Women in the Episcopate: Further Comment from Forward in Faith

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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. Key differences include the following.

Instead of exposing lay representatives to the risk of legal challenge when they veto candidates, the proposals would require the bishop to take responsibility for ensuring that appointments that conflict with PCC resolutions are not made.

The previous legislation would have left it to individuals to determine whether they had ‘cogent reasons’ for contravening the Code of Practice, and those decisions could only have been challenged by way of judicial review in the High Court (litigation which would have been costly for those concerned and damaging for the Church’s reputation). The new proposals would impose clear responsibilities; crucially, they make provision for the resolution of disputes through recourse to an Independent Reviewer with paid administrative support.

The previous legislation left the terms of the Code of Practice, and of the separate diocesan schemes that would have had to be drafted in each diocese, to be finalized after the Measure had received Royal Assent. Under the new proposals, the relevant documents will have been finalized before the legislation receives Final Approval.

Under the previous legislation, the Code of Practice could have been amended by simple majorities in each House of the Synod. Amendment of the new proposals will require two-thirds majorities in each House.

We also welcome the inclusion in the draft House of Bishops’ Declaration of the five ‘guiding principles’ in paragraph 5. These recognize our position as one of theological conviction which continues to be within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition and make a commitment to provision, both pastoral and sacramental, without limit of time.

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, which will ensure that our people, clergy and parishes have continued access to a ministry that will enable us to flourish within the structures of the Church of England and make our full contribution to its life and mission. 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. Much will depend on the continuance of the atmosphere of trust that has at last begun to be fostered by the process that produced these proposals.

We therefore encourage the General Synod to send the legislation for revision in full Synod, so that the process may continue as expeditiously as possible. We encourage our members to study the whole package carefully over the coming months: Click here to view the whole package.

We set out below some matters that still need to be addressed.

As a matter of conscience, those who, with Forward in Faith, are opposed on theological grounds to ordaining women to the episcopate will not be able to vote at the final approval stage in favour of legislation whose purpose is to permit this. What attitude is taken to the possibility of principled abstention will depend on whether the proposals survive intact. Any weakening of the proposals would require them to be opposed vigorously.

On behalf of the Executive

X JONATHAN FULHAM                                      

The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham                       

Chairman      

11 November 2013

 

Matters to be addressed

1.         We agree with the Steering Committee’s comment in para. 28 of its report (GS 1924) that all the elements of an overall, balanced package need to be agreed before the Measure and Canon are brought to final approval. Para. 42 of the report envisages an agreed way of proceeding with regard to issues in relation to consecration services for Traditional Catholic bishops (including the further and sharper issues that will arise in due course when there is a woman archbishop). It is in everyone’s interest that this agreed way of proceeding should have been identified before the legislation receives final approval.

2.         A situation in which hundreds of parishes are obliged to pass new resolutions immediately after the new legislation comes into force would place a heavy burden not only on PCCs but also on the bishops who would need to respond to the resolutions. The package will therefore need to include provisions that ensure a seamless transition. These too will need to be known in advance of final approval.

3.         Para. 40 of the draft House of Bishops Declaration says that the House will not proceed with proposals for changing it unless they command two-thirds majorities in all three Houses of the General Synod. However, this statement would merely be an undertaking on the part of the present members of the House. The new Canon C 29 would require two-thirds majorities for amendment of the House’s Regulations for the dispute resolution procedure. In order to provide a similar level of assurance, the Canon should similarly require two-thirds majorities in each House for proposals to amend the Declaration. This would then bind future members of the House of Bishops.