The Board of Affirming Catholicism issues a strong welcome for the House of Bishops new legislative proposals to admit Women in the Episcopate of the Church of England (GS1886): simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality – and support for Option One.
and an accompanying paper setting out their views in detail. This is copied below.
Statement on the new Legislative Proposals to admit Women in the Episcopate of the Church of England (GS 1886)
Affirming Catholicism welcomes the publication of the new Legislative Proposals to admit Women in the Episcopate of the Church of England and the associated Report from the House of Bishops
We believe that the five elements of the underlying vision (laid out in § 24 of the proposals), as amended by the House of Bishops (presented at § 12 of their report), offer a very good basis for the drafting of new legislation:
Affirming Catholicism particularly welcomes the first and second of these general principles, which make it clear that there can be no ambiguity over the ordination or consecration of women. We also endorse the continued commitment to the minority within the Church of England who cannot recognise these ordinations, expressed in the fourth and fifth, and share the concern for the ecumenical context expressed in the third.
This vision is helpfully elaborated in §§ 32-43 which set out the underlying principles which must govern any legislation: simplicity, reciprocity, and mutuality.
The principle of simplicity affirms that “the existing, already complex, structures of the Church of England will not be changed” and in particular that “the position of each diocesan bishop as Ordinary will remain unaltered.” In consequence, “all licensed ministers will continue to owe canonical obedience to the diocesan bishop in all things lawful and honest and take an oath to acknowledge this duty” (§ 33).
In our view, this principle ensures the preservation of the Church of England’s catholic ecclesiology; it is vital that should underlie any proposals for legislation. We note the similarity of the oath “of canonical obedience to the diocesan bishop in all things lawful and honest” to the oath of allegiance sworn to the Queen (arguably a consecrated woman!) at ordination.
The principle of reciprocity affirms the willingness of all members of the Church of England, regardless of their views, to cooperate in mission and ministry (§ 35). It also recognises the importance of – where necessary – making special arrangements both for those who cannot receive the priestly or episcopal ministry of women, and for those who affirm that ministry.
We welcome the assertion that “once the Church of England has admitted women to the episcopate … there should no longer be any dioceses where none of the serving bishops ordains women as priests” (§ 39) and the suggestion that “In dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women it will be particularly important that a bishop who is fully committed to the ordained ministry of women is given a role across the whole diocese for providing support for female clergy” (§ 40), noting however, that support for laity and male clergy who affirm the ordination of women may also be appropriate and necessary.
The principle of mutuality “will mean that the majority and the minority will be committed to making it possible for the other to flourish”; it articulates an ongoing commitment to the appointment of traditionalist clergy to senior posts, including as bishops (§§ 41, 43).
We applaud the recognition of the need for an on-going relationship between those who hold the majority and the minority opinions, which we believe to be vital to the mission of the Church of England.
Taken together, these principles reveal the Church of England’s strong commitment to holding all groups together under common episcopal authority whilst respecting their differences. This seems to us a very positive set of principles on which to proceed.
Affirming Catholicism also welcomes the suggestion that the legislation should “deliver new Canons C 2 and C 4 which deal with the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate without the need for separate canons which are gender specific” (§ 54) whilst offering provision for the minority which allows them to continue to flourish. The precise form of this provision will depend on the way forward agreed by General Synod.
The working party suggests four possible ways forward:
1. This, the simplest way forward, would involve: a measure and amending canon which would made it lawful for women to become bishops; the repeal of the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure, together with the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod; a formal declaration by the House of Bishops and/or by the making of a new Act of Synod making provision for those who do not recognise the sacramental ministry of women; and provision of monitoring body and a dispute resolution procedure to ensure fair treatment under these provisions. (§§ 79-88; HOB Report §§ 14, 28)
2. This would look like option 1, but would include a provision in the Measure to couple it with an Act of Synod agreed by the Synod before final approval of the Measure; it might also include a requirement requiring that neither the Act of Synod nor the Measure could not amended or repealed without two-thirds majorities in each House. (§§ 89-95)
3. This would put in place a House of Bishops’ declaration or Act of Synod in relation to episcopal ministry and would also retain some elements of the 1993 Measure in relation to priestly ministry. (§§ 96-109) The working party is uncertain of the wisdom of this way forward, and in the House of Bishops it found only limited support.
4. The final option is to include more detail in the measure, as in the draft measure which was defeated in November. (§§ 110-120) Neither the working group nor the House of Bishops favours this route.
The House of Bishops has indicated its preference for the first of these options. Affirming Catholicism strongly endorses that preference. We recognise that the details of the provisions for the minority through an associated Act of Synod and/or declaration by the House of Bishops, still need to be worked out, and these must be clear before General Synod is asked to proceed. While we note that in law there is little distinction between an Act of Synod or a Declaration by the Bishops, and that neither can create “enforceable rights and duties”, we would welcome the provision of a dispute resolution procedure overseen by a monitoring body; this, we believe, would guard against failure to comply and against divisive use, whilst fostering trust. Moreover, we believe that Option 1 will best preserve the catholic nature of the Church of England, by encouraging all groups to recognise each other and to work together in a spirit of trust and generosity.
Finally, Affirming Catholicism applauds the bishops’ sense of urgency. Much damage has been done by General Synod’s rejection of the draft legislation in November 2012 and it is important to find a way forward before more people leave the Church of England. For the well-being of the church, we would not wish to cede the initiative to Parliament.
Affirming Catholicism, June 2013