The National WATCH Committee has released a paper setting out its position on the House of Bishops’ amendments to the draft legislation on female bishops: A Statement of our Concerns.
The paper is quite long, but here are the conclusions (from page 7).
The bishops have argued that they have not changed the substance or intention of the Measure, and hope that when looked at dispassionately and carefully everyone will agree with them.
Our conclusions, after consultation and careful and dispassionate consideration, are these:
1. The House of Bishops has made changes that are significant in how the draft legislation might work in practice. In so doing, it has de-stabilised the legislative process: there is no clear way forward towards July’s General Synod.
2. The amended draft legislation comes to General Synod for approval this July. It is not possible for Synod to amend the legislation further at this stage – though it could be referred back to the House of Bishops for reconsideration.
3. WATCH consistently supported the unamended Measure that was supported by 42/44 dioceses, as an act of generosity to those opposed and a compromise from our preferred route of the simplest possible legislation.
4. The bishops were repeatedly informed by those supporting the Measure that any amendment along these lines would put the Measure at greatly increased risk of defeat in July. They are now expressing surprise at our reaction. We wonder what it is that stops the House of Bishops hearing and taking seriously the voices of ordained women and all who support their ministry.
5. Our principal concerns about Clause 5(1)c are:
i) It legitimates negative theologies about women and expects women to live with permanent institutional uncertainty about their orders. This is bad for women and bad for the Church.
ii) It opens the way for parishes to require a bishop and priest in accordance with their theological convictions. This is a new and unwelcome departure for our Church that will lead to conflict and increasing fragmentation.
6. The amendment to clause 5 means that the legislation no longer meets the objective of the Manchester Report (2008) that legislation should ‘avoid any flavour of discrimination or half-heartedness by the Church towards women priests and bishops.’
7. WATCH has grave concerns about the amendment to Clause 5 and the WATCH committee cannot support the Measure as it now stands. However, it will fall to General Synod members, to make up their own minds and decide whether, in good conscience, they can support the legislation as amended.
8. Our consultation suggests that the amended Measure is at grave risk of being voted down by the very Synod members who most strongly support women becoming bishops. It is a tragedy that after so much work and so much compromise, this should be the situation a month before the final vote.
9. Despite our disappointment, WATCH remains committed to working constructively with others to find a way forward that does not further institutionalise discrimination and create a Church divided in law.
National WATCH Committee
11 June 2012