MPs vie to have woman bishop in their constituency

Madeleine Davies by Madeleine Davies – Church Times – Posted: 24 Oct 2014 @ 12:37

Reflection: Holy Trinity, Hull​

MEMBERS of Parliament competed to have the first woman bishop appointed in their constituency, as the House of Commons passed the Bishop and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure on Monday.

The debate marked the end of the Measure’s parliamentary journey. It is now set to receive Royal Assent before being promulged at the General Synod in November.

The MP for Kingston upon Hull North, Diana Johnson, put in “an early bid”, describing the bishopric as “an ideal starting-place for the first woman bishop in the House of Lords”. The MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, then suggested that the Church should not miss the “fantastic opportunity” to appoint a woman in his constituency.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said that there was “some competition from around the country”, and he referred to the imminent vacancy in the see of Oxford.

MPs who spoke on Monday welcomed the Measure. Frank Field suggested that being able to choose from both sexes would “strengthen our [the C of E's] hand”. In 2012, he suggested that the talent among bishops was “at such a low ebb” that the CNC had had to appoint an Archbishop of Canterbury “who had hardly got his bishop’s cassock on”.

Traditionalists were represented by Robert Neill, who spoke of the “generous” approach of Anglo-Catholics, and the desire to avoid undermining dialogue with “our Catholic and Orthodox brethren”. The Church was committed to providing a place for traditionalists, Sir Tony said, “without a limited time”. Ms Johnson later asked whether such a limit might be considered.

Helen Goodman emphasised that “it is not for Parliament, or politicians, or even the Government, to lay down the theological grounding”; but Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, argued that “We . . . should have forced this change through far earlier.” He asked “all bishops, whether flying bishops or not, to ask every parish that went for Resolution A and B to reconsider”.

Ben Bradshaw suggested that the response of Parliament to the “terrible vote” at the General Synod in November 2012 had “really made a difference”.

Sir Tony reiterated the commitment to introducing a Bill to fast-track women bishops into the Lords, and hoped that it could take place in this parliamentary session.


AFTER promulgation of the new canon at the General Synod on 17 November, each vacancy for a a diocesan or suffragan bishop will be open to women.

A Church House spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that this would include diocesan appoint­ments in Southwell & Notting­ham, Gloucester, Ox­­ford, and Newcastle.

Six suffragan sees are vacant, but, as the diocesan bishop takes the lead on the appointments processes, it is not clear how many of these will still await an appointment after 17 November.

A spokesman for the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, John Howard, said that a woman could be considered for the see of Dunwich.

The dioceses of Chester and St Albans declined to comment.


This report for the U.K.-based ‘Church Times, by correspondent Madelaine Davies, was written before the Queen confirmed the Measure for the Ordination of Women Bishops in the Church of England by the Royal Assent. The Measure will no be officially promulged at the next session of the general Synod on November 17th, 2014.

The measure of support for Women bishops can be assessed by the enthusiasm of those dioceses that have expressed a desire to welcome a Woman Bishop into their territory. It will be interesting to see who will be the first Woman priest to become a bishop in the Church of England, and how long it will take for Women Bishops to be seated in the House of Lords along with their male colleagues.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Andrew Sullivan’s views on Pope Francis


Untier Of Knots

By Andrew SullivanDec 17, 2013

What Is The Meaning Of Pope Francis?

You don’t have to be a believer to recognize a moment of grace. By grace I mean those precious, rare times when exactly what you were expecting gives way to something utterly different, when patterns of thought and behavior we have grown accustomed to and at times despaired of, suddenly cede to something new and marvelous. It may be the moment when a warrior unexpectedly lays down his weapon, when the sternest disciplinarian breaks into a smile, when an ideologue admits error, when a criminal seeks forgiveness, or when an addict hits bottom and finally sees a future. Grace is the proof that hope is not groundless.


How to describe the debut of Pope Francis and not immediately think of grace? For much of this new century, Christianity seemed to be in close to terminal crisis. Among the fastest-growing groups in society were the nones – those indifferent to religion entirely. Especially among the young, Christians became increasingly identified with harsh judgments, acrid fundamentalism, the smug bromides of the Prosperity Gospel or, more trivially, neurotic cultural obsessions like the alleged “war on Christmas.” Evangelical leaders often came and went in scandal, or intolerance or both. Obsessed with issues of sexual morality, mainstream evangelicalism and the Catholic hierarchy in America entered into an alliance with one major political party, the GOP, further weakening Christianity’s role in transcending politics, let alone partisanship. Christian leaders seemed too often intent on denial of what intelligent people of good will saw simply as reality – of evolution, of science, of human diversity, of the actual lives of modern Christians themselves. Christian defensiveness was everywhere, as atheism grew in numbers and confidence and zeal.

To make matters far, far worse, the Catholic hierarchy was exposed these past two decades as, in part, a criminal conspiracy to rape the most innocent and vulnerable and to protect their predators. There is almost nothing as evil as the rape of a child – and yet the institution allegedly representing the love of God on earth perpetrated it, covered it up, and escaped full accountability for it on a scale that is still hard to fathom. You cannot overstate the brutal toll this rightly took on Catholicism’s moral authority. Even once-reflexively Catholic countries – like Ireland and Belgium – collapsed into secularism almost overnight, as ordinary Catholics couldn’t begin to comprehend how the successors to Peter could have perpetrated and enabled such evil. And meanwhile, the great argument of the modern, post-1968 papacy – against non-procreative and non-marital sex for straights and against all sex for gays – ended in intellectual and practical defeat in almost the entire West, including among most Catholics themselves. American Catholics have long been one of the most supportive religious demographics for marriage equality. And when a debate about contraception and healthcare reform emerged in the U.S. early last year, the Catholic bishops chose to launch a defining crusade against something that countless Catholic women had used at some point in their lives.

And in all this, the papacy was increasingly absent from public debate, focused on building a smaller, purer church in seclusion from what Benedict XVI saw as the moral relativism of modernity. His vision of the church was securing its ramparts to wait out a new, long age of barbarism (as Saint Benedict had done many centuries before as the Roman Empire crumbled), pulling up the drawbridge in rituals, customs and doctrines that became almost ends in themselves. This is what some have referred to as the “Benedict Option” for the church – a term inspired by a powerful jeremiad by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre,After Virtue, in which he despaired of “the new dark ages already upon us.” What we needed, MacIntyre thought, was another Saint Benedict, the man who gave rise to the church’s monastic system – in other words, the kind of small, pure, separate communities that helped Christianity survive after the decline of the Roman Empire. Gone was the sublime, striding confidence of the charismatic anti-Communist Pope John Paul II in the first years of his papacy; what remained was what his gregarious, powerful personality had for a while obscured – a pinched, arch-conservative Catholicism, more attuned to early twentieth century Poland or Bavaria than to the multicultural 21st Century generations of an increasingly global world. Three decades after his charismatic appearance on the world stage, we can now clearly see that John Paul II and his successor bequeathed a much stronger papacy in a much weaker church.

And then, out of the blue, two remarkable things: the first modern papal resignation, and the whisper of a name emerging from the Sistine Chapel as the conclave of cardinals decided on a successor. The name had always been a sacred one in the long history of Christianity; it was a name no Pope had ever dared to claim before; a name that resonated through the centuries with the possibility of starting from scratch, from the street and the gutter, from the leper colonies and the wildernesses.

That name was Francis.


In the light of the recent mid-term report and final summation of the recent Interim Synod of Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops at the Vatican, this prior assessment of the character of the most recent successor of the papal throne, Pope Francis, would seem to pretty astutely sum up the intrinsic nature of the Third World ‘Prince of the Church’ suddenly thrown into the world’s spotlight as the current Roman Catholic Leader.

With hindsight – from this summary by Andrew Sullivan – one can begin to discern the concern that might be felt by the conservatives of the Curia for what they perceive to be the unprecedented popularity of Pope Francis to the ordinary catholics whose lives are largely unaffected by strict observance of dogmatic pronunciations from the Vatican.

With the Pope’s disdain for the more fussy details of Vatican diplomacy – relinquishing his right to the traditional honorifics that go with the office, such as use of the papal apartment and other perquisites that his predecessor favoured during his sojourn at the Vatican – there has been a hint of unease on the part of Vatican officials, whose life-style generally has been attuned to the benefits of being part of the medieval court ethos that formerly, under previous Popes, was considered right and proper at Headquarters.

In line with his choice of the Franciscan title, in reference to the Little Poor Man of Assisi, Pope Francis has been careful to avoid any accusation of living a luxurious life-style – preferring, rather, to live in the Vatican guesthouse and to drive a more modest vehicle than the pope-mobile made famous by his two predecessors.

In keeping with all of this, Pope Francis has proved himself to be a ‘man of the people’, preferring to spend time with the poor of the Church rather than being preoccupied with the high and the mighty. It is probably this particular characteristic – in the spirit of his chosen paradigm, Saint Francis of Assisi, that Pope Francis seeks to ensure a new openness to people on the margins of the Church – a mission he sees as paramount.

Time alone will tell how far he will be allowed, by Vatican protocols and curial approval, to open up the Church to new initiatives that will broaden the Church’s appeal to the young people whose lives will be profoundly affected by the Church’s openness to their real needs in today’s world. May God richly bless his ministry in and to the world! And may his openness to sinners become a role model for Christians of all denominations.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Report from Conference on ‘The Theology of Marriage’

 to have and to hold flyer

A conference on the theology of marriage in the light of equal marriage was hosted by the LGBT Anglican Coalition in September 2014 at St John’s Waterloo.

Recognising current unease in the Church of England over same-sex marriage, the conference explored whether there is a theological basis for expanding the definition of marriage. If so, what might a theology of equal marriage include?

Resources from the conference can be downloaded here. Resources will be added as soon as they become available.

Professor Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter:
Adrian’s website has material from the conference – click here
In favour of equal marriage – PDF

Conference Address (follow instructions to download and play in a media player)

Rev Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow – Conference Address
(Follow instructions to download and play in a media player)

Marriage in history and tradition PDF

Tina Beardsley & Susan Gilchrist
Workshop: Love’s constancy & legal niceties: transgendered perspectives on marriage PDF

Simon J. Taylor
An invitation to the feast:A positive Biblical approach to equal marriage PDF

Colin Coward

Liturgies for same sex blessings and marriages PDF

Dan Barnes Davies

Digest of Thatcher and Methuen talks PDF


For anyone critical of the movement towards acceptance – or not – by the Church of Same-Sex Marriage, these items, from the web-site of the LGBT Anglican Coalition in the U.K., are well-worth the time and effort taken to examine them in detail.

Especially rewarding are the talks given at various times by Professor Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter, whose theological interest in the history and aetiology of marriage has produced some outstanding results – in terms of the different cultural settings, circumstances, and understandings within which the institution of marriage has been undertaken.   

When critics of Same-Sex Marriage say that there has been little or no theological examination of the grounds for such a measure, these studies may well prove otherwise.

I suggest that these same critics might learn something useful from these articles on the LGBT web-site – whether or not they are prepared to think outside of the institutional square on such important issues.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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House of Commons agrees to Women as Bishops in the C. of E.

Commons debate women in the episcopate

The final parliamentary consideration of the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure took place on the late afternoon of 20 October, when the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, (Banbury, Con), proposed the motion

“That the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (HC 621), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which it was laid before Parliament,”[HC Hansard, 20 Oct 2014 Vol 586(45) Col 706].

The motion was passed after a short debate, below, and following Royal Assent, the other remaining legal components will be considered at General Synod 17-18 November

Earlier parliamentary consideration

On 22 July, the Ecclesiastical Committee unanimously supported Sir Tony’s motion that the Measure “be regarded as expedient”, and on 13 October the House of Lords agreed the Motion to Direct, moved by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

“That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent”.

The proceedings of the Ecclesiastical Committee, including the oral and written evidence presented are contained in its 233rd Report.  The House of Lords debate is reported inHansard, [14 Oct 2014, Vol 756(38) Col 165] and a summary of the debate is availablehere.

House of Commons Debate

The tenor of the Commons debate was captured by Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) who said:

“Anybody looking in on this debate from outside would be rather surprised at how low key and sober it has been, given the momentousness of what we are debating and hopefully approving,” [Col 175]

There were few new insights into the implementation of the Measure: in addition to the many well-deserved acknowledgements to the contributions of Justin Welby and Sir Tony Baldry, there were a couple of “please Sir, can we have a woman bishop” bids, [Hull and Gloucester], whilst other Members of the House were keen to air their knowledge of church history and the classics.

The main scrutiny of the Measure was provided by Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab). After noting:

“Clause 2 makes it clear that bishops are not public office holders under the Equality Act 2010. It is a necessary provision, enabling the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman, “[Col 710],

she asked:

“First, will parochial church councils be obliged to inform all members of the Church who are on the electoral roll in a parish that discussions are about to take place regarding resolutions to restrict the ministry of women, so that hole-in-corner decisions are not made?

Secondly, can a parish request oversight from a non-discriminating bishop? The rules allow parishes to request a discriminating bishop. Can they also request a non-discriminating bishop, and can such parishes apply to the new independent reviewer?

Thirdly, will the new conservative evangelical headship bishop minister beyond the parishes that specifically request his ministry?

Fourthly, will the Second Church Estates Commissioner confirm that clause 2 will not validate any further discriminatory practices?

There is a fifth, and very important, question, which relates not to the Church but to the Government. . . . As the Second Church Estates Commissioner said, bishops are currently appointed to the other place on the basis of seniority. I understand that to change that we shall need primary legislation, because otherwise the advent of women in the other place will come about at some far distant time, and none of us wants that. . .  The Clerks inform me that only eight Bills are before Parliament at the moment, whereas in a year we normally have 22 Bills going through the House, so there seems to be lots of time available,” [Col 711]

On this last important question, Sir Tony responded:

“ . . . The situation is more that the Government are in the process of finding this time. . . . This is much more about when, not if, the Government find time within the legislation programme. That is very much the impression I have got from my discussions with the Leader of the House and his equivalent in the other place”, [Col 711],

and in relation to the nature of this legislation:

“The Bill to enable women to become Lords Spiritual will be introduced in due course and will be very short. We could probably have taken it through in the time that was available this evening. It will be a two-clause Bill. I will continue to do my best, through the usual channels, to ensure that we find time for it”, [Col 723].

Following up his assertion that Clause 2 was “unfortunate that, at a time when we are advancing equality, we have to amend the Equality Act to carve out a chunk of the Church of England”, Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) pointedly noted:

“the battle for decency and the rights of all within the Church is a seamless garment—it does not distinguish between the rights of gay men and those of women in the Church,” [Col 721].

Concluding the debate, Sir Tony addressed the questions that had been raised by Helen Goodman and others:

“A certain amount has been said about clause 2. . . . This evening, the House is considering a Measure to enable there to be women bishops. Within the context of providing for women bishops, the purpose of clause 2 is to enable the House of Bishops’ declaration and the five guiding principles to work without the risk of litigation. There will be occasions when bishops—men as well as women—have to ask another bishop to exercise some of their functions in relation to a particular parish. However, if episcopal posts were public offices, as defined in the Equality Act 2010, appointing to them in the expectation that the person concerned would observe that self-denying ordinance would constitute discrimination in the terms in which the appointment was offered. We do not believe that episcopal offices currently fall within the definition of a public office. Interestingly, it came out in the House of Lords debate last week that membership of the House of Lords does not fall within the definition of a public office in the Equality Act either. However, it is unclear what view the courts would take if the matter were ever tested. Clause 2 therefore puts the matter beyond doubt.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked whether parochial church councils will be required to consult their congregations and wider parishes before they pass a resolution. The answer is absolutely yes. The arrangements by which PCCs will pass resolutions is set out in paragraphs 16 to 22 of the House of Bishops’ declaration. The importance of the decision is respected by the fact that at least four weeks’ notice has to be given of the time and place of the meeting, and of the motion to be considered. In addition, the motion will pass only if it achieves an absolute majority of all members of the PCC or a majority of those present at a meeting of at least two thirds of the members of the PCC who are entitled to attend.

On non-discriminating bishops, we must all recognise that in future every diocese will have a bishop who ordains women and who will be a champion for their ministry. There should be no part of England where it is not possible to have a bishop who ordains women. A headship evangelical bishop will be a bishop in the Church of England and a bishop in the Church of God, not just a bishop in a particular constituency, so he will be a bishop for the whole diocese, [Col 722, 723]

Associated with this last point, Sir Peter Bottomley said

“One question that has not been raised this evening, but was raised in the House of Lords, where the Archbishop of Canterbury’s answer was delphic, is whether the archbishops will consecrate other bishops when they are physically able to do so or whether they will opt out”,

to which Sir Tony Baldry countered:

“The Archbishop’s answer was very clear; it was not delphic at all. I commend Lords Hansard to colleagues. He set out the circumstances very clearly. He made it clear that, in the normal course of events, archbishops will consecrate all bishops, but that there will be circumstances when an archbishop is ill or overseas. His point was that there is no great issue about that, and none intended,” [Col 724].

Hansard records the archbishop as saying:

“The present archbishops—I have discussed this at great length with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York—cannot bind their successors, and we are very careful about that, but the five guiding principles of the House of Bishops provide a framework which should make it possible for arrangements to develop which are generally accepted and part of the way in which the Church of England continues to manage diversity, “

[HL Hansard, 14 Oct 2014, Vol 756(38) Col 186].

Next Steps

The focus now shifts to the November General Synod, where the remaining legislative provisions will be addressed, viz.

  • Amending Canon No 33: Of the consecration of bishops &c: Following the grand of Royal Assent and Licence, the Amending Canon will be promulged at General Synod in London, 17 to 19 November
  • Act of Synod Rescinding the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993: No further approval is required and it will be brought into effect by the Archbishops in their respective Provinces once the Amending Canon 33 is promulged and executed.
  • House of Bishops’ Declaration: No further approval required and no subsequent changes will be made.
  • Regulations pursuant to House of Bishops’ Declaration: The House of Bishops will make Regulations prescribing a procedure for the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements, as included in the Declaration. General Synod is required to approve Regulations by two thirds majority at its November meeting, after the Amending Canon 33 is promulged.

The promised legislation to fast-track of women bishops to the House of Lords cannot be introduced until most of the above provisions have been approved. The issues that this raises will be considered in another post.


Not surprisingly, the House of Commons, in common with the House of Lords, has agreed to the Measure passed by the Church of England General Synod, with the intention of ordaining Women as Bishops in the Church of England. All that now is required is the official sanction of H.M. the Queen.

However, the suggestion made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the legislation be ‘fast-tracked’ to enable Women Bishops into the House of Lords, will have to wait until the amending Canon 33 has been promulged at the next Meeting of the General Synod in November, 2014. 

One interesting point of debate what when Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab). said: “Clause 2 makes it clear that bishops are not public office holders under the Equality Act 2010. It is a necessary provision, enabling the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman“ [Col 710],

she then asked:

“First, will parochial church councils be obliged to inform all members of the Church who are on the electoral roll in a parish that discussions are about to take place regarding resolutions to restrict the ministry of women, so that hole-in-corner decisions are not made?

“Secondly, can a parish request oversight from a non-discriminating bishop? The rules allow parishes to request a discriminating bishop. Can they also request a non-discriminating bishop, and can such parishes apply to the new independent reviewer?

“Thirdly, will the new conservative evangelical headship bishop minister beyond the parishes that specifically request his ministry?

“Fourthly, will the Second Church Estates Commissioner confirm that clause 2 will not validate any further discriminatory practices?

“There is a fifth, and very important, question, which relates not to the Church but to the Government. . . . As the Second Church Estates Commissioner said, bishops are currently appointed to the other place (House of Lords) on the basis of seniority. I understand that to change that we shall need primary legislation, because otherwise the advent of women in the other place will come about at some far distant time, and none of us wants that. . .  The Clerks inform me that only eight Bills are before Parliament at the moment, whereas in a year we normally have 22 Bills going through the House, so there seems to be lots of time available,” [Col 711]

“On this last important question, Sir Tony responded: “ . . . The situation is more that the Government are in the process of finding this time. . . . This is much more about when, not if, the Government find time within the legislation programme. That is very much the impression I have got from my discussions with the Leader of the House and his equivalent in the other place”, [Col 711]….”

From these proceedings, it may be assumed that, after the Measure is eventually passed by the November General Synod, dissenting parishes insisting on episcopal ministry from someone other than their (female) bishop; will need to canvas the opinion of everyone on the parish roll before making application to their diocesan bishop for such ministry. This sounds just and fair in circumstances that could have caused discontent in such parishes. 

On the matter of Women Bishops in the House of Lords; Sir Tony Baldry, the Church Commissioner in the House of Commons, is obviously keen to encourage Parliament to expedite the introduction of Women Bishops into the House of Lords – which, also, seems just and fair, considering how long it has taken the Church of England to get to this point in its recognition of the ministry of women in the Church.


Up-date, Thursday 23 October U.K. Time:

Royal Assent

11.18 am

The following Measure was given Royal Assent:

Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure.


Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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This Anglican Bishop, Paul Butler’s observation of the conduct of Pope Francis is well noted. This papacy is of a very different order from the previous 2 holders of the post. He is clearly in tune with the thoughts and aspirations of the Faithful Laity, and will bide his time for the necessary reform. Prayers for his continuing leadership wise leadership.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Originally posted on Through the eyes of a Bishop...:

So at the end it all came down to 62 minutes of secret electronic voting on the text of the Relatio minute for each paragraph. All the talking and debating done; simply Synod Fathers ‘is this paragraph Placet or Non Placet?’. Two thirds needed for it to be Placet. It was a strange experience sat there watching all these men quietly and studiously voting. No reaction at any point, even when a paragraph did not receive the necessary two thirds (3 paragraphs did not do so). The previous day’s cheerful lively discussion on the Message, and the morning’s equally cheery simple majority vote on it seemed a long time past. When all was done there was a stillness; work done. Now for a year of further exploration and a return to the subject at next year’s Ordinary Synod. Then the make up will be different as larger churches will…

View original 384 more words

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Catholic Bishops Scrap Welcome To Gays

AP – Huffington Post

Posted: 10/18/2014 2:04 pm EDT Updated: 10/18/2014 3:59 pm EDT
 VATICAN CITY (AP) — Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between man and woman. The paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops – whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion – also failed to pass.

The outcome showed a deeply divided church on some of the most pressing issues facing Catholic families.

It appeared that the 118-62 vote on the gay section might have been a protest vote by progressive bishops who refused to back the watered-down wording. The original draft had said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group, said it was “very disappointing” that the final report had backtracked from the welcoming words contained in the draft. Nevertheless, it said the synod’s process “and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the makeup of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.”

The draft had been written by a Francis appointee, Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on ministering to people in “irregular” unions. The draft was supposed to have been a synopsis of the bishops’ interventions, but many conservatives complained that it reflected a minority and overly progressive view.

Francis insisted in the name of transparency that the full document – including the paragraphs that failed to pass – be published along with the voting tally. The document will serve as the basis for future debate leading up to another meeting of bishops next October that will produce a final report to be sent to Francis.

“Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these … animated discussions … or if everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace,” Francis told the synod hall after the vote.

Conservatives had harshly criticized the draft and proposed extensive revisions to restate church doctrine, which holds that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” but that gays themselves are to be respected, and that marriage is only between a man and woman.

“We could see that there were different viewpoints,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracis of India, when asked about the most contentious sections of the report on homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leader of the progressive camp, said he was “realistic” about the outcome.

In an unexpected gesture after the voting, Francis approached a group of journalists waiting outside the synod hall to thank them for their work covering the synod.

“Thanks to you and your colleagues for the work you have done,” he said. “Grazie tante.” Conservative bishops had harshly criticized journalists for reporting on the dramatic shift in tone in the draft, even though the media reports merely reflected the document’s content.

Francis’ gesture, and his words inside the synod hall chastising bishops who were overly wed to doctrine and were guided by “hostile rigidity,” as well as those bishops who showed a “destructive goody-goodiness,” indicated that he was well aware of the divisions the debate had sparked. His speech received a four-minute standing ovation, participants said.

Over the past week, the bishops split themselves up into working groups to draft amendments to the text. They were nearly unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and “irregular” unions.

The bishops signaled a similar tone in a separate message directed at Christian families released Saturday. There was no mention whatsoever of families with gay children, much less gay parents, and it spoke of the “complex and problematic” issues that arise when marriages fail and new relationships begin.

“Christ wanted his church to be a house with the door always open to welcome everyone, without excluding anyone,” the message read. (Oddly, the English translation was less welcoming than the official Italian, ending the sentence after `everyone.’)

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, who helped draft the revised final report, told Vatican Radio the final document showed a “common vision” that was lacking in the draft.

He said the key areas for concern were “presenting homosexual unions as if they were a very positive thing” and the suggestion that divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion without an annulment.

He complained that the draft was presented as the opinion of the whole synod, when it was “one or two people.”

“And that made people very angry,” he said.

(Annalisa Camilli contributed to this report.)


This report from Huffington Post reflects the disappointment felt by many Roman Catholics at the interim outcome of the just-completed meeting of Cardinals and Bishops of the Church in Rome. After a week of discussions on issues of gender and sexuality, and the possibility of accepting divorcees and homosexuals into full communion in the Church, the initiatives brought to the discussion by the Supreme Pontiff have been rejected by the Church’s more conservative hierarchy.

Despite the efforts of Pope Francis and his supporters, who want to open up the Church to a broader understanding of the issues faced by people in relationships different from those traditionally accepted by the Church as ‘rightly-ordered’ in terms of morality; the weekend report produced a definite rejection of any change in attitude on such issues.

However, all is not yet lost, simply because the definitive statement of the Church will not be made on such matters until after the official Synod of Bishops which will take place in a year’s time. This will give time for bishops and cardinals to make further inquiries into the pastoral concerns involved, before discussion is closed at the time of the Synod.

Despite open opposition to the will of the Pope for further reforms to be made, Pope Francis is still the Pope, and may yet bring about the changes that he has in mind for the Church by his obvious concern for the future viability of the institution; which he, and his supporters, believe may be at risk if the Church maintains its traditional stance towards people on the margins of society. When one considers Pope Francis’ instinctual efforts to overcome the traditional Vatican stranglehold over the effects of Vatican II’s reforms; it must be assumed that the Holy Spirit – at whose call he was made Pope – will guide his leadership of the Church into an era of new enlightenment  in a time of deep human need for justice and integrity in all spheres of life in the Church.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Extract from a Report on Roman Synod by ‘Religion Despatches’

The big story this week is the ideological warfare and spin-control struggles that broke into the open after the public reading on Monday of a working document called a relatio that was intended to summarize discussions to date at the Catholic bishops’ synod on the family.

The document contained language that felt to many like a major departure – what some called a“stunning shift” in the church’s approach to gay people. That draft and the media response to it provoked a furious backlash from conservatives, who are hoping for a major re-write before the final document is presented to bishops on Saturday.

Among the rhetoric drawing attention was the statement that gays and lesbians have “gifts to offer” the church.

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

The report also said that some gay couples give each other “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” and “precious support in the life of the partners.” To many journalists and LGBT and liberal Catholics, this kind of language praising gay couples was nothing short of astonishing. One Vatican journalist called it a “pastoral earthquake.”

For example, Francis DeBernarndo of New Ways Ministry, told the Washignton Blade, “It’s really a total reversal of the attitude and approach the church leaders have taken regarding lesbian and gay people for decades now.” Tom Roberts wrote in the New Republic, “Pope Francis Just Ripped the Weapons From the Culture Warriors’ Hands.”

At the Guardian, Lizzy Davies wrote

Is this the modern family according to Francis? From gay relationships to extramarital sex, from divorce and remarriage to civil unions, the Roman Catholic church has signalled it is ready to adopt what some see as a markedly more conciliatory tone towards those in “irregular” familial setups.

The New York Times’ Elisabetta Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein similarly called it “the first signal that the institutional church may follow the direction Francis has set in the first 18 months of his papacy, away from condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness and mercy.”

The conservative backlash was immediate and intense, if sometimes contradictory. Some conservatives lamented what they saw as a betrayal to the church’s teachings, while others, like George Weigel at National Review, downplayed the relatio’s significance and blamed the media for blowing things out of proportion.

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press described the backlash this way:

A fight for the soul of the Catholic Church has broken out, and the first battlefield is a document on family values that pits increasingly alarmed conservatives against more progressive bishops emboldened by Pope Francis’ vision of a church that is more merciful than moralistic.

Thomas Peters of the National Organization for Marriage was appalled about the Vatican press office’s handling of the document and the conversations it spawned.  He argued that conservatives must overcome the “falsehood” that “only the revisionists speak from a place of mercy,” adding, “True mercy is always rooted in the truth. And authentic mercy can never contradict the truth.

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier called the situation “virtually irredeemable.” Conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, said the report” lacks a solid foundation in the sacred Scriptures.” Burke went so far as to demand that Pope Francis speak out and clarify that church doctrine on marriage and homosexuality is not being changed. John Thavis provides a summary of conservative gripes.

It’s not only conservative Catholics that have been weighing in on the synod: Protestants like Rick Warren joined conservative Catholics in a pre-synod letter calling for the bishops to be outspoken advocates for “timeless truths” about marriage. American anti-gay activist Bradlee Dean, who announced, “I’m no friend of the Roman Catholic Church, their councils or their Popes,” slammed “the liberal leaning Pope Francis and his Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy” for focusing on positive contributions “sodomites” can make in the church.” And Brooklyn-based Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of America, appealed, according to LifeSite News, “to conservative cardinals to resist all efforts to tolerate or accept homosexuality” at the synod.

According to Levin, who said he was not speaking for the Rabbinical Alliance, “The Catholic Church is a real bulwark at the United Nations and internationally, the premier defender of family and pro-life values.” Orthodox Jews share those values and rely on the Catholic Church as an ally. Moreover, “As things go in the Christian community, they soon go in the Jewish community,” he said.

“Why discuss homosexual unions at all?” Levin asks. “What’s to discuss?” The rabbi said Scripture is clear on the immorality of homosexuality and “true compassion” demands that we call our neighbour out of their sin.

Levin worried that some Catholic leaders are falling prey to a “militant methodology” organized by radical homosexuals that has already forced public schools, governments, and professional bodies such as the American Psychological Association to accept homosexuality as normal.

Levin appealed to the retired pope Benedict to “step forward and preach the unadulterated truth.”

The truth, he added, is that homosexuality is wrong, and taking a so-called non-judgmental approach to it can only encourage its growth. “There is something worse than murdering a child,” Levin said. “Because, as the Talmud says, when you kill someone physically you don’t touch them spiritually. But when you lead a person into heinous sin, you kill them spiritually in this world and the next world.”

All the hoopla led to a bit of bactracking, at least rhetorically, but liberals and conservatives jockeyed over the extent to which the Vatican’s statements clarifying the relatio’s role in the process marked any walk-back from its ideas.

In response to such reactions, the Vatican backtracked a bit Tuesday. In a statement, it said the report on gays and lesbians was a “working document,” not the final word from Rome.

The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create “the impression of a positive evaluation” of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together….

It is not clear where the chips will fall. On Thursday, Winfield of Associated Press reported, “The Vatican is watering down a ground-breaking overture to gays — but only if they speak English.”

After a draft report by bishops debating family issues came under criticism from conservative English-speaking bishops, the Vatican released a new translation on Thursday.

A section initially titled “Welcoming homosexuals” is now “Providing for homosexual persons,” and the tone of the text is significantly colder and less welcoming.

The initial English version — released Monday along with the original — accurately reflected the Italian version in both letter and spirit, and contained a remarkable tone of acceptance extended to gays. Conservatives were outraged.

The first version asked if the church was capable of “welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities.” The new version asks if the church is “capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities.”

The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a “precious support in the life of the partners.” The new one says gay unions often constitute “valuable support in the life of these persons.”

In nearly all cases, the first version followed the official Italian version in verbatim; the second provides a different tone altogether.

In contrast, the Catholic News Agency argued that the original English translation was inaccurate.

While the working report is not a final document, there is plenty of intrigue over who will be responsible for drafting that final document. While bishops elected conservatives to committees that will consider portions of the final report, Francis himself appointed a group of his own choosing to oversee the drafting. According to the Associated Press:

The bishops themselves elected a host of known conservatives to lead the working groups hammering out details of the final report. In an apparent bid to counter their influence, Francis appointed six progressives to draft the final document.

America magazine’s Gerard O’Connell called that move by Francis “unprecedented and highly significant.” The final report that emerges “will provide the basis for discussion in Bishops’ Conferences and Churches around the world between now and the synod of October 2015.”

It will serve as the equivalent of a Working Document in preparation for the next synod which is expected to come up with important proposals regarding the pastoral approach to the family in the 21st century, including those regarding how the Church will respond to the questions of cohabitation, the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics, other irregular situations, same-sex unions and much else.…

But on Thursday, James Martin reported that “Pope Francis added two new members to the drafting commission, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban and Archbishop Denis Hart of Oceania, apparently to further include different viewpoints (particularly from African bishops). Cardinal Napier had been on record as describing the first ‘relatio’ as nearly ‘irredeemable.’”

O’Connell wrote that the openness of the conversation at the synod, which has exposed differences of opinion and priority, is itself a direct consequence of the more open approach championed by Francis:

Every participant that I have spoken to in private, as well as those who met the press, gave fulsome credit to Pope Francis for creating a climate of freedom in which everyone has felt totally free to say what they really think on a given topic.  “People are very relaxed, and even make jokes”, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin commented.  He said the Pope has contributed greatly to this climate not only by advocating that they speak freely and boldly on the first day but also by arriving early each day, greeting participants when they arrive, and mingling with people at the coffee breaks.

It is well known that in past synods a discreet but effective censorship was exercised by Vatican officials, but what was even more serious and damaging to the realization of an open and honest debate was the “self-censorship” exercised by the bishops themselves at these gatherings. Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo, President of the Argentine Bishops Conference, stated this frankly in an interview on October 9 when, referring to past synods, he said, “The worst censorship is self-censorship”.

A second very important factor that differentiates this synod from previous ones is that “the inductive” rather than “the deductive” method has prevailed. Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, President of the Canadian Bishops Conference, highlighted this particular aspect at a Vatican briefing on October 9.

“What’s going on in the Synod is we’re seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting with the real situations of people… and finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source, a place of theological reflection”, he stated.

“The bishops are speaking as pastors”, many participants confirmed. They are speaking from personal experience and honest conviction on a wide variety of issues.  At times they are doing so with great passion, also from their experiences of the happy or broken marriages of their own parents.

On the other hand, there’s plenty in the document that affirms church teachings and stakes out more conservative politicians. As the New York Times notes,

The document also criticizes pressure by the United Nations and some Western nations to compel countries in Africa and elsewhere to rescind laws that restrict the rights of gay people, in exchange for financial aid. It says it is unacceptable “that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.”

“Gender ideology” is a construct being pushed by Catholic leaders in Poland and across Europe as a shorthand for everything conservatives don’t like about nontraditional views on family, women, and LGBT people.

It is not clear how much change will actually result from this synod, or next year’s. Patricia Miller has noted in RD, the synod’s signs of greater welcome to LGBT people has not extended so much to women. At National Catholic Reporter, Heidi Schlumpf has a hard time getting excited about the bishops’ “gradualism” on family issues. Father James Martin, S.J., suggests, “Maybe this is not so much Vatican III as the continuation of Vatican II.”


Today is the day (Saturday, 19 October, 2014) when the report of the Meeting of Bishops and others in Rome – on matters of gender and sexuality – will be presented to the Council of Catholic Bishops for further consideration.

Entitled “In the 10/17/2014 edition: Synod ‘Fight for Soul’ of Catholic Church, Flap On English Translation of Key Report; Anti-Gay Law Advances in Kyrgyzstan; Global LGBT Recap”; this extract of the report, published by ‘Religion Despatches’, provides evidence of the fight for supremacy between traditionalists and the modernists – led, seemingly, by no less than Pope Francis himself – that threatens the uneasy truce of the Roman Catholic Church on matters of Church Discipline; between: those who want to maintain the status quo situation of a stand-off against reform of the treatment of homosexuality and divorce and: the advocates of reform on these issues. in order to bring Catholic Church polity into a 21st century understanding of the pastoral concerns presented.

It will be most interesting to see what the actual report presented to the Synod of Bishops will contain in the way of suggested reforms that could have such a wide-scale effect on the lives of divorcees and homosexuals who wish to be accepted as viable members of the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever the outcome of this present convocation of bishops; the facts of suggested liberalization would seem to be consonant with what was shaping up for the reforms suggested by Vatican II – before the Curia stepped back from its full implementation. Could Vatican III be far behind?

Interestingly, the fears being enunciated by conservative opposition to any reforms on these issues in the Catholic Church seem not too different from those being voiced in certain provinces of the Anglican Communion – re the acceptance of women bishops and gays in the Church. Time alone will tell how long conservative forces can keep the Church in thrall to out-dated pastoral polity.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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