18 November 2013 Last updated at 01:46 GMT – BBC News
Church of England synod due to debate women bishops
The Church of England is preparing for a debate at its ruling general synod about how to create women bishops.
It is due to consider an accelerated programme for introducing women bishops and the appointment of an independent arbitrator to resolve disputes.
The synod’s general secretary William Fittall has warned that failure would have “very serious” consequences.
Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith has said the new draft legislation is a “very significant improvement”.
The synod’s failure last year to agree how women bishops should be introduced intensified divisions within the Church, says BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott.
The proposals were blocked by a minority of lay members of the synod who argued that it provided insufficient exemptions for traditionalist parishes unwilling to accept oversight by women bishops.
Mr Fittall described the collapse of the legislation as a “train crash” and said any repeat this week would be very serious for the Church.
The latest proposals have been simplified and could lead to a final vote on the issue in July next year.
As a concession to supporters of women bishops the right of traditionalists to request an alternative, male bishop would no longer be written into the law.
However, there would be a powerful ombudsman-style arbitrator to provide traditionalists with an appeal process in the case of dispute.
Forward in Faith, which has opposed women bishops, said: “The new draft legislation on Women in the Episcopate and the associated proposals in the Steering Committee’s report represent a very significant improvement on the former draft legislation which failed in November 2012.
“Though these proposals are still far from what we have long said would be ideal, we believe that they may have the potential to provide workable arrangements for the future.
“They hold out the possibility of bringing to a conclusion a process that for too long has been a distraction from the Church’s mission.”
The general synod is meeting at Church House in Westminster from Monday to Wednesday, when moves towards a law allowing women bishops will be debated and voted on.
On Monday there will be a presentation by Bishop of Rochester on proposals to ordain women bishops, as well as an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a debate on evangelism.
The Steering Committee on the legislation has said it hopes important progress can be made at this synod session, with a view to possibly getting women bishops approved in 2014.
This is rather than 2015 at the earliest as had been thought.
This year saw the first appointment of an Anglican woman bishop in the UK and Ireland, when Pat Storey, a Church of Ireland rector in Londonderry, was named bishop of Meath and Kildare. She is one of nearly 30 women bishops in active ministry in the worldwide Anglican communion.
Now that Australia has elected its first Female diocesan Bishop (Dr.Sarah Macneil, for the Diocese of Grafton, N.S.W.), this should give a hefty signal to the Church of England that it is well past time to concede the ordination of Women as Bishops within our ‘Mother Church’.
Various warnings have been given, that if the measure fails again in the General Synod, there will be serious consequences for the future of the Church in England – not only from those within who have longed for the overdue legislation to be implemented, but also from a government anxious to maintain its credibility in dealing with sexism in State-related affairs. However, with the Anglo-Catholic conservatives of ‘Forward in Faith’ welcoming the new proposal – which does not provide all they might have wished for, but at least offers a way through their concerns – the chances of bringing about a satisfactory outcome seem more hopeful than might have been after last year’s debacle at General Synod, where the measure was defeated in the House of Laity.
Our prayers are very much towards the success of this proposed legislation, that offers a way of providing some arrangements for those whose opposition to Women’s ministry in the Church of England was formerly dealt with by the provision of an un-catholic means of episcopal oversight by dint of what were known as ‘Flying Bishops‘, but which now will not be written into the constitutional canons of the Church. A proposed alternative means of ensuring ongoing ministry to those parishes which still demand alternative arrangements will be at the discretion of an arrangement between the diocesan bishop and a neutral ombudsman, where there is considered to be a need for intervention.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand