Thinking Anglicans

Women in the Episcopate: Affirming Catholicism comments

Response to GS 1924: Report of the Steering Committee for the Draft Legislation on Women in the Episcopate

Affirming Catholicism welcomes the publication of the Report of the Steering Committee for the Draft Legislation on Women in the Episcopate (GS 1924) and the proposals to admit women to the episcopate of the Church of England. In particular, we applaud the use of a simple measure with associated guidelines for provisions for dissenting parishes, and dispute procedure. We especially value the recognition that provisions for alternative ministry will be overseen by the diocesan bishop, and that oaths of canonical obedience will continue to be made to the diocesan bishop.

The proposals have been admirably summarised by Will Adam (http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/10/28/women-bishops-what-you-see-and-what-you-dont/). They comprise:

1. The draft Measure – essentially a single-clause Measure – contains a principal clause making it legal for the Synod to legislate by canon to enable women to be ordained as bishops and priests. There is an additional clause stating beyond doubt that the office of bishop is not a “public office” under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and there are a number of consequential amendments to other legislation.

2. The Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 is repealed and along with it Resolutions A and B.

3. An amending Canon, which
a) adjusts the Canons of the Church of England to put those canons about the ordination and ministry of deacons, priests and bishops on the same footing for men and for women.

b) proposes a new Canon C 29 which places a new duty on the House of Bishops to make Regulations (to be approved by a two-thirds majority of each House of General Synod) for “the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements for which the House of Bishops’ declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests makes provision”. This assumes that the House of Bishops will have made such a declaration.

4. a draft declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests that the House of Bishops could make; and

5. a set of draft regulations for a system for resolving disputes, introducing an “Independent Reviewer” whose function is similar to that of an ombudsman.

The Report thus presents all (or nearly all) the different elements of the package for discussion by General Synod, allowing a much clearer sense to be gained of how this process will work. In particular, and centrally, the introduction of a process for dispute resolution is integral to the package. Affirming Catholicism also welcomes the use of small groups and facilitated conversations in the drafting of these proposals.

However, we continue to have some concerns:

a) The proposals imply that the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 will be rescinded (§41) but this is nowhere explicitly stated. The proposals affirm that “the sees [of the current PEVs] will continue to exist, and the post holders continue to remain in office,” but do not clarify the status of these sees.
Affirming Catholicism would welcome clarity on these points, and in particular about the status of the “sees”: are they to become effectively suffragans of Canterbury and York?

b) The provisions to be made for dissenting parishes to issue letters of request (or to rescind such a request) will be made at the request of a PCC passed (apparently: again, this is not stated explicitly) by simple majority at a meeting of which at least four weeks’ notice of the meeting has been given; either 2/3 of the PCC members must be present at this meeting, or the motion must be passed by a majority of all the PCC members (Annexe A, §§19-20). If two thirds of the PCC are present and the request is passed by a simple majority, then it can potentially be passed by one third of the PCC plus one person. This is contrary to the provision made in §54 that there will be “a resolution-making procedure so as to ascertain that the decision has the support of the majority of the PCC.
Affirming Catholicism continues to believe that a question of such import for a parish should be decided by a meeting of all those on the electoral roll, and that a two-thirds majority of those present and voting should be required. We note that a two-thirds majority in all three houses of General Synod will be required to change any of these proposals, and believe that it would be consistent to expect a similar level of agreement for the issuing of Letters of Request by PCCs.
Failing that, we would recommend that it can only be passed if two-thirds of the PCC are present and voting and with a two-thirds majority of those voting. This would at least ensure that a majority of the whole PCC is required.
We would also welcome the incorporation of a requirement that a motion to issue Letters of Request can only be put forward after a documented process of widespread consultation, either at the parish level or at least within the congregation, and that and after any decision, the formal Request must be publicised in the church, like faculty notices.

c) The provisions also introduce a commitment to the continuing “presence in the College of Bishops of at least one bishop who takes the Conservative Evangelical view on headship” (§30), which is seen as “important for sustaining the necessary climate of trust.”
Although we recognise that the constitution of the College of Bishops needs to reflect something of the diversity of the Church of England, as recommended by the Pilling Report, we would not wish this to be operated along the lines of a quota system for the College of Bishops. This comes close to viewing individual Bishops as representatives of the views of particular groups rather than as a focus for unity in their Dioceses and the Church as a whole. It is important that those selecting bishops – which in the case of the diocesan appointments is the Crown Nomination Commission – are free to identify the best person for a particular situation and context. We note again the need to clarify the canonical position of the sees formerly designated for the PEVs.

d) For the purposes of the Equalities Act, the legislation has found it necessary to define a diocesan bishop as being not a public office, in that the appointment of bishops is not “on the recommendation of, or subject to the approval of, a member of the executive” (§21).
Affirming Catholicism views with considerable concern the suggestion that bishops do not hold a public office. Although we recognise that the report does note that “The definition of ‘public office’ is solely for the purpose of the Equality Act and has no implications for the public role of bishops more generally,” we believe that this is an unfortunate concession.

Affirming Catholicism would also observe that continuing relationships with the Methodist Church and other ecumenical partners are in some cases predicated on the expectation that the Church of England will admit women and men to leadership positions at all levels. It is not clear to us whether this legislation, with its explicit concessions to allow the Church of England to avoid the requirements of the Equalities Act, will be held by our ecumenical partners to fulfil that requirement.

A PDF version of this document is available here.

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Father Ron Smith
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..if it is practically impossible to provide ministry that takes into account all the convictions of a particular parish, what will be the threshold at which the Independent Reviewer would reasonably entertain a grievance?”
– Will Adam – ‘Law & Religion’ –

From Will Adam’s legal conundrum; even with the oversight of the proposed ‘ombudsman’, where is the authority of the Female Bishop in all of this?

Will she be consulted? And will she be honour-bound to comply with the ombudsman’s ruling? The legal situation does seem problematic.

Stephen B
Guest
Stephen B

I go to General Synod next Monday very optimistic that we can get this done, I understand the reservations of the purists on different sides of this, but I think many of those issues will make no difference on the ground as all people who have the gifts to be leaders will be seen to be just that.

Paul Edelin
Guest
Paul Edelin

As a simple citizen I fear that the outstanding issue is the fiddle with the Equality Act.

On the one hand the extant bishops are perceived to want to retain seats in the House of Lords, the only members (men) with padded arm rests.

On the other hand Pope Francis has made an impassioned plea for the corrupt to be tied to a rock and thrown into the sea.

Must the electorate, who don’t enjoy obfuscation and sense manipulation of power, tolerate such an unfavourable opposition of views?

Lilies fester, especially at this time of year.

Iain McLean
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Iain McLean

Paul Edelin: spot on. If the post of diocesan bishop is not a public office, then the C of E is a voluntary association like every other faith community. Fine: but then by what right do 26 of its members, all male, all English, sit ex officio to make laws binding atheists and Quakers, and Scots, Welsh, and Irish? The last time the bishops swung a vote was on the Equalities Bill itself. In 2010 they forced its weakening, in a vote that there was not time for the elected house of Parliament to reverse before the general election. I… Read more »

William Raines
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William Raines

The point the AffCath response makes about the status of PEVs seems pretty minor, but consider the situation 20 years from now (say) when both the sees of Canterbury and York are occupied are women.

Stuart, Devon
Guest
Stuart, Devon

Iain McLean, English bishops in the revising chamber is hardly the greatest issue with the current UK parliament. In the Commons, where power truly resides, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs constantly vote on measures which apply only to England, and they have proportionately more representatives than the population of the country on whose behalf they are deciding. In the last parliament those votes were often critical to getting legislation through. In the Lords, we have political appointees, hereditary members and those appointed through custom due to them having held a certain office – Chief of the Defence Staff, for… Read more »

iain mclean
Guest
iain mclean

Stuart: I do consider the moral dimension. That is why I think what I do. On same-sex marriage, the majority of bishops voted to reject the bill without discussion. On the Equality Bill, as I mentioned, they decisively voted to protect the range of discriminatory behaviour allowed to the C of E. On Civil Partnerships in 2004, they mostly voted for a wrecking amendment, but now claim that they were in favour of CPs all along. My religion teaches me to oppose discrimination. Theirs, as revealed by their votes, teaches them to uphold discrimination. You are quite right that the… Read more »

Stuart, Devon
Guest
Stuart, Devon

Iain, forgive me, I wasn’t intending to imply that you don’t consider the moral dimension.

My point was that having bishops in the Lords helps ensure that moral dimensions of issues are debated – including when the bishops themselves may be wrong, but their opponents are led to explore the moral arguments for their case.

Yes, it would be ideal if there could be representatives of religion in each part of the UK, but there are practical challenges in instituting that. And England does have 84% of the UK’s population.

Paul Edelin
Guest
Paul Edelin

If the post of diocesan bishop is defined via the current proposals to be “not a public office”, that is perceived as a wriggle to ensure that gender discrimination may continue to be interleaved in the episcopal system. When lawyers draft strange proposals and their clients instantly proclaim from the house tops that they are merely protecting their backsides with no subterfuge intended, people presume that the reality is rather different. Aff Cath have correctly identified that the proposed amendment to the provisions of the Equality Act remains a major hurdle to the current set of proposals. It may not… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Stuart, I would like to believe that you are right, but as Iain pointed out, during the marriage equality debate the Bishops voted for an amendment that would have resulted in the immediate end of the debate. There was no intention to explore or to let others explore the moral argument.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

‘My religion teaches me to oppose discrimination. Theirs, as revealed by their votes, teaches them to uphold discrimination.’ ‘There was no intention to explore or to let others explore the moral argument’. This all assumes they actually knew what they were doing and were tactically and pragmatically savvy in their pursuit of it in the Lords – whichever groups they had to jettison in the process. I rather assume the opposite. The CofE Bishops weren’t alone in being completely caught out and tactically and theologically unprepared for this debate when it suddenly arrived. The result was a mess and a… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David,
I don’t honestly understand that. Opinion poll after opinion poll had shown that secular morals have swung firmly behind marriage equality.
The House of Commons vote had come up with a large majority in favour.
How can the bishops have been unprepared for that reality? How can they not have heard the theological arguments that raged within their own church over the last decades?

I can understand that they were displeased by the outcome. But the shock really did astonish me. What planet do they live on?

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“The CofE Bishops weren’t alone in being completely caught out and tactically and theologically unprepared for this debate when it suddenly arrived.”

It’s 2013, right? How could they possibly be so unprepared? After all, the former ABC certainly had something to say about TEC’s inclusion of LGBT people.

It’s generous to say that the Lords were unprepared. The reality is that they were perfectly prepared to uphold the oppressive view, as they always seem to be. There are nonsensical and insulting papers that came out of – I forget what you call it, “church house?” They drew on those.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Erika. Thanks for your comments. I think this planet is quite demanding and complex enough to account for all this actually. You ask ‘How can the bishops have been unprepared?’ … well until we can answer that question we perhaps have not understood what kind of church we appoint bishops to lead. That is not excusing. But it is realistic. On a more recent TA posting Ian Paul questions the huge weight and range of expectations and gifts we look for when appointing leaders (see Searching for Superman). On another point do you really mean that ‘equal marriage’ has raged… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, Equal marriage was in the Conservative’s Equality Paper (I can’t remember the proper title right now) that was published before the Manifesto. And I agree with Ian Paul that we want too much from our leaders. But neither of those are really my points. Although some people didn’t want the equal marriage vote and said that it hadn’t been prepared enough, the fact is that opinion poll after opinion poll showed that the country was ready for it. The House of Commons vote was decisive. There had been some impressive speeches in favour and against, the debate was of… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Standing in the Gents at Swanwick conference centre a bishop was heard to declare, to no-one in particular, ‘this is the only place I am absolutely clear what I am supposed to be doing’. Erica if you agree with Ian Paul, and I, that we expect too much leaders from our leaders how does shape how we respond to those times they appear to let us down, seem appear hopelessly off the pace, and fail us in the causes that we find to be most clear and compelling? I think that this is much more than over-busyness. It is to… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, we are still talking cross purposes. This is not about idealising leadership. I am not expecting great deal of leadership from the church, it doesn’t have a good track record, its processes are cumbersome, it is usually 10 steps behind society. I can live with that. I criticise it but I can live with it. No, what I found absolutely impossible to understand in this case was the palpable surprise by the outcome in the House of Lords. That is completely incomprehensible from anyone remotely politically aware who reads opinion polls, sees what is happening in the countries around… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“‘they were perfectly prepared to uphold the oppressive view’. But Cynthia they have no one view on this.”

My recollection was that the Lord Bishops who spoke and voted on marriage equality were unanimously lined up in favor of the wrecking amendment. I know there’s a wider range amongst the bishops, in general. However, the ones who did the voting were pretty bad…

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

To quote the Church Times report:

“FOURTEEN diocesan bishops were present at the vote on a wrecking amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday night, the most to attend a vote in recent times.

“Of the 14, nine voted for Lord Dear’s amendment to deny the Bill a Second Reading. Five abstained. The nine were: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Bristol, Birmingham, Chester, Coventry, Exeter, Hereford, London, and Winchester. The Bishops of Derby, Guildford, Leicester, Norwich, and St Edmundsbury & Ipswich abstained.”

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

It really doesn’t help to speak as if the Bishops in the Lord’s had a whole raft of options to choose from when it came to the vote there. They didn’t did they? That was part of their dilemma. I agree it still looks hideous but given serious concerns about the theology and social outworking of the idea of ‘Equal Marriage’ (found on all sides of the debate of same-sex relationships) how should/could they have voted at this point? (and just for the record I have gay friends who have serious social and theological concerns about this piece of legislation… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

It’s possible, David, that I’m not up on all the intricacies of that law. I’m gay and I want equality under the law. I, and my partner (who is truly a gift from God), ARE most certainly equal in the eyes of God and equally created in the image of God. Since we are deeply religious, high church Anglicans, we want the sacrament of marriage for the same reasons everyone else does. I don’t know what reservations your friends would have. Perhaps that devil is in some details of which I’m unaware. Equality is justice. Separate is almost inevitably unequal.