Controversial Decision on Women Clergy Licensing

Multi-parish women’s licences found to be ‘deficient’

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 14 Aug 2015 @ 12:08 (CHURCH TIMES)

Click to enlarge

Under licence: All Saints’, Cheltenham

“UNRESTRICTED Licences” granted to two women priests in a multi-parish benefice that includes a parish that does not accept the ministry of women are “deficient”, and fresh ones should be reissued, an independent review has concluded.

The adjudication by Sir Philip Mawer, who was appointed by the Archbishops to consider grievances from those who become concerned that the principles in the House of Bishops’ Declaration on women bishops are not being adhered to (News, 7 August), was published on Monday. It followed a letter to him from the director of Forward in Faith, Dr Colin Podmore, in April.

Dr Podmore expressed concern that the Revd Angela Smith had been licensed as an “Associate Priest in the North Cheltenham Team”, despite the fact that the Team Benefice included the parish of All Saints’, Cheltenham, which was to be treated as having passed Resolutions against the priestly ministry of women. He was writing on behalf of Forward in Faith, not the parish (which is not a member of the organisation), because this was an issue “of general relevance”.

Mrs Smith was licensed by the Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, on 22 January. She is married to the Team Rector, the Revd David Smith.

Dr Podmore emphasised that there was no intention of criticism of Mrs Smith or her husband. He argued that the Bishop could have licensed her to minister in certain named parishes rather than the whole benefice. Instead, Bishop Snow had offered an “oral assurance” that she would not minister as a priest in the parish of All Saints’.

Dr Podmore’s letter includes as “background” the suggestion that, under the leadership of the previous Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, the diocese of Gloucester was “widely perceived as hostile to traditional Catholics”; it also suggests that the Bishops have failed to help them to flourish.

In his reply, Bishop Snow confirmed that he had recently issued an identical licence to the Revd Liz Palin. Both women had been licensed to serve in the benefice rather than the team, and this was “highly significant”, he argued. Ms Palin had already exercised pastoral and diaconal ministry in the parish of All Saints’.

He conceded that during consultations on the appointment of Mrs Smith, the particular wording of the licence had not been discussed, but should have been. No concerns had been raised before the day of the licensing, he said, but he had given “verbal assurance” to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet on the day of the licensing that Mrs Smith would not minister at All Saints’. Assurance was, in fact, unnecessary, he argued, given that Resolutions were in place. Bishop Snow argued that to seek further written assurances “does nothing to build trust”, and could call into question the integrity of the Bishop, Archdeacon, and Team Rector.

He also argued that Dr Podmore’s assertions about the diocese were based on the comments of “one or two individuals” in the parish, and that “the vast majority of the congregation are more than satisfied with recent appointments.” A letter from Bishop Perham also disputed Dr Podmore’s characterisation of the diocese, and asked that the assertion that it was “hostile” be withdrawn.

In his judgment, Sir Philip said that the Resolutions passed by parishes had ceased to have legal effect, and so did not provide “clear legal protection”. Thus Bishop Snow was mistaken in asserting that he did not need to qualify Mrs Smith’s remit.

Sir Philip said that he did not doubt that, in deciding not to restrict expressly the scope of Mrs Smith’s ministry, Bishop Snow was “acting from the best of motives and in what he perceived to be the best interests both of Mrs Smith and of the whole benefice”. He had, however, “failed to make the appropriate pastoral and sacramental provision” for the parish of All Saints’. He noted that it “does not help the priest or anyone else concerned for there to be a lack of clarity on this matter”.

Sir Philip concluded that the fresh licences should make it clear that the authorisation granted to Mrs Smith and Ms Palin did not extend to undertaking priestly ministry in the parish of All Saints’.

He did not, however, accept Dr Podmore’s recommendation that all licences to assistant clergy in such benefices should spell out in which parishes the priest was licensed to minister. He drew a distinction between priests who were members of the team in a team ministry — whose ministry could not be restricted in such a way — and those who were to serve otherwise than as a member of the team. In the latter case, he recommended that the PCCs of the parish should be consulted, before the licence was granted, about the nature and extent of the priest’s ministry, and that the licence should then specify these things.

His adjudication spoke of the appointment of a female diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, as the opportunity for all to “make a fresh start. I can only hope that they will take the opportunity to do so.”

______________________________________________________________

The protest by the ‘Forward in Faith’ sodality in the U.K. against the non-specificity of the Team Ministry Licence of a woman priest, that does not state that it does not cover her ministry in an F.i.F.-style Parish in her benefice; is already causing doubts about the efficacy of the ‘Code of Conduct’ agreed by all parties before the decision was made  to legally ordain women as bishops in the Church of England.

While it was expected that women ordained as bishops would ‘respect’ the needs of F.i.F parishes to maintain their embargo against women ministering as clergy in their parishes; there has been no equivalent legal expectation of a special written embargo against women clergy being licensed to work in such ‘no-go’ areas in the Church of England.

At the licensing of The Revd. Angela Smith (wife of the Revd. David Smith, Team Rector)   as an “Associate Priest in the North Cheltenham Team”, it was not thought necessary by the licensing bishop, +Martin Snow (Tewkesbury) to endorse her Licence as ‘restricted to non-F.i.F. parishes in North Cheltenham. Presumably, it was probably assumed by the Bishop – according to the accepted protocols (code of practice) – that Mrs. Smith would not be called upon to minister in the F.i.F Parish of All Saints, Cheltenham.

However, this obviously does not provide the sort of cast-iron legal protection the leaders of F.i.F. (especially Dr. Podmore, who complained, successfully, to the ombudsman) want guaranteed. Immediately, this requirement of a legal guarantee that F.i.F. parishes will never receive the ministry of a female clergy-person could be said to go beyond the ‘code of practice’ that both sides of the argument agreed to at the relevant General Synod meeting that secured the legislation for the Ordination of Women Bishops.

Will this new initiative on the part of ‘Forward in Faith’ now incur doubts about the wisdom of making compromises towards the minority of Anglicans who resist the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England? It seems the battle against theological  sexism is not yet over in the C. of E. 

One now is led to wonder; if specific conditions have to be written into the licence of a female clergy-person, prohibiting her from ministering in ‘no-go’ areas; what does this say about the need to do the same with legally restricting the license of a woman bishop against ministering  in similar ‘no-go’ parishes in her diocese? 

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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