Thinking Anglicans

WATCH responds to House of Bishops on changes to draft legislation

WATCH (Women and the Church)


TUESDAY 22nd MAY 2012 10.15am

House of Bishops Discussion Outcome : Women Bishops Legislation

WATCH (Women and the Church) is deeply disappointed to hear that the all male House of Bishops has, in a closed meeting, decided to make two amendments to the draft legislation on women bishops that had been so carefully crafted after years of debate and scrutiny from all sides and had commanded the support of 42/44 dioceses across the Church of England.

They have failed to listen to the voice of ordained women and those who support their ministry and been swayed by those who are opposed into making concessions that can only undermine the ministry of women in future years.

Their decision to intervene in this way will significantly undermine the credibility of the House of Bishops both inside and outside the Church.

The exact wording of the amendments is not in the House of Bishops’ Press Release, nor are the figures of how many bishops voted for and against them. WATCH will be considering the amendments in detail over coming days and will issue a full response in due course.

The Reverend Rachel Weir, Chair of WATCH said:

“The House of Bishops’ intervention will be an enormous blow to the morale of women clergy who were looking to their bishops for clear affirmation of their ministry as a welcome gift to the Church.”


  • Surely it depends on what the amendments are, and what they will do. Taking the position that all amendments are bad just doesn’t make sense – the House of Bishops could have amended the legislation in favour of a group such as WATCH (whom I fully support).

  • Lindsay Southern says:

    WATCH made their comments on the basis of the limited information given in the House of Bishops press release – which certainly didn’t imply amendments in favour of a group like WATCH. Their press release points out that they will be waiting until the detail of the amendments are seen, before taking a stance on them. Nevertheless, I personally am concerned that one of the main issues is that putting together this legislation has taken a long time and been subject to enormous scutiny, discussion and consultation – last minute tweaks behind closed doors does little to honour that process and may undermine it. Besides which even a degree off a compass bearing can lead you miles of course in due time, so WATCH may be wise to be wary.

  • Chris Smith says:

    Thus ends transparency and integrity by the all male House of Bishops when they pursue “sneaky” actions such as this. There has never been a better time in history for ALL of The People of God in The Church of England to stand up and shout loudly: ENOUGH. This is more than an insult. These amendments must be removed and exposed for exactly what they are: Misogyny.

  • Watch’s fb page now has a list of more specific concerns.

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    link ?

  • commentator says:

    Since the House of Bishops is changing the legislation will it have to return to the Dioceses and thence to the Deaneeries to be voted upon? This is scandalous behaviour from the HoB. But we have grown to expect no better.

  • Commentator
    That is a decision that will be made on Thursday by the “group of six” which includes:
    2 archbishops
    Prolocutors of Canterbury and York
    Chair and Vice Chair of the House of Laity

    Whatever four of them agree to, i.e. are they changes of substance or not, goes.
    But it never had to go to deaneries in the first place, that is a decision made locally in each diocese, and even if sent, the deanery votes have no legal significance.

  • Lindsay Southern says:

    @Laurence Roberts Here is the Women and The Church facebook link

  • Here are WATCH’s specific concerns 1-3 and further concerns 1-4 (5-7 follow)

    “WATCH – CONCERNS about the Clause 5 amendment –
    22nd May 2012
    Our main concerns about the details of the Clause 5 amendment are:
    1. It makes it acceptable in law that parishes are entitled to receive the ministry of a bishops who is ‘pure’ ie has not ordained women or been ordained by a woman.
    2. It introduces the idea of parishes deciding who they will have as their bishop.
    3. It goes beyond the Act of Synod in allowing parishes to require a male priest who accords with their views as vicar.
    All of these perpetuate the belief that women are in some way impure and cause bishops and priests to become tainted by association with them. This is contradictory to the gospel and damaging to all women, as it validates the ideas that underpin the subordination of women and so much violence against them.

    These were our original concerns about this amendment:
    1. The Revision Committee used the words ‘a male bishop’ because after exhaustive conversations they could not find a description of the qualification of maleness that satisfied those opposed to female bishops. We see no reason to suppose this could be resolved now if it couldn’t be then.
    2. In the 1992 Measure the words used in resolutions A and B were parishes that ‘would not accept a woman’. There was no qualification as to the ‘type’ of man they would accept. This amendment restricts this choice of male priest by the Diocesan bishop, and therefore goes beyond what has been the law since 1994. We therefore believe this is a substantial change to the Measure.
    3. Requiring Diocesan bishops to accede to the theological convictions of parishes in a choice of delegated bishop opens the door to the possibility of their requiring a choice of bishop on matters other than gender: the issue of sexuality will be next in line.
    4. The selection of male bishop consistent with theological convictions is a hostage to fortune: what if their theological conviction is that ‘women should be at home with their children’? Will the Diocesan bishop have to find a bishop who supports that view? There would soon need to be as many delegated bishops as there are parishes!”

  • And further concerns 5-7:

    “5. Although we argued at the revision stage that the theological convictions of a parish making a letter of request should be made explicit, we recognised that it could create difficulties for the Diocesan bishop in having to decide whether those theological convictions are ‘valid’ enough to require arrangements under a Diocesan Scheme. We think the Measure is in fact stronger for parishes not having to declare their theological convictions. To open that particular can of worms by law seems to create more difficulties than it would solve.
    6. There is a subtlety in placing this clause in the list of required contents of a Code of Practice. It makes it clear that the Code will contain guidance on this, whilst not specifying what that guidance will be. So, although the Code might in fact say ‘Selection of a male bishop or priest is entirely at the discretion of the Diocesan bishop’ (as the draft Code currently implies) there would be enormous pressure, boosted by this amendment, actually to say ‘the Diocesan bishop will select a bishop whose ministry accords with etc etc.’ Voting on the Code of Practice only requires a simple majority: voting on the Measure requires a 2/3 majority. This means that it will be much easier to get something supporting this amendment in the Code if this amendment is included in the Measure.
    7. Including the word ‘the selection of…’ is a substantial change to the Measure, as it has a very great potential (given the argument in point 6) to ensure that the Diocesan bishop’s choice of ‘male bishop’ is restricted beyond that intended by the Measure as drafted.”

  • LaurenceR says:

    Well, these new ‘provisions’ substantially depart from what the Diocesan Synods agreed. So it must be returned to the Dioceses once more.

    Who would want to pay this price for such an oppressive dogs’ breakfast ?

    John Habgood’s initial mistake now compounded and writ large.

    It simply will not Do !

  • LaurenceR says:

    While this is debated and voted on again, over the next several years, there needs to be a moratorium on ALL ordinations of bishops.

    No new bishops until this is sorted.

  • commentator says:

    Thank you, Simon. But it is a further scandal that those who introduce the changes should be 33.3% of those who get to decide whether they are substantive of not. Will the other four standup to the Archbishops? Will the Primate of England be in hectoring mode and the Primate of All England simply demob’ happy?

  • Mark Bennet says:

    There are some comments about a premature response – well this is a first response to what was available in the face of all sorts of journalists and others wanting a comment. It might be worth wondering why the Bishops issued a press release with some detailed notes in it, yet without the actual text attached. You have to comment on what is in front of you. Also the Bishops did not deal with the amendments in the order they appear in the measure but put the amendment which was likely to be least contentious first – again, why? And the tone of the Bishops statement and the nature of the amendments actually does nothing to celebrate the ministry of women in the church – once again – and that needs to be pointed out.

  • Is there any possibility that, if the amended legislation is passed, and Women are ordained Bishop in the C.of E.; a strong Woman Bishop may refuse to ‘delegate’ her episcopal authority to an alternate (male) bishop – on account of the threat to the irregular diminution of her diocesan authority?

    I’m sure there would be many in the Church of England who would be ready to back her up.

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    The Measure requires each Diocese to put a scheme in place; anyone failing to draw up a Scheme would presumably be in default of their duty under the Measure.

  • LaurenceR says:

    Meanwhile, while it is all sorted out over the next few years, women could be appointed to bishop posts without being ordained bishop. That could be a marvellous experiment and might give rise to new experiences, practices and understandings of true ‘episcope’. In that interim period, men too could be appointed and get on with pastoral care without ordination as bishop.

    Episcope in the Church of England is very ineffective as it is — this might well improve matters in unforeseen ways.

  • carl jacobs says:

    Pete Broadbent

    The Measure requires each Diocese to put a scheme in place; anyone failing to draw up a Scheme would presumably be in default of their duty under the Measure.

    And then what? A sternly worded memo? A severe finger wagging? The dreaded eyebrow arch of disapproval? Or perhaps a congratulatory editorial in the Guardian? The unspoken truth is that there will be no consequences for being in ‘default of duty.’ This CoP will work only to the extent that individual bishops are willing to act in accordance with it. And people wonder why conservatives will leave in droves.

    Here is the CoP in one short paragraph. “Vicar Bob, we will let you hang around until retirement because you joined when people were still allowed to hold your bigoted attitudes. But we don’t allow those attitudes anymore. So keep your bigoted opinions to yourself, and we will leave you alone. If however you make trouble over this issue, then we will rethink our position. Remember, there’s no one out there of consequence who will stand up for you.”


  • Perry Butler says:

    And people wonder why conservatives will leave in droves.

    We have heard that one before.

  • Father David says:

    So, has the legislation simply been given fine tuning by the House of Bishops or is this a major overhaul? If it is the latter will the car and its engine pass or fail its M.O.T.?

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    Actually,Carl, any Diocese that fails to comply with the scheme would be in serious breach. I don’t know where you minister, but it would in any part of the CofE be an ecclesiastical offence, rendering the bishop to proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure. This is a serious legal framework and part of the law of the UK. And those who don’t comply with the Code of Practice would be subject to judicial review.

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