Thinking Anglicans

Women bishops: what might Parliament do?

There is an excellent article discussing this, on the Law and Religion UK blog, but written by Bob Morris of the UCL Constitution Unit.

He is the principal author of Church and State in 21st Century Britain: The Future of Church Establishment (Palgrave, March 2009).

Women as bishops: should Parliament intervene?

I urge all TA readers to study this article in full. His concluding paragraphs:

The key political and constitutional problem is that, although the Church of England now behaves largely as if it is a voluntary society, it remains nonetheless part of the state. The Queen as head of state is ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church, must be in communion with it, holds the title Fidei Defensor and – nominally – appoints its senior clergy. The Archbishop crowns and anoints the new sovereign, and the Church conducts important public ceremonies and rituals effectively in relation to the UK as a whole. The Church’s courts remain courts of the land, although they lost their public law jurisdictions in the 1850s. Twenty-six bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords – each nowadays actually appointed by a private, unaccountable committee of the Church itself.

These are high matters and could be addressed again by Parliament. However, whatever the degree of change made, none could procure the appointment of female bishops unless Parliament legislated directly to that end. In other words, disestablishment could not by itself resolve the particular question of female bishops. On the other hand, what disestablishment could do would be – a very different matter – to permit the state and Parliament to wash its hands of Church of England affairs altogether.

Since nothing so far suggests that Parliament contemplates such a rupture, it follows that the Church must be allowed to deal with the present crisis itself. Whether in doing so it strengthens the case for a radical review of remaining church/state ties is another question.

However, it appears from a story broken exclusively in The Times this morning by Ruth Gledhill that William Fittall has a somewhat different view. The original Times story is behind a paywall, but it starts this way:

The Church of England is facing a “major constitutional crisis” as a result of the fiasco last week over women bishops, according to an internal document written for the archbishops by one of their most senior staff. The Established Church must take steps in July next year to consecrate women bishops and vote them through by 2015, otherwise it risks the matter being taken out of its hands by Parliament, the secret memo says. It is to be debated behind closed doors this week by the Archbishops’ Council. The memo, a hard copy of which has been handed to The Times, is intended for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the council members. Women in the Episcopate — Where Next? is a response to growing outrage in and beyond…

The Telegraph has published this version of the story: Failure to vote in women Bishops risks ‘constitutional crisis’ in Church.

And there is this Church ‘faces crisis’ over bishops.

And the Guardian now has Church needs radical new strategy over female bishops, says internal memo

And here are some further quotes from the memo:

“What is for sure and not for maybe is that urgent and radical new thinking is now needed if major shifts in position are to be secured.”

“Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”

“We have to do so because time is not on our side. Parliament is impatient. In addition to the all-party savaging that the Church of England had yesterday [last Thursday] in the House of Commons and the Prime Minister’s reference to the need to give us a ‘sharp prod’, there was ferocious criticism from some members at the House of Lords at a lunchtime meeting at which the Bishop of Manchester spoke on Wednesday.

“There was a particularly telling sequence of devastating attacks from the formidable combination of Detta O’Cathain (normally a supporter), Elspeth Howe and Margaret Jay. Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”

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Jeremy
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Jeremy

The “all-party savaging” in the Commons took place not on Wednesday but on Thursday, 22 November. Presumably the “ferocious criticism” lunch is the same event as the “very stormy meeting” that a Labour questioner referred to as having taken place “yesterday.” Fittall’s memo–probably designed for public consumption–is an effort to ratchet up the pressure on Synod while at the same time keeping MPs at bay. Fittal is assuming, however, that Synod members can read the parliamentary tea leaves and are politically sophisticated. Last week’s vote demonstrated exactly the opposite. After all, Tony Baldry was repeating to Parliament the same things… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

That was my mistake re Thursday. Now fixed.

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

If the leak is correct (or even intentional, as Jeremy suggests), it looks very much like the ‘nuclear option’ of a one clause measure, which many have wished to see all along. I can’t see the House of Bishops being keen to go down this confrontational route however, given their previous interventions to override Synod’s wishes and make more provision for dissenters than synodical process had allowed. Although your precis does not make this clear, other reports of Fittall’s memo suggest that he is not advocating ignoring dissenters completely, but only that any provision be made entirely at the local… Read more »

David H.
Guest
David H.

If I understand it correctly, the British House of Lords incls. seats reserved for CoE bishops, yes ? If that’s so, then this is a blatant violation of sex-discrimination laws. Doesn’t the UK have laws about discriminating against a person based upon sex for a position in government ?

Seems pretty straight-forward to me…

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

David H Doesn’t the UK have laws about discriminating against a person based upon sex for a position in government ? Given our wonderful lack of a written constitution, the opt outs from equality legislation, and the non separation of legislature and executive functions of Government in Parliament, essentially, no. To say nothing of the fact that everyone else in the Lords is either an hereditary peer (still about 90), who, with the exception of Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who in any case is no longer a member, are all men as the title can only pass down the male… Read more »

William Raines
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William Raines

Does anyone know if the Canons allow HM the Queen (advised by her Prime Minister and by her Archbishops) to dissolve General Synod three years early so that we can have new elections? I suspect that elections held soon would produce a new House of Laity with sharply reduced traditionalist membership, paving the way for a fix next July.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

When both Sir Tony Baldry (Church Commissioner) and William Fittall (Secretary of the General Synod)are warning the Church of England – that intransigence on the issue of ordaining women as bishops in the Church of England – could lead to a process of dis-establishment; one begins to wonder whether this would lead to a better, or worse, position for the propagation of the Gospel in the U.K. by the ‘Mother Church’ of the world-wide Anglican Communion. What effect, one wonders, might this have on the future constitution of the Communion. and would it – in the face of the recent… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Others may be able to locate the statutory basis on which the General Synod operates. The standing orders state “All arrangements for the inauguration and dissolution of the General Synod, and the sessions and groups of sessions thereof […] shall be made by or under the direction of the Presidents.” The Presidents are the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Rev'd Rosie Bates
Guest
Rev'd Rosie Bates

Father Ron, Keep your wisdom coming. Maranatha!

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

David Cameron said he was ‘very sad’ that the Church of England rejected the introduction of women bishops, but that Parliament had to ‘respect the individual institutions and the way they work’. I would be surprised and disappointed if he tried to force the C of E to legislate for women bishops: however desirable the outcome, it would be an infringement of religious liberty. However, the case for disestablishment has probably picked up many new supporters.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

If the proposed measure is to be brought to a vote a second time, is this not an opportunity to redress another significant wrong attributable to Synod – namely the very narrow rejection by the House of Clergy in 1972 of the proposed reunion with the Methodists? It humiliated Michael Ramsey much as the recent vote has humiliated Rowan Williams. Both Anglican and Methodist churches are now on their knees – the latter especially so. There might be a disproportionate willingness on the part of Methodists to reconsider reunion once women can be consecrated bishops. Once a critical mass of… Read more »

Michael
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Michael

Ironic is it not. Six lay people of the C of E have caused a major constitutional crisis. The only two options I see having any real consequences.
1. Parliament needs to act urgently to pass a bill disestablishing the C of E. Healthier in the long run, does not solve acute crises.
2. The Archbishops and Council direct the Queen to dissolve the General Synod and call for new elections to GS with immediate effect and vote with simple majority (not 2/3rds)in each house a measure that allow women bishops without any provisions what so ever. Solves the acute crisis.

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

Michael, of course, any change to the voting system in synod requires a 2/3 majority in all three houses… I can just see the Archbishops going to the nation with that one: “Dear people of England, we want to dissolve synod so that we can reconstitute its unhelpful electorate on a single issue basis, then use that electorate to vote through a helpful change in the voting system (never mind that a 2/3 majority is entirely usual in UK charity law for constitutional changes), before using this new single issue electorate and its entirely expedient electoral change to get a… Read more »

Original Observer
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Original Observer

Michael – please this is not a “major constitutional crisis”. A procedure has been followed and a result obtained.

The excellent article linked in thread looks dispassionately and eruditely at the issue, and it is clear that Parliament is most unlikely to “rescue” women bishops. The church must find a way through this by itself. I expect those who voted ‘No’ will be taking the line ‘if you want to talk, you know where we are’.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

The Guardian article also has this:- ‘The details also gave succour to critics who say the house of laity has become profoundly unrepresentative. In Rochester two of the three lay members, and one of the clergy, who voted against the measure come from the same evangelical parish.’ Does this happen elsewhere? While pefectly ‘legal’ this is undoubtedly wrong. Regardless of the circumstances which facilitate such a situation, the only word I can think of to describe the attitude in a parish which allows or promotes such a position is ‘arrogance’. The rules must be re-written to ensure that such ‘abuses’… Read more »

Pam Smith
Guest

I don’t understand why the ability of some parishes under the Act of Synod to exclude women from their recruitment process for priests should need an exemption for the whole C of E from the whole of the Equalities Act (if that is what we now have.) Surely this would merely need those posts to be exempt as a ‘genuine occupational requirement’? Maybe if the C of E was made to adhere to the same laws as other organisations it would address the problem of the widescale exclusion of women from churches who have not passed Resolutions A,B and C,… Read more »

primroseleague
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primroseleague

Obviously I’d like to apologise retrospectively for the slightly intemperate language in my last post – although I do stand by the thrust.

There’s a lot of mud slinging on all sides, and peoples’ tempers are short.

While I’m at it – electorate throughout should read representatives, obviously.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Primroseleague, if I could disentangle the two issues you’re discussing with Michael. 1. Early dissolution of Synod would have strong parliamentary precedent, if not Synod precedent. The WB minority might not appreciate it, but as a Tory backbencher said, perhaps Parliament needs to find a way to put the Church of England “out of its misery.” Early dissolution would send a message to the Church, but would be an indirect approach, relying on Synod itself to develop a new measure, rather than Parliament imposing a solution. Presumably early dissolution would require the Archbishops’ agreement. 2. The 2/3 procedure is a… Read more »

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

Jeremy, after a couple of weeks where I seem to have been in violent disagreement with you at almost every turn, it is a genuine pleasure to be in violent agreement! Nothing much to counter at all in your point 1, although I still don’t think it will happen…. Your point 2 – so would I! I wonder if I haven’t set a hare running through the use of the word “constitutional,” rather than say “doctrinal”? Off the top of my head one or the other is right. That MIGHT, and I mean might rather than anything stronger, account for… Read more »

Michael
Guest
Michael

My apologies to primroseleague: I did not mean to strike a nerve. I was echoing what others here have stated; that the result of the vote of the General Synod has caused a “major constitutional crises.” Obviously, the result of that vote has caused very deleterious harm to the Church of England. This crises is of its own making, and I fail see to how the General Synod can act to allow women bishops unless some radical and maybe “unprecedented” steps be taken to reflect the majority of the people of the dioceses in England to allow women bishops. The… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

Is the correct position that it was only the provision for opponents which required constitutional change? If a single clause measure simply allowing women to be ordained as bishops is not constitutional change, then a single clause measure can pass easily. Provision for the minority can then be debated separately with the two thirds bar applying as before. Separating the two issues would respect the oft-repeated statement in debate that votes against were not votes against women bishops as such but only against the proposed provision for those who didn’t want to have a woman bishop themselves.

John Buck
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John Buck

Am I to understand that the advocates of women bishops would not welcome Jesus and the Apostles into today’s church because they did not appoint women to leadership roles in the early church?

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

To add to the detail of the situation in Rochester referred to by Richard Ashby (and The Guardian) earlier, not only do 3 of the anti votes come from the same evangelical parish, but the third lay rep to vote against comes from the immediately adjacent Anglo-Catholic parish, and the second cleric to vote against is their archdeacon (a good and holy man, who personally wants to see women bishops, but has been persuaded to ‘go native’ in support of some of his parishes)! So 4 of the anti votes came from two parishes within a mile of each other,… Read more »

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

Malcolm, what worries me about that is that it’s rather heavy handed. I sincerely doubt that opponents of women’s ordination make up 33% of the laity. At the same time, even if we take outlying surveys to one side, I’m PREPARED to believe it might be 15-20% (note, NOT do believe). In the absence of any decent figures though, any supposition is guesswork. To organise along your lines effectively, what you could be doing is denying up to 1 in 5 of your fellow CofE parishioners any presence at all in the legislative set-up. Note – I am not defending… Read more »

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

Sorry, not “spite” – that’s the second time today I’ve said the wrong thing. I’m going to have to have a lie down I think. Whatever happens going forward, people on both sides need to be very careful about what everything looks like, as much as the actions themselves is what I suppose I was trying (badly) to say. I admit I don’t make it easy for myself on here, but last week for me proved the value of the Pink Floyd song – “it doesn’t have to be this way, as long as we all keep talking” which is… Read more »

Simon Kershaw
Admin

Premature dissolution seems to be perfectly in order, though never previously exercised. I think the rules are as follows: 1. ‘The General Synod shall, on the dissolution of the Convocations, itself be automatically dissolved, and shall come into being on the calling together of the new Convocations.’ (Synodical Government Measure 1969, Schedule 2 ‘Constitution of the General Synod’ Clause 3(2)) and 2. ‘Notwithstanding any custom or rule of law to the contrary, the Convocations of Canterbury and York may be called together and dissolved at such times as Her Majesty may determine, without regard to the time at which Parliament… Read more »

magistra
Guest

On getting the Code of Practice sorted first: the Draft Code of Practice http://churchofengland.org/media/1386190/gs%20misc%201007%20-%20draft%20code%20of%20practice.pdf specifically says: “It is not possible, given the way the legislative process is structured, for a Code of Practice to be settled in advance of legislation being passed, and, as a result, the House has not yet taken any decision on the Working group‘s proposals.”

So if the Code can’t by definition be finalised beforehand, what is it that ought to be done about it before opponents of WB will be satisfied with it?

(Sorry, my attempts to embed the link failed)

JCF
Guest
JCF

Usually, John Buck, historic idols were made of durable materials like marble or bronze.

Whereas yours is made of Straw.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Isn’t it about time we had less heat and more light shed upon this issue?

William Raines
Guest
William Raines
Father David
Guest
Father David

I think we are beginning to venture into Cloud-Cuckoo Land with all this talk about dissolving the General Synod and seeking fresh elections well before the 5 year term is completed. What next, I wonder, will there be calls for Her Majesty to declare a State of Emergency?

Feria
Guest
Feria

Jeremy: ‘The 2/3 procedure is a puzzle. It seems to have been inconsistently applied. If the standard is that Synod must achieve a 2/3 majority for “constitutional” changes, one would have thought that the Anglican Covenant (which is neither) would entail “constitutional” changes, and therefore would have required a 2/3 vote. But my recollection is that the 2/3 threshold was not set on that issue.’ The requirement for a 2/3 majority for any change to the law on ordination of women is set by section 11 of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, which says: ‘A motion for the… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

One of the current Prime Minister’s greatest achievements is to be responsible for adding a new word to the Oxford English Dictionary –
“OMNISHAMBLES”

I believe that Mr. Camoron is far too wise and wily a politician to become embroiled in the omnishambles of the General Synod’s own making.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

@Feria: Interesting; thank you. I should have realized…. @primroseleague: Happy to be in agreement on one point! But there I guess is our answer. It goes back to 1993 (and the parliamentary pressure at that time). @anyone reading: Presumably that sentence was enacted by Parliament itself, with of course no supermajority requirement to amend, at the Parliamentary level. So I wonder whether Parliament might just strike that sentence. But then the question becomes whether any such change would have force at the Synod level (which might have been making rules for its own self-government, as well as law of the… Read more »

Feria
Guest
Feria

Jeremy: ‘Presumably that sentence was enacted by Parliament itself, with of course no supermajority requirement to amend, at the Parliamentary level.’ Yes. Parliament could, by Act and by a simple majority, repeal section 11 of the 1993 Measure, leaving Synod able to amend the 1993 Measure further by simple majority. However, to bring the same measure for the consecration of women bishops back, we’d still need a dissolution to get around the “no revisiting in the same quinquennium” rule. On the other hand, it strikes me that it wouldn’t be too hard to draft a new measure for the consecration… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

