press release from Affirming Catholicism 6th July 2010
Women and the Episcopate
Affirming Catholicism welcomed the Report of the Women Bishops Revision Committee published on 8th May 2010. We believe that the draft legislation proposed by the Revision Committee offers a good and balanced means by which the Church of England can legislate to allow women to take their full place within the Church of England’s ministry.
After much consideration, Affirming Catholicism does not recommend supporting the Archbishops’ amendments. Although these amendments claim to retain the authority of the diocesan bishop, they do not clarify what would happen if the diocesan and the coordinate bishop found themselves in disagreement. The Archbishops’ amendments therefore create – through the legislation itself – a situation in which authority is granted to the diocesan bishop in name, but potentially not in actuality if the diocesan bishop is a woman. This is precisely the situation which the Revision Committee sought to avoid. The archbishops have not resolved the tensions between the different views on women bishops, but have merely transferred them into the detail of the Code of Practice, which does not yet exist. The danger therefore remains that by passing these amendments, two ‘classes’ of bishops will be created, a development that would threaten the catholic nature of the Church of England. We share the concerns ably expressed by Fulcrum in their helpful commentary (http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=545).
Many other amendments have been proposed. The two most significant and far-reaching ones attempt to re-write the entire Measure in order to reflect positions which the Revision Committee considered at length and eventually regarded as impracticable – and in the case of separate dioceses, undesirable. The passing of either of these amendments would in our view so compromise the catholic nature of the Church of England, and so hamper the ministry of women ordained as bishop under such arrangements, that they would have the effect of wrecking the primary purpose of the legislation.
The Report documents the Revision Committee’s consideration of a range of structural solutions to arrive at a proposal which will leave the authority vested in the Diocesan Bishop, whilst making pastoral provision for those who cannot recognise that authority in the case that the Bishop is a woman. As the Report notes, the legislation as proposed “will, for the first time, enable women to be admitted to all orders of ministry. By preserving intact the authority of the diocesan bishop it will avoid any changes in the historic understanding of that office and of the episcopate more generally. And by making statutory arrangements for those with theological difficulties it will endeavour to preserve that broad and comprehensive character of the Church of England that is one of its defining and most attractive features” (Report, § 459).
The proposed legislation, unlike suggestions for separate structures for those who cannot in conscience accept the sacramental ministry of women, will preserve the parochial structures of the Church of England, preventing the creation of parallel Church of England jurisdictions in the same place. Affirming Catholicism shares the basic assumptions upon which the Draft Measure is based and would therefore recommend that it be supported.
We do, however, have some concerns about certain aspects of the proposals put forward by the Revision Committee:
- We are cautious about the wisdom of allowing bishop’s declarations to be made on the basis of the views of others in the diocese (Draft Measure, § 2.4).
- We believe that the provisions for those in dioceses where the bishop has made a declaration that he will not ordain women to the priesthood are not strong enough (Draft Measure, § 2.5). In particular, they do not ensure that the voice of someone supportive of the ordination of women will be heard on the senior staff of such diocese; neither do they make provision for the pastoral care of laity who are supportive of the ordination of women.
- Whilst Affirming Catholicism respects the reasons why the Revision Committee deemed the Parochial Church Council the proper body to petition on behalf of a parish (Report §§ 236-240), we remain convinced that the legislation needs to include an explicitly stated duty of the PCC to consult widely when seeking to make parochial declarations (Draft Measure, § 3).
Affirming Catholicism supports the legislation as proposed by the Revision Committee, whilst welcoming amendments relating to these three points.