Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Women bishops: Clause 5 (1) (c) What are the options?

To start our discussion of how the House of Bishops (HoB) might respond to the action of General Synod in referring the legislation back to them, let’s first look at the range of options that is legally possible.

The first point to note is that under the terms of the referral, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the General Synod, the HoB cannot make changes to any other part of the draft Measure. The only part of the Measure they are now permitted to alter is that which comes between sub-clauses (b) and (d) of Clause 5 (1).

The wording is shown in context below the fold.

There is however nothing to prevent them introducing some additional separate documentation, outside the text of the Measure, including but not limited to some proposed wording for the Code of Practice.

The second point is that the HoB could decide not to make any further change at all, and simply return the existing text to the Synod. Again this might be accompanied by some separate documentation. Those who wish to argue in favour of this course of action need to explain why they think that, despite the clear majority vote for referral, this is what the HoB should do.

The third point is that the HoB could simply withdraw the existing sub-clause altogether, thus restoring this part of the Measure to the wording that existed previously. Again, those who wish to argue for this option, need to explain why they think that, despite a clear lack of a two-thirds majority for referral in the House of Laity, this is what the HoB should now do.

The final point is that the HoB could propose some modifications to the existing wording of sub-clause (c). This would involve the additions of new words or even sentences, or the deletion of existing words or phrases. They might also split the sub-clause even further, for example to make a distinction between what it says about bishops and what it says about priests. They might add words to clarify the meaning of the term “theological convictions”. In all these cases, and any others, it may be helpful if the bishops issue some additional separate documentation, as mentioned above.

Before the General Synod considers any further change, the “Group of Six” has to determine that it is not now so substantial a change from the original draft Measure that it requires further review by all the diocesan synods.

But the purpose of any change now must be to increase the level of support that the Measure will receive in the Synod in November, and subsequently in Parliament. The question we are discussing here is what more can be said in the Measure that will allow those opposed to the underlying principle of it to feel less exposed, whilst still allowing those in favour of the underlying principle to feel able to support the Measure.

Clause 5 (1) (c) in context:

5 (1) The House of Bishops shall draw up, and promulgate, guidance in a Code of Practice as to—

(a) the making of schemes under section 2,

(b) the exercise of episcopal ministry in accordance with the arrangements contained in such schemes,

(c) the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3,

(d) the exercise by those involved in the making of an appointment of an incumbent and of a priest in charge for the benefice, of their functions in that regard where a Letter of Request is issued under section 3(3),

(e) the matters referred to in section 2(5), and

(f) such other matters as the House of Bishops considers appropriate to give effect to this Measure.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 9:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

The problematic phrase is 'consistent with the theological convictions ...'. What counts as a 'theological conviction'? Does it simply mean anything anyone chooses to believe about women's ministry? As we know there are some pretty strange views out there alongside others which are more orthodox. Personally I never sign blank cheques which is why I voted for an adjournment. I also thought it was the bishops' role to teach us what the Church believes not to offer to fall in with whatever we want to believe. I hope HoB will think again about these words at least.

Posted by: Jane Charman on Saturday, 21 July 2012 at 10:12am BST

To me, key considerations include (a) what would be necessary instead of just desirable to enable those whose views on women's ordination are different from those of their bishop, or the C of E's official view, to remain in the C of E and pursue their (lay or ordained) vocation, (b) how it can be achieved.

For instance, while I would ideally like to have a bishop who agreed with me on women's ordination and all manner of other things (and if I were helping to select a bishop I might be influenced by candidates' opinions as well as their personal qualities) this is not essential. To give an example, my diocesan (originally suffragan) bishop was, when appointed, reputedly a firm opponent of ordaining women to the priesthood, though his views have softened since then. I was not driven out of the C of E by his appointment.