‘No, what is needed is that moderate and centrist laity mobilise themselves to get onto deanery synods at the next opportunity, and then to elect others of like mind onto GS, keeping out the representatives of the coalition of extremes which has brought about the present disaster.’ Well said. However, I would suggest that any moderates attempting this approach should undergo a programme of mental conditioning beforehand. This was a standard part of my own preparation Perhaps, listening to a 12-part audio series (narrated in RP monotone) on the more abstruse aspects of Byzantine eschatology would prepare candidates to sustain… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Feria,
how could you have a new Measure that does not at the same time amend or supersede the existing Measure?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Thank you, David Shepherd, for a much needed belly laugh in the middle of this muddle!

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

David Shepherd – thank you for your support regarding my earlier post. You do seem to have had a very bad experience of deanery synod meetings however, to judge by your comments. I served for 3 years on Rochester Diocesan Synod (and hence ex-officio on my deanery synod and PCC) and didn’t find the synods at all difficult to cope with (my PCC however was another matter). I felt privileged to have contributed to my Diocesan Synod coming to the right conclusions in their women bishops debate, which is why I am more than usually dismayed and angry that the… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

“What might parliament do?”
Answer – Nothing as it is now embroiled in its response to the Leveson Report. As far as Women Bishops are concerned the Mother of Parliaments has put that very much on the back burner as it now has other much bigger fish to fry. Politicians aren’t really interested in yesterday’s headlines as they always have their eye on what tomorrow’s headlines will be.

Feria
Guest
Feria

Erika: ‘how could you have a new Measure that does not at the same time amend or supersede the existing Measure?’ … because the 1993 Measure doesn’t, in itself, forbid the consecration of women as bishops – it just says ‘Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop’, and relies on something else (probably pre-reformation canon law) to do the actual forbidding. So one could enact a Measure that does make it lawful to consecrate a woman to the office of bishop, while leaving the 1993 Measure (and its… Read more »

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

“The Mother of Parliaments” is ENGLAND; not the wayward child at Westminster.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Feria,
thank you. That sounds a very clever option!

Revd Robert T
Guest
Revd Robert T

If Parliament were to become involved there would be widespread revolt as a matter of principle. If women bishops were to be installed there is nothing that can be done to prevent the non-compliance of opponents. remember the case of an archdeacon who faced a parish which refused to obey a faculty order and said he would visit to execute judgement. the vicar told him that when he had got past burly laity, he could execute whom he liked. the bishop pulled the archdeacon off and the parish won.

Father David
Guest
Father David

No – Revd Robert T – I don’t recall that particular case but I do recall a case in the York diocese some years ago when a notice board was placed on the outside the church building which stated in large letters that ‘This Parish will have nothing to do with women priests’ (I forget the exact wording – which was definitely framed in stronger language but you get the gist). The Archeacon descended from on high and demanded that the notice board be removed forthwith. The parish priest refused and the Archdeacon threatened a consistory court. The parish priest… Read more »

Feria
Guest
Feria

Revd Robert T: ‘If Parliament were to become involved there would be widespread revolt as a matter of principle.’ So your principles are gravely affronted by the prospect of our elected Parliament exercising its lawful responsibility for the established Church? Those are, I think, unusual principles to adopt, for someone who has chosen to be a member of an established rather than an unestablished church. Revd Robert T: ‘If women bishops were to be installed there is nothing that can be done to prevent the non-compliance of opponents. remember the case of an archdeacon who faced a parish which refused… Read more »

The Revd Robert T
Guest
The Revd Robert T

I am intrigued that those who argue for change should call on establishmentarian principles and have a very old fashioned view of episcopacy. There are plenty of examples of non territorial episcopal arrangements in the RC and Orthodox churches- the Armed forces Ordinariate, The Anglican Ordinariate and the Ukrainian and Chaldean churches in England which have their own bishops, liturgy and married priests although united to Rome. Territorial episcopacy and oaths of allegiance are merely a feudal throwback to the time when the bishop was the king’s tenant-in-chief.