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.