provision for us in this draft Measure is wholly inadequate for our needs is because the male bishops provided for us would be acting as delegates of the diocesan bishop, who may be a woman. Male priests provided for us would also be acting under the authority of the diocesan bishop, and may have been ordained by a female bishop. The draft Measure does not even allow a parish to decline the sacramental ministry of woman priests (Resolution A would be abolished and not replaced). The proposed abolition of Resolutions A and B, and the Act of Synod, would be an abandonment of the solemn promises given in 1993 to both Church and Parliament, that the arrangements would remain in force for as long as they were needed. The Measure would also rely on a Code of Practice, but a draft Code will not be available before diocesan synods vote on the Measure; the actual Code cannot be made until the Measure becomes law (approving the Measure would therefore be like signing a blank cheque).

The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the General Synod last July that it was clear that a majorityofthe Synod in the debates on women bishops wanted to see the ‘maximum generosity that can be consistently and coherently exercised towards the consciences of minorities - and we have not yet cracked how to that.’ The Archbishop suggested that diocesan synods could consider passing following motions, after they had considered the main motion referred to them.

Evangelical initiative

The Church of England Evangelical Council have helpfully come up with a following motion which we could all support:

That this Synod:

  1. desires that all faithful Anglicans remain and thrive together in the Church of England; and therefore
  2. calls upon the House of Bishops to bring forward amendments to the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure to ensure that those unable on theological grounds to accept the ministry of women bishops are able to receive episcopal oversight from a bishop with authority (i.e. ordinary jurisdiction) conferred by the Measure rather than delegated from a Diocesan Bishop.

The motion addresses exactly the key point of our concern, that bishops provided for us must have authority or jurisdiction in their own right, not delegated to them from a diocesan bishop, who may be a woman. What the motion does not give is the detail of how the Measure should be amended, so as not to tie the Bishops’ hand to any one formula. My hunch would be that the formula may include the power to recognise an appropriate voluntary society, and the conferring of jurisdiction, at least in sacramental and doctrinal matters, on one or more bishops of the society. Resolutions A and B should also remain in force, to honour the promises of 1993.

The results of voting on the main motion and any following motion that may be put will be reported back to the General Synod. The draft Measure can be amended by the House of Bishops, and indeed can only be returned to the Synod for Final Approval in the form determined by the House of Bishops. At Final Approval, the draft Measure will need a two-thirds majority in each House of the Synod: Bishops, Clergy and Laity.

At the final hurdle

All the evidence so far is that unless the Measure is amended by the House of Bishops so as to meet our needs, it will not achieve the required majorities. The House of Laity in the last two years of the previous Synod consistently failed to vote for women bishops by a two-thirds majority. During last autumn’s elections to the Synod, the Catholic Group improved its position, while conservative Evangelicals substantially improved theirs, so much so that the House of Clergy may not now be able to muster a two-thirds majority either. The recent overwhelming endorsement by the Synod of the Anglican Covenant is evidence that this is a different Synod from last July.

We must remain engaged very positively with the process in deanery and diocesan synods, doing everything we can to encourage the House of Bishops to amend the Measure. Throughout the process up until now, we have been engaged in a positive and manner, both in the Synod and in the Revision Committee. If this Measure is not amended, and fails at Final Approval, it will not be for the lack of trying on our part to enable the Church of England to resolve this issue and move forward - so that, to use Fr. Sam Philpott’s immortal phrase, we can all move ‘off the battlefield onto the mission field.’ ND

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