There is an excellent article discussing this, on the Law and Religion UK blog, but written by Bob Morris of the UCL Constitution Unit.
He is the principal author of Church and State in 21st Century Britain: The Future of Church Establishment (Palgrave, March 2009).
I urge all TA readers to study this article in full. His concluding paragraphs:
The key political and constitutional problem is that, although the Church of England now behaves largely as if it is a voluntary society, it remains nonetheless part of the state. The Queen as head of state is ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church, must be in communion with it, holds the title Fidei Defensor and – nominally – appoints its senior clergy. The Archbishop crowns and anoints the new sovereign, and the Church conducts important public ceremonies and rituals effectively in relation to the UK as a whole. The Church’s courts remain courts of the land, although they lost their public law jurisdictions in the 1850s. Twenty-six bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords – each nowadays actually appointed by a private, unaccountable committee of the Church itself.
These are high matters and could be addressed again by Parliament. However, whatever the degree of change made, none could procure the appointment of female bishops unless Parliament legislated directly to that end. In other words, disestablishment could not by itself resolve the particular question of female bishops. On the other hand, what disestablishment could do would be – a very different matter – to permit the state and Parliament to wash its hands of Church of England affairs altogether.
Since nothing so far suggests that Parliament contemplates such a rupture, it follows that the Church must be allowed to deal with the present crisis itself. Whether in doing so it strengthens the case for a radical review of remaining church/state ties is another question.
However, it appears from a story broken exclusively in The Times this morning by Ruth Gledhill that William Fittall has a somewhat different view. The original Times story is behind a paywall, but it starts this way:
The Church of England is facing a “major constitutional crisis” as a result of the fiasco last week over women bishops, according to an internal document written for the archbishops by one of their most senior staff. The Established Church must take steps in July next year to consecrate women bishops and vote them through by 2015, otherwise it risks the matter being taken out of its hands by Parliament, the secret memo says. It is to be debated behind closed doors this week by the Archbishops’ Council. The memo, a hard copy of which has been handed to The Times, is intended for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the council members. Women in the Episcopate — Where Next? is a response to growing outrage in and beyond…
The Telegraph has published this version of the story: Failure to vote in women Bishops risks ‘constitutional crisis’ in Church.
And there is this Church ‘faces crisis’ over bishops.
And the Guardian now has Church needs radical new strategy over female bishops, says internal memo
And here are some further quotes from the memo:
“What is for sure and not for maybe is that urgent and radical new thinking is now needed if major shifts in position are to be secured.”
“Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”
“We have to do so because time is not on our side. Parliament is impatient. In addition to the all-party savaging that the Church of England had yesterday [last Thursday] in the House of Commons and the Prime Minister’s reference to the need to give us a ‘sharp prod’, there was ferocious criticism from some members at the House of Lords at a lunchtime meeting at which the Bishