Wednesday, 23 June 2010

women bishops: Parliamentary questions

The new Second Church Estates Commissioner took questions in the House of Commons yesterday. The first was about women bishops.

Here is the verbatim Hansard report.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked-

Women Bishops

2. Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What progress the Church of England has made on proposals to enable women to be consecrated as bishops. [3388]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): Before I answer that question, may I pay tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell)? He has been the longest serving Second Church Estates Commissioner ever, and he did an excellent job. The legislation to enable women to become bishops reaches the General Synod’s equivalent of Report early next month in York. Depending on what is decided there, the legislation will then go to the 44 diocesan synods, and I understand that the earliest date that the General Synod can take a final decision, and when the matter can eventually come before the House, is 2012.

Diana R. Johnson: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. Does he not agree that the intervention of the two archbishops, with their proposal on the legislation to enable women to become bishops, will create a two-tier system of bishops? Women will no doubt be on the lower tier, and does that not send out completely the wrong message from the established Church of this country about the role of women bishops?

Tony Baldry: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words at the beginning of her question. There are clear majorities in the General Synod in favour of women becoming bishops, but, as the proposals by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York yesterday demonstrated, there are still efforts to try to find ways to reconcile those who have deep-held opposition to the measure. Under legislation, it is important that the Church decides the way forward, and we should give it the space to do so. However, it is also very important that the Church hears the voices of this House about how we see those matters, because ultimately the issue will have to come back to this House.

Later there was a second question which referred to women bishops.

7. Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): When the responsibilities of the Second Church Estates Commissioner in respect of this House were last reviewed. [3393]

Tony Baldry: I am beginning to get to grips with the responsibilities of this post, which was established by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1850. I would say at this stage that I will try to have the same broad approach to answering questions on behalf of the Church as did my predecessor. I hope that I can be a helpful conduit between the Church and this House, and this House and the Church.

Peter Bottomley: My hon. Friend is admirably suited to following the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) in this post. Will he pass back to the Synod the fact that we look forward in this House to having bishops chosen on merit, recognising that sex is not merit and that the Synod can throw out proposals that it does not like?

Tony Baldry: As I said in response to an earlier question, it is very important that the General Synod and the Church should hear the voices of this House, and I am sure that they will have heard, and will hear, the voice of my hon. Friend.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 10:15am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

It's good that these two questions came from a Labour MP and a Tory MP.

Perhaps more MPs -- including MPs from other parties, in and out of government -- can ask similar questions over the next two weeks.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 12:44pm BST

I wonder when the ¨Honorables¨ will bring up the unfortunate topic of Rowan Williams elevation, of himself, to Anglican Pope? Has anyone at Parliament noticed he has assumed a papal throne or isn´t it considered ¨sensible¨ to speak of such things?

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 3:34pm BST

IIRC, the Church of Sweden HAD to open the ordained ministry to women because it was (at that time) "established" & had to conform to civil law. Could the same thing be (or become) true in England?

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 7:55pm BST

Perhaps jurisdiction in the Church of England does not consist solely of the 'ordinary jurisdiction' exercised by bishops.

eg Canon A7 Of the Royal Supremacy

We acknowledge that the Queen’s excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil.

It seems to me that jurisdiction is a curious issue to take into this debate, not least because ultimate (human) jurisdiction does seem to be exercised by a woman ... ?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 10:06pm BST

It will be very interesting to see what Parliament will make of any ensuing legislation put forward from the C.of E. General Synod on the issue of women bishops. Perhaps Her Majesty The Queen may even put in a word for the authority of women as pertinent to her own position as Supreme Head of the Church of England?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 11:23pm BST

'It seems to me that jurisdiction is a curious issue to take into this debate, not least because ultimate (human) jurisdiction does seem to be exercised by a woman ... ?'

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 10:06pm

Excellent point

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Thursday, 24 June 2010 at 12:14am BST

Note that the monarch is supreme Governor, not Head. There's a difference! Also note that she doesn't have spiritual authority, only ecclesiastical and civil, according to Canon. I think that's a pretty big difference, and a good reason to avoid bringing the monarchy into this debate at all.

Posted by: Fr James on Thursday, 24 June 2010 at 12:55pm BST

Fr James

The reason for bringing the Queen into this is that the Queen has supreme authority (according to the Canon) in ecclesiastical causes - which equates, in my simplistic reading to jurisdiction. Our Parliament is the Queen's Parliament and exercises its role in relation to church legislation because of the authority the Queen has in the Church. The Canon fills out what the role as 'head' (interesting word in the context of conservative evangelical headship arguments), or 'Supreme Governor' (preface to the 39 Articles) actually involves - see also Article XXXVII.

If the Archbishops had been concerned about spiritual authority they might well have referred to the ministry of word and sacrament rather than jurisdiction - which was my other point - jurisdiction is simply the wrong concept.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Thursday, 24 June 2010 at 7:15pm BST

"Also note that she doesn't have spiritual authority, only ecclesiastical and civil, according to Canon." - Fr.James, on Thursday -

As one privileged to witness the BBC TV broadcast of the Queen's Coronation, I do remember that the Queen received a special Anointing, bestowed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, as Monarch of the Realm, and presumably as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This was considered to be so deeply spiritual that the TV cameras were prevented from recording the ceremony.

Now what, I wonder, did that special anointing signify - if not some grace given by God for the Queen to act as God's Regent in State and Church?

Just asking?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 25 June 2010 at 1:49am BST

Have a look at this, Fr Ron:

I'm sure that the Queen's anointing was a deeply spiritual moment. As the liturgy testifies, we recall how Solomon was anointed King. Elizabeth was anointed as Queen.

You claim that the Queen received this anointing "presumably as Supreme Governor of the Church of England" - your use of the word 'presumably' highlights this rather thin argument. Nowhere is it implied that monarchs are anointed to serve as spiritual authorities for the Church.

This is why I think it's silly to bring the monarch's role into this argument in the first place. The Archbishops are specifically talking about the ordinary jurisdiction possessed by bishops. I for one hope that their amendment will work.

Posted by: Fr James on Friday, 25 June 2010 at 1:30pm BST

She is Governor of a Protestant national Church. The authority and legitimacy of our Church (such as it is) comes from the State via the Elizabethan Settlement. This includes the authority of bishops. You may wish it were otherwise, I'm sure, as there is nothing specially Catholic or even godly about it. But you have chosen to belong to and to minister in such a Protestant national Church -- there's no denying that.

It leaves women bishops in the shade as a cause of concern from the Anglo-Catholic viewpoint. Is that position valid at all ? Sounds like a blend of special pleading and wish fulfilment to me.

Posted by: Pantycelyn on Friday, 25 June 2010 at 5:06pm BST

"This is why I think it's silly to bring the monarch's role into this argument in the first place." - Fr. James, on Friday -

You, dear Father, may think it silly, but take note of the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops were the first of her subjects to swear their allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen. We are speaking, here of the fact that her male bishops are her subjects, owing their fealty to a female queen.

One is speaking of the relative degrees of authority, and it would appear that, even in his own Cathedral Church, the Male Archbishop pays homage (is subservient) to the (female) Queen - who just happens to be Defender of The Faith, of which the Archbishop is merely a Minister.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 26 June 2010 at 3:42am BST
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