Despite some reservations about the sections on bishop’s declarations (§§2.4 and
2.5) and the issuing of letters of request (§3), in July 2010 Affirming Catholicism
welcomed the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women)
Measure to admit women to the episcopate as “a good and balanced means by which
the Church of England can legislate to allow women to take their full place within the
Church of England’s ministry”.
That Measure was referred to the Dioceses of the Church of England, and accepted by 42 of 44, being narrowly defeated in Chichester and London. 33 Dioceses voted explicitly against adding additional provisions for those who do not feel able to recognise the ministry of women as priests and bishops, and only nine in favour of doing so. In February 2012, General Synod voted resoundingly in favour of a motion that asked that the House of Bishops should not amend the draft Measure “substantially”. However, in May 2012 the House of Bishops agreed two amendments: to clauses 5 and 8 of the draft Measure.
Affirming Catholicism views the amendment to clause 8 as a helpful clarification of
the authority of a bishop exercising ministry by delegation, and in particular
welcomes the confirmation that “any such delegation shall not be taken as divesting
the bishop of the diocese of any of his or her authority or functions.”
The amendment to clause 5, in the form of the addition of a new section 5(1)(c) is,
in our view, more problematic. As amended, clause 5(1) reads:
5 (1) The House of Bishops shall draw up, and promulgate, guidance in a
Code of Practice as to—
(a) the making of schemes under section 2,
(b) the exercise of episcopal ministry in accordance with the arrangements
contained in such schemes,
(c) the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by
whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or
ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have
issued Letters of Request under section 3,
(d) the exercise by those involved in the making of an appointment of an
incumbent and of a priest in charge for the benefice, of their functions in that
regard where a Letter of Request is issued under section 3(3),
(e) the matters referred to in section 2(5), and
(f) such other matters as the House of Bishops considers appropriate to give
effect to this Measure.”
This inserts into the Measure a requirement that the Code of Practice include
processes for the selection of bishops to exercise delegation (which it would in any
case have done). However, it further requires that the “exercise of ministry” of
these bishops be “consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration
or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued
Letters of Request.”
This is the point at which Affirming Catholicism (and others) would argue that a substantial change has in fact been introduced into the Measure. It would appear to allow – by law – the parish a voice in determining whether or not the provision made for delegated oversight is consistent with their theological views. It makes the theological views and practice of a bishop exercising delegated power the determining factor of his acceptability. And it moves that requirement from the statutory Code of Practice (which was already a stronger provision than the Act of Synod) to the Measure itself.
Apart from the potential problems this could cause in the Church of England, the idea
that parishes should have statutory authority to demand specific provision of
oversight according to particular theological views is a dangerous precedent to be
setting, both for the Church of England and for the Anglican Communion as a whole.
A further problem, already present in the Measure as it stood, but exacerbated by
the amendment to clause 5, is the difficulty of explaining the Church of England’s
ecclesiology – and particularly our understanding of authority and oversight – to our
ecumenical partners. The clause 5 amendment raises significant questions about the
credibility of the Church of England’s insistence on the historic episcopate as one of
the bases for our ecumenical relationships, since this Measure, strengthened by the
clause 5 amendment, cedes power to congregations to determine the theological
views of the bishop who will exercise delegated authority over them in all matters
determined by the Code of Practice.
Affirming Catholicism therefore sees this amendment as a substantial, and highly
problematic, change to the Measure. It calls into question the catholic nature of the
ecclesiology of the Church of England.
Affirming Catholicism continues to believe that provision must be made for those
who cannot accept the sacramental ministry of ordained women, but this cannot be
at further cost to the ecclesiological integrity of the Church of England.
Procedure at General Synod
The amended Measure will be debated in the Convocations of Canterbury and York
and in the House of Laity on Friday 6 July. In our view it is very important that it be
referred for debate in General Synod. We therefore strongly recommend support
for the Convocation/House of Laity motions referring the amended Measure to
We would also strongly support a motion that General Synod refer the Measure
back to the House of Bishops to reconsider the amendment to clause 5, and to return
the Measure to General Synod, probably in February 2013.
Should that motion be lost, members of Synod will be faced with a dreadful choice:
– either a vote to accept the amended Measure, allowing women to be admitted to
the episcopate in the awareness that the ecclesiological (and consequently the
ecumenical) consequences for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion
are likely to be long-lasting and highly problematic;
– or a vote against the Measure, avoiding exacerbating the ecclesiological problems
already caused by the Act of Synod, but continuing to deprive the House of Bishops
and the Church of England of the leadership of a talented group of people whose
contribution would be invaluable.
We believe that by far the best course would be to ask the House of Bishops to
reconsider their amendment, not least since any later amendment of the Measure
once passed would require a two-thirds majority in each house of General Synod.
A note on process
Affirming Catholicism deplores the fact that, as is apparent from GS 1708-09ZZ, the
House of Bishops was asked to debate significant amendments to the draft Measure
at extremely short notice, giving the bishops virtually no opportunity to consult with
one another or with others.
Everyone in the Church of England knew that the original Draft Measure, that would have allowed Women Bishops similar rights to a Male Bishops to choose whom they would allow to minister on their behalf in their diocese. This still required a certain compromise by those affirming the need of Women Bishops in that Church – on account of the provision of a certain ‘Code of Practice’, wherein a female diocesan bishop would be encouraged (required?) to allow a male bishop – of the kind that has never, himself, agreed to the Ordination of women – into her diocese, to minister to those parishes which would not accept her priestly or episcopal Holy Orders.
However, seemingly to ‘protect’ the dissident congregations from any idea that the authority for episcopal ministry towards them was in any way derived from a female bishop; the House of Bishops added ‘Amendments’ to the Draft Measure, which would ensure that the incoming Male Bishop was acting under his own episcopal authority when coming into the territory of a Woman Bishop, by a process to become known as ‘Delegation’ – a weasel word which robs the Woman Bishop of any right to individually ‘empower’ or authorise the Male Bishop to act on her behalf in her diocese.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand