Forward Plus Summer 2002


by Robbie Low

It is becoming a commonplace for proponents of women priests and church commentators to claim that ' more than 80 per cent of the Church is in favour of women bishops'. This ' fact' comes from a couple of surveys which failed to provide any information about their sample basis. We could, for example, run a similar exercise in Forward Plus and miraculously discover 95 per cent against women bishops! So what?

Cost of Conscience decided it was time for some accurate information on this and many other issues. CoC commissioned leading church statisticians, Christian Research, to run a survey using the full spectrum of churchman ship, large/ small parish, urban/suburban/rural, male/female, clergy/lay etc etc according to their proportion in the Church of England.

The response was astonishing. Of the nearly 4000 clergy polled, 46 % replied. The laity return was an amazing 76 %.

Only 51 % of clergy were in favour of women bishops. 25 % were adamantly opposed and 24 % would tolerate them in somebody else's province i.e. not in my backyard!

The laity showed a 63 % approval. As most clergy have avoided the issue rather than open old wounds and no one in authority has spoken against women priests in a decade, the laity can be forgiven for assuming more readily that nothing is wrong.

However both sets of figures show that, either the 80 % plus claim was never true or there has been a big swing back to orthodoxy.

It is worth saying that these figures are very much a worst-case scenario because the survey revealed another very interesting fact. Affirming Catholics were represented at more than double their real membership proportionally in the returns, thereby skewing the figures towards a feminist outcome. Adjusting these figures to a proportionate representation of Af/Caths would destroy the minute clerical majority and leave the laity split down the middle.

How did this come about? Another question revealed the answer. Over the last few years 26 % of those appointed to Resolution 'A' parishes (no women priests) were pro women bishops! In Resolution 'B' parishes (no woman incumbent) 40 % of those appointed were pro women bishops ! We have all heard of parishes being told that their new episcopally preferred incumbent ' does not share the views of the parish but will respect them'. These figures tell us just how much jiggery pokery has been going on.