Another letter to General Synod members about the bishops’ amendments to the women bishops legislation is circulating. This time it is from the Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod.
Subject: Women Bishop Legislation
Dear fellow member of General Synod,
Some supporters of women bishops are now urging us to send the draft Women Bishops legislation back to the House of Bishops for them to reconsider their amendments; the same people are advising us to vote against the Measure if the House of Bishops do not withdraw their amendments. We need to reflect very carefully what referring the matter back to the Bishops would do to the Church of England.
What the Bishops have done is entirely reasonable in terms of the synodical process. It is consistent with how the majority of the Synod voted in February: the Southwark motion calling for no amendments at all to be made by the House of Bishop was itself amended by Pete Spiers so as to request that no substantial amendments be made.
The Bishops’ amendments are consistent with the original substance of the Measure; that is the clear advice of the Legal Office (reproduced in the annex to GS 1708-1709ZZ); it is also the decision of the majority of the Group of Six (Archbishops, Prolocutors, Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity). Members of Synod would do well to read the Legal Office’s advice very carefully before forming a view on the amendments.
The House of Bishops’ amendments are consistent with their responsibility to try to hold the Church of England together; their amendments are also consistent with their responsibility to find a way forward that stands a reasonable chance of success at Final Approval. Synod’s voting in May showed that unamended, this Measure was doomed to fail at Final Approval.
The present agitation also provides a warning as to what would lie ahead of us were this Measure to be passed, with or without amendment. The formation of the Code of Practice would become a new battleground. Were the House of Bishops to be forced to retreat over their amendments to the Measure, they would be forced to have the contents of the Code of Practice dictated to them. Even after the Code were initially agreed, it would be open to pressure groups to campaign to whittle away its provisions over time.
A recent survey by Christian Research has found that 69% of CofE members surveyed wanted to see women bishops, and 75% wanted to see proper provision made for opponents so that they are not forced out of the Church of England. We have to ask ourselves: how do we achieve legislation that is faithful to the majority of CofE members? Pressurising the House of Bishops into withdrawing their amendments is most clearly the wrong way. Reliance on a Code of Practice is now looking to be an increasingly shaky and temporary foundation for making provision – which is what the Catholic Group in General Synod and others have consistently said.
The Bishops’ amendments are very modest but welcome steps in the right direction for the Catholic Group, though they do not go far enough. We appreciate the good intentions of the House of Bishops, but we are surprised that even the little they have offered, others are now determined to take away.
With prayers and good wishes,
The Revd. Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester 163)
(Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod)