Three Questions were asked at General Synod last Friday about the Legal Opinion issued as GS Misc 992. They were answered together.
Mrs Sue Johns (Norwich) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. Has the House considered the issues addressed in GS Misc 992?
The Revd Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops”
Q. Given the legal opinion offered in GS Misc 992 (‘Equality Act’) can the House indicate the following:
a. Which individuals or bodies are responsible for weighing and, if appropriate, adopting this opinion as policy;
b. The process by which this opinion shall be weighed and, if appropriate, adopted;
c. How these deliberations will be communicated to this Synod and candidates for episcopal appointment?
The Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark) to ask the House of Bishops:
Q. As we have in effect debated paras 14-18 of GS Misc 992 regarding divorce and remarriage at the February Synod, what process does the House envisage to ensure that a debate on the complete paper takes place, recognising that the circulation of a paper to Synod by the Legal Office does not create policy?
The Bishop of Norwich to reply:
A. With permission, I shall answer this and the related questions from Simon Butler and Rosemarie Mallet together.
The Legal Office note was produced in December and made available to members of successive Crown Nominations Commissions and to all diocesan bishops in connection with episcopal appointments. It explains the implications of the legal framework created by the Equality Act so that those making appointments understand the parameters within which they now have to operate. It offers no policy advice. The relevant policy documents are the well known texts referred to in the document, to which must now be added last Friday’s modest supplement from the House.
The policy issue on civil partnerships is now for the review of the 2005 statement and the Church’s stance on same sex relations more generally will be addressed in the consultation document that the House will produce in the light of the listening process in 2013.
Supplementary Question from Simon Butler:
While I welcome the House of Bishops clarity that GS Misc 992 isn’t the policy of the Church, nevertheless it is the legal opinion of the church’s lawyers. Can the Bishop confirm then what freedom the House of Bishops has to depart from this legal opinion?
A. Well, I think what the legal opinion seeks to do is to explain for those involved in episcopal appointments what the law permits. It simply refers back to formal statements of the Church of England’s policy, including statements by the House of Bishops on divorce and civil partnerships, and of course that’s been amended in the light of what the synod decided last February, but it actually offers no policy advice. And the House of Bishops statement is about policy reviews, not prejudging their outcome.
Supplementary Question from Rosemarie Mallett:
Again, we thank you for the clarity of your answer. As part of the review process that will be now ongoing, can we be assured that the House of Bishops will consult with members of the House of Clergy and the House of Laity, before bringing the final consultation document to synod in 2013, so that we have a truly dialogic as well as listening process between now and 2013.
A. Well I think that what we hope for in the 2013 review, which will cover matters related to human sexuality, is to try and create an account of what’s gone on in the listening process, which has included clergy and laity over the course of the past decade or more. And there is a sense in which quite a lot of that work of course has already included clergy and laity, and how that review group will go about its work I can’t say, but it would be very surprising if it did not include consultation with clergy and lay people, to produce the sort of document that we hope would be representative of the mind of the church as a whole.