Again, it is worth recognising that allowing parishes to help select their priests, and set policies on a range of matters in partnership with their parish clergy, already provides considerable protection to conscience. When advertising, shortlisting and interviewing, a particular stance on women's ordination can be made clear. The question of what further is required needs to be addressed.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Saturday, 21 July 2012 at 11:17am BST

"The third point is that the HoB could simply withdraw the existing sub-clause altogether, thus restoring this part of the Measure to the wording that existed previously. Again, those who wish to argue for this option, need to explain why they think that, despite a clear lack of a two-thirds majority for referral in the House of Laity, this is what the HoB should now do."

There are lots of good reasons why this is exactly what the HoB should do:

1. The unamended measure received more than two-thirds support in the dioceses. So what the CofE wants is quite clear.

2. The CofE is coming under increasing pressure, including from Parliament, to pass this measure. Proponents of women's ordination have time and history on our side.

3. What should be taking place between now and the next meeting of Synod is not tinkering with the unamended language, but rather heavy lobbying of the members of the House of Laity who are thought to be persuadable. The following points should be made to each such person:
(a) if he or she opposes the unamended measure, then his or her own membership in any future Synod is less likely;
(b) if he or she opposes the unamended measure, and it fails, then the bishops will lose their places in the House of Lords; and
(c) if he or she opposes the unamended measure, and it fails, then any measure considered by the next Synod will be much less favorable to his or her position. (Single-clause measure.)

Make no bones about it--what is needed now is some energetic politicking. The consequences of a negative vote should be made much more clear.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 21 July 2012 at 2:08pm BST

Just a word of perspective from the other shore. One thing I noticed at the just past General Convention was work by committees attempting to craft resolutions "that could pass" rather than crafting resolutions that adopted a particular point of view and then leaving it up to the Houses to decide if they wanted to vote up or down. We saw this most clearly in the resolution on the Anglican Covenant, which was ultimately worded as a "we can't make up our mind" resolution that passed easily. What that accomplished remains an open question.

I detect a bit of this same spirit of anticipation in the reference to what can or not obtain a required majority. It also seems to me that much of this process has involved this sort of "front-loading" if I may call it that. In the long run I wonder how helpful this sort of anticipatory prognostication spoils or compromises (literally) the work of the synods.

I hope this is not too "off-topic" but I think it an important "angle" to this discussion, as the likelihood of passage of whatever is proposed is second-guessed rather than simply moved.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 21 July 2012 at 6:21pm BST

A couple of comments:

Jeremy is quite right on his point 3(c), and opponents of women bishops need to factor this into their calculations. If for whatever reason, the measure fails, inevitably another measure with less, not more provision, will eventually succeed.

The compromise reached in the 1992 measure is the real sticking point here, and that it was given no expiry date or cut-off. It might be that it's this that needs revisiting first, before the women bishops measure can be re-presented.

Posted by: Simon Morden on Sunday, 22 July 2012 at 12:56am BST

We already have precedent over the last 20 years for a scheme that allows parishes to prevent women priests from presiding at the Eucharist, pronouncing the Absolution, or from being appointed as the incumbent. That scheme is enshrined in the 1992 Measure of course. And we have had another scheme (the Act of Synod) that provides for episcopal duties to be carried out by someone other than the diocesan bishop (although the scheme has been pushed much further than that by some of its supporters).

This draft measure sweeps those away and replaces them with the requirement for there to be Letters of Request and a Code of Practice. The HoB have added Clause 5(1)(c) in an attempt to give slightly stronger status to the provision. In doing so they have upset those who do not, for example, think that a parish should have any say (greater than the generality) in who their bishop is and what the bishop's theological beliefs and practices are.

So. Would it help to separate out (as we hinted in the main article) the different cases of bishops and priests here? Would the text of 5(1)(c) be acceptable if it referred only to male priests?

There might then need to be something slightly different said about male bishops, but my first question is whether the clause might be acceptable to all, with regard to what it says about priests.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 10:39am BST

Did I misunderstand this exercise? I had thought contributors were asked to provide suggested wordings or ways forward that would make it more likely for the Measure to be passed.

So rather than asking "what does theological conviction mean", are we asked to provide a definition that might be acceptable to more people than the current wording?

And while I agree that it could be more helpful if a possible cut-off or expiry date of the 1992 Measure could be discussed first, that would postpone the final vote by a long long time and would, therefore, not appear to be what you had in mind with this consultation.

Could you possibly clarify?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 11:12am BST

The point about the priest would be welcome.
However, as Christina Rees pointed out in the GS Adjournment debate, the draft measure agreed by the dioceses already implied the appointment of a theologically sympathetic bishop under the Diocesan Schemes that are to be produced.At the very least this must be spelt out in the Code of Practice or else we have a legislative solution that is worse for traditionalists than that which already exists and Laity in GS will not support a weakening of provision.

Posted by: Geo Noakes on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 2:45pm BST

Two thoughts:

The Bishops' amendment (c) is very badly worded. Better wording, without making it better or worse in substance, would be:

"(b) the selection of male bishops or male priests whose exercise of ministry is consistent with the theological convictions about the exercise of ministry by female bishops or female priests which led the parochial church council in question to issue a Letter of Request under section 3"

This immediately highlights the difficulties with the clause; for example, how are the relevant "theological convictions" to be discerned, and how can it be right to accommodate them, however far fetched or objectionable they may be?

A second thought, therefore, is for alternative wording which goes some way to address the point, but not as far as the unacceptable amendment of the Bishops. For example:

"(b) the selection of male bishops or male priests after consideration of any theological convictions about the exercise of ministry by female bishops or female priests which may have been expressed by the parochial church council at the time of any Letter of Request under section 3 but (for the avoidance of doubt) without imposing any obligation or requirement as to the outcome of such consideration."

Posted by: badman on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 12:21pm BST

Can I just say, mostly in reply to Jeremy, who I am sure is just saying it as he sees it

1. the fact that dioceses voted one way is not binding on the Synod. They are a necessary step not a binding vote. Anyway, 10 dioceses passed following motions, why are they never mentioned, neither is the actual voting proportions. That is because of the way we operate not as we might like it. The same is true for General Synod, it are not bound by diocesan synods, whose actual representative nature is sometimes not all it is cracked up to be.

2. It depends who you talk to on Parliament, to be honest. The second estates commissioner and indeed Chris Bryant etc do indeed think one way,as is their prerogative, but others also see constitutional issues as well.

3. I know this is not meant to be threatening, but does come over somewhat in that ilk. The safety or otherwise of synod seats is for the electorate, unless Jeremy is so sure of the next election. Also perhaps we should lose the bishops from the House of Lords, who knows? As for single clause measures next time - is he sure of that?

4. One word on the actual clause - if it is implicit in the measure it should be explicit, we shouldn't do implicit law. If it is not spelled out for various political reasons, from either side, I am unhappy with that. If it is good enough to go in a code, why not a measure?

Graeme Buttery

Posted by: Graeme Buttery on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 5:53pm BST

The problem with the theological convictions statements are that ABC parishes are not monochrome. Some worry about 'taint' and sacramental assurance, whereas others are quite happy to accept the ministry of male priests who have worked with and received the sacrament from women. So there is a spectrum which the church is trying to accommodate. Should the legislation try to accommodate the extreme? I think rather we should rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not fall into the legal trap

Posted by: John Wallace on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 9:03pm BST

John Wallace's observation's a good one - I've certainly 'helped out' at an ABC parish, despite my being pro-OW and my having female priest colleagues. The chances are that the rather rarified ecclesiological argument didn't cut a lot of ice with the parish in question, including the parish priest. There was no question of the diocesan being persona non grata, eithere - they just felt 'culturally' comfortable with the Visitor. I wonder how much of our thinking is being driven by 'purist' FiF rather than 'pragmatist' - and which is the constituency with which we should in the main be dealing?

Posted by: david rowett on Thursday, 26 July 2012 at 9:33am BST
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