Thursday, 9 December 2010

General Synod - Question on episcopal appointments

At the recent November group of sessions Mr Justin Brett (Chichester) asked the Secretary General, Mr William Fittall:

The Second Church Estates Commissioner recently told Parliament that: “there is no Church of England rule that prevents a celibate person in a civil partnership from being considered for appointment as a bishop. The issue is whether someone in that position could act as a focus for unity in a diocese. That would have to be considered by those responsible for making any episcopal appointment”.

In the light of that statement and the recent coming into force of the Equality Act 2010, is the Secretary General aware of any guidance from those involved in episcopal appointments processes on how to approach these matters consistently with the law.

Mr Fittall replied:

The Legal Office stands ready to provide legal advice to those responsible for overseeing episcopal appointments exercises. The Equality Act, like the 2003 Regulations before it, permits those making appointments for the purposes of organised religion to apply a requirement related to sexual orientation so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers. The Church of England’s policy on same sex relationships and civil partnerships is set out in the various well known formal statements dating back to 1987, of which the most recent is the House of Bishops pastoral statement, issued in 2005, when civil partnerships were introduced. Any requests for clarification would be for the House to consider.

Mr Brett then asked Mr Fittall a supplementary question:

Within the procedure for appointing bishops, what is the understanding of what it means to be a focus of unity in a diocese.

Mr Fittall replied:

That’s a very good question and it’s a phrase that I think is allowed to speak for itself. It is a canonical requirement that a bishop should be a focus of unity. And it is for the judgment, in the case of a suffragan bishop, of the diocesan bishop, advised by those who support him in that process. And in the case of diocesan appointments it is for the judgment of the Crown Nominations Commission. And those making appointments have to take account of a wide range of considerations, including statements made by the House of Bishops. It is at the end of the day a judgment.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 4:37pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod
Comments

William Fittall once again worming his way out of another 'difficult' question.

Posted by: hitherqueen on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 5:00pm GMT

"The issue is whether someone in that position could act as a focus for unity in a diocese. That would have to be considered by those responsible for making any episcopal appointment"

Translation: "Not Our Kind, Dear."

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 7:33pm GMT

Funny phrase, "focus of unity," isn't it?

Could it reasonably be held that any of the following bishops with impeccable credentials vis-a-vis their marital status yet completely off the wall when it comes to a certain issue were/are focuses (or even foci) of unity:
Tom Wright;
Michael Nazir-Ali;
Graham Dow;
Wallace Benn;
George Carey?

They seem to me to have been five of the most divisive characters you could possibly find to lead an organisation.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 7:54pm GMT

Well, they could always be flying bishops where the focus of unity thing is much reduced almost by definition.

In fact, a gay extreme anglo-catholic traditionalist would tick a lot of boxes. But does such a man exist ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 8:29pm GMT

'to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers'.

Of course this answer essentially means that no priest who holds an opinion on anything, and no woman, could ever be a bishop because there will always be those whose 'strongly held convictions' will be conflicted with.

As a result we will continue to have as bishops, men, and men only, who are administrators but lack the prophetic voice which the church needs. Where is the Bishop Bell, the Michael Ramsey, The Mervyn Stockwood, of our time?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 9:06pm GMT

And so a woman bishop would be a focus of unity for a diocese?

Posted by: JMH on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 10:32pm GMT

@ Laurence Roberts. Perhaps you should try visiting Walsingham: it's a place you might find an answer to your question.

Posted by: Doug Chaplin on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 12:07am GMT

Really Doug you amaze me - next you'll be telling me that they would nt even have to go through all the business of ordaining a new bishop !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 11:40am GMT

'Focus of unity' is, je pense, one of those ideas that have crept in from outside the C of E and are now seen as holy writ. I don't think there's a word of it in the BCP (1662). There bishops are seen as Confirming, Ordaining and making known the evangel.

What is 'unity' anyway ? A spiritual bond between Christians and God and so each other. Not organisational, credal or based in the values of 'My Fair Lady'('middle class morality').

Jesus would certainly never have qualified in the eyes of the ecclesiastical bureaucrats of our time -and his.


Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 11:48am GMT

Peter Selby came up with an interesting comment in an article written in the late 1980s/early 1990s, which suggested that if there are different view points within a church/diocese , perhaps a bishop who is a genuine leader/shepherd of the flock etc should think of being a focus of dis-unity. I read this in a constructive sense of recognising differing view points and being prepared to hold these differences, while we await discernment in God's time, rather than try to achieve a spurious uniformity which is called unity.

Posted by: Rosalind on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 12:33pm GMT

Where is the link for the quote? I've been trying to find even the notice paper for questions for over a month!

Posted by: Geoff on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 5:17pm GMT

It hasn't as far as I know been published yet. This material is my own transcription of the audio recording.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 11:48pm GMT

Focus of unity' is, je pense, one of those ideas that have crept in from outside the C of E

You could argue it's in Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrnaeans VIII)

Posted by: david rowett on Saturday, 11 December 2010 at 11:00pm GMT
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