GRAS, trust & the question of assurances

John Richardson on the shortcomings of a new paper written on behalf of GRAS

A new paper by the Revd Rosalind Rutherford on behalf of GRAS (the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod that no promises made to opponents of women’s ordination in 1993 have been broken since then.

Unfortunately, it illustrates precisely why there is so much mistrust around this issue at present. It also illustrates an astonishing lack of self-awareness.

Rosalind Rutherford’s paper seems to take the line that if the word ‘promise’ wasn’t actually used, and if the undertakings were not made in or through the General Synod of the Church of England, they don’t count. Thus, for example, she quotes Archbishop Carey’s statement to the Ecclesiastical Committee regarding the Act of Synod that, ‘it is our intention for this to be permanent and we are not thinking of rescinding it.’ This might appear to most people to be in the nature of an assurance, if not a promise. ‘However,’ she comments dismissively, ‘this remark was not made to Synod’.

This whole approach rather overlooks the fact that legislation affecting the established Church is debated and approved by Parliament.

Thus in a debate which took place on the eve of the meeting which actually passed the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, Lady Saulton of Abernathy stated in the House of Lords, ‘I myself asked the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whether it was envisaged that the Act of Synod would operate in perpetuity or whether it would be in the nature of a temporary measure which would cease to operate at some future date. He replied that it was the intention that it should be permanent and that they were not thinking of rescinding it or anything like that. Then he added the caveat, ‘with the goodwill of the House of Bishops’. He went on to say that of course anything could happen in the future.’

As we now know, the Archbishop’s ‘anything’ is precisely what happened. Moreover, it is clear from Rosalind Rutherford’s paper that this ‘anything’ will reduce, rather than increase, the present provision. At the end, she quotes an unnamed member of General Synod as stating ‘recently’ that in 1993 ‘we were too accommodating’. Clearly that is a mistake which is not about to be repeated.

What takes the proverbial biscuit, however, is the assertion in the paper that, ‘if the current proposals are agreed, the very provisions which the House of Bishops was trying to put into place in will become part of legislation’. Or again, ‘what was promised for ‘as long as is needed’ was episcopal oversight clearly exercised in full cooperation with the Diocesan who would retain jurisdiction, not a totally separate oversight defined by being uncorrupted by having ordained women. It could be argued that the current legislation is making good that commitment...’ (emphasis added).

The argument throughout Rutherford’s paper is that the problem since 1993 has been not that the Act of Synod was necessarily bad, but that the PEVs operated in a way that exceeded what was intended. However, I may be missing something here, but is not this being said by someone on behalf of the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod? And does not the word ‘rescind’ mean to revoke, cancel or repeal, as it says in my dictionary? And is there not some contradiction between ‘making good’ a ‘commitment’ and working for a number of years to ‘revoke, cancel or repeal’ the very administrative provision that expresses that commitment?

Forgive me, but given the express intention of GRAS not to make the same mistake of being ‘too accommodating’ this time round, it is hard not to question the self-awareness, indeed the integrity, behind such a statement. ND

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