WHILE it might be “difficult for anyone to claim outright victory”, the way forward to women bishops mapped out by the House of Bishops, looked like “outright defeat”, the chairman of Reform, the conservative Evangelical network, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said on Tuesday.
“We had asked for a clear legislative basis for us to be able to flourish in the Church, and that has been denied us,” said Prebendary Thomas. “We had asked for greater security and assurance about our futures, but we are being given much less than we currently have. We had asked for a way round the knotty problem of bishops’ delegating authority, and instead we are now going to be required to make an oath of canonical obedience of the sort that, if you believe in male headship, for many will be impossible.”
Prebendary Thomas said that he recognised “some benefits” in the option set out by the House of Bishops, including “recognition of the need a for national system and a proper means for adjudicating disputes”. But he argued that “by starting the ball rolling with option one [of the four put forward by the working group] it is going to be very difficult indeed to build in the caveats that might be needed to enable us to take a vow of canonical obedience, and difficult to create a legislative basis for greater assurance. So we think the outlook under these proposals is really rather bleak.”
He suggested that repealing the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure would leave PCCs “vulnerable under the Equality Act to accusations of discrimination”. He also expressed concern that provisions that were not based in law for those who could not accept women bishops could be “changed during any meeting of General Synod in the future by a majority vote”.
When asked about the Bishops‘ appeal to trust, Prebendary Thomas said: “I very much warm to that sentiment, but for it to convey a real sense of assurance, it needs to be based on some minimal legislative entitlement; otherwise, however much we believe the House of Bishops in its current intentions, in ten years’ time, with a different House of Bishops, there will be nothing to stop those current intentions being changed.”
He said that Reform was “nonplussed, really, as to why we seem to be going down the same route that came to such a sticky end last November. We don’t seem to be making progress, and that is a very worrying situation to be in.”
Proper Provision, a group of conservative Evangelical women who cannot accept women bishops, issued a statement describing the proposal set out by the House of Bishops as “a disaster . . . but we must pray that people recognise the clarity of the decision the Church is making – we may be saying ‘yes’ to women bishops, but we are also saying ‘no’ to those who hold the dissenting view.”
On Wednesday, Martin Dales, a spokesman for the Catholic Group, said that he wished to “reflect with members of the Group and others before expressing a view”.
“We are studying the House of Bishops’ report, and will publish our reflections upon it in due course,” said the Director of Forward in Faith, Dr Colin Podmore, on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the vice-chair of WATCH, the Revd Charles Read, a member of the General Synod, welcomed the report’s “generally positive tone . . . in affirming the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England“. WATCH was “pleased to see the House of Bishops promoting a simple piece of legislation which will enable the Church of England to move forward in receiving the gift of women in the episcopate”.
The group would comment in more detail after discussing the report. He added: “Meanwhile we hope that this report will help the General Synod to see women bishops as a gift to be received from God rather than as a problem to be solved by human beings.”
The Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley, who chairs the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry, said on Tuesday: “The vision set out by the House of Bishops is unequivocal about women bishops and unequivocal about ongoing provision for those who dissent. It is now vital that we repair the deficit of trust between those of differing convictions, and move forward together.”
The Revd Jody Stowell of the Yes2WomenBishops campaign, said on Tuesday: “The House of Bishops have made a common-sense proposal and we hope Synod will make a common-sense response by accepting the Bishops’ recommendation.”
The report had “sensibly, in our opinion, stated its hope for the legislation to be as simple as possible. We are also pleased that this endorses the view that gracious provision for those who cannot accept women bishops should not take the form of discrimination against women bishops.”
She recognised that there could be problems for those who could not accept women bishops, and suggested “the only way forward is to further develop our friendships across these divides.”
The report of the working group envisages final approval of new women-bishops legislation as taking place either in July or November 2015, the latter with a freshly elected General Synod.
On Monday, Adrian Vincent, a member of the Synod for Guildford diocese, who voted against the Measure in November, suggested that the House of Bishops “must know that option one will be unacceptable to traditionalists. . . The calculation may be that legislation that failed in 2012 because of insufficient provision for traditionalists can pass in 2015, with even less provision for traditionalists, because it is hoped that the 2015 Synod elections will result in fewer traditionalists’, or their sympathisers’, being elected.”
The Church of England movement, ‘Reform’, which, paradoxically, seems to augur quite the opposite – in terms of enlightenment on the ministry of Women in the Church if England – seems disappointed with what the House of Bishops has proposed as the ‘way forward’ for the Ordination of Women as Bishops in the C.of E.
This initiative having been stymied by the uncertainties connected with the provision – or lack of it – for dissentients with the Church of England on this issue at the last General Synod; the House of Bishops has taken the trouble to ensure, this time around, that there will be no guarantee of Provisional Episcopal Oversight being provided in legislation for the minority in the Church of England who cannot accept the episcopal ministry of a woman.
This means that, for clergy at least, they will be expected to accept the ministry of the local ordinary (diocesan bishop) – whether male or female – and will be required to make their customary vow of canonical obedience to the diocesan bishop.
This provision seeks to maintain the integrity of the ministry of local diocesan bishops – both male and female – throughout the Church of England – a situation more satisfactory than that obtaining at the present time; where clergy and people who do not agree with women’s ordination can seek alternative episcopal oversight – thus avoiding the ministry of the local Ordinary, if that bishop (even a male bishop) agrees with, or in any way facilitates, the clerical ministry of women .
I pray that the House of Bishops’ intended legislation wins the necessary approval of the July General Synod meetings, leaving the way clear for Women to take their rightful place in the ministry of the Church of England – in common with other Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
As my wife, Diana, and I will be in the U.K. (during the course of a two-months sabbatical from N.Z.) at the time of the July General Synod meetings in York, I shall be watching and listening with great interest to see how the legislation progresses.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand