Women bishops possible in 2014, says Fittall
by Madeleine Davies – ‘Church Times’ – Posted: 17 Jan 2014 @ 04:33
Prescient?: a purple tree, decorated with pictures of Women as Bishops, topped off with a Mitre and an apron reading ‘A women’s Place is in the House!’, was created by the Revd Sharon Constable and the Revd Sue Paterson, for the Loughborough and Melton churches, in Leicester diocese, for Christmas 2013
THE first woman bishop in the Church of England could be appointed by Christmas, the Secretary General of the Church of England said on Friday.
At a press briefing in preparation for the meeting of General Synod in February, William Fittall said that it was “entirely conceivable” that the appointment could be made, but cautioned that the Synod was “an extremely unpredictable body”.
In November, the General Synod voted overwhelmingly to welcome the new women-bishops proposals, by 378 to eight (News, 22 November). On 11 February, the revision stage of the draft legislation will take place, unusually, without having first been seen by a revision committee. This was the General Synod’s “one opportunity to engage with the detail of the Measure and the Canon”, Mr Fittall emphasised on Friday.
“There’s a strong hope that the momentum that’s been achieved, the consensus that’s been building, will carry us through,” he said.
The report by the House of Bishops, published today, states that “there is a strong case for getting on and sealing the deal.” The report, which will also be debated on Tuesday, includes a draft Declaration from the House of Bishops and a draft mandatory disputes-resolution procedure.
If the Measure is approved by the General Synod next month, it will be referred to the dioceses under Article 8. Standing Orders state that the dioceses must have at least six months to vote on business sent down to them under this Article. The House of Bishops has recommended, however, that this deadline be reduced to just over three months, to 22 May. Next month, the Synod will need to agree, by a 75-per-cent majority, to suspend the standing order.
The House of Bishops’ report notes that the dioceses have already considered legislation on women bishops, and have approved it by 42 to two, and that there is a “strong desire in the Synod and the wider Church to make rapid progress”. It also states that the new legislation is “simple and is part of a package that has had overwhelming support in the General Synod and will not in practice, after February, be suspectible to further significant church, and that “there is something to be said for getting the legislation through the Synod and into the parliamentary process in July rather than November.”
After speaking of the momentum behind the new Measure, and suggesting that “on all sides of the argument there is a weariness about this subject,” Mr Fittall warned that the smooth passage of the package was by no means certain.
“The vote in November was, in a sense, a vote on process: it was moving things along; and if you listen carefully to some of the speeches made in November, many were very enthusiastic, but there were qualifications and caveats from some people,” he said. “I think it would be unwise to approach this Synod on the basis that it’s all going to be entirely smooth and straightforward and predictable, because General Synod, at the end of the day, is an extremely unpredictable body.”
If the legislation secures final approval at the York meeting of the Synod in July, it will then go before to Parliament, and its Ecclesiastical Committee, for approval. It must then receive Royal Assent and the Canon must get royal licence. Finally, it must be promulged by the Synod. The earliest that this could take place would be in November. It would then be possible for a women to be appointed as bishop.
“There is no shortage of vacancies coming up,” Mr Fittall said on Friday.
This news, from this weekend’s issue of the U.K. ‘Church Times’, arises from a statement by William Fittall, the Secretary-General of the Church of England, described as under:
“At a press briefing in preparation for the meeting of General Synod in February, William Fittall said that it was “entirely conceivable” that the appointment (of the first woman bishop) could be made (by Christmas) , but cautioned that the Synod was “an extremely unpredictable body”.
The ‘unpredictability’ of the General Synod’s outcomes ought, perhaps, to be noted – from the disaster that occurred at the last General Synod Assembly in July, 2013, when the Measure to allow for the Ordination of Women to the Episcopate was defeated – by a narrow majority in the House of Laity.
It is hoped that this time around, at the next meeting of the General Synod in February 2014, the Measure may have a chance of succeeding. It would appear that the minority extreme Anglo-Catholic ‘Forward in Faith’ membership is reasonably happy with certain safeguards that seem to have been made by the preparatory H.o.B. Commission, to meet their demands for separate jurisdiction for their people. One can only hope that these provisions will not interfere with the jurisdictional rights of a woman bishop ordained under the new legislation, which would create a two-tier House of Bishops.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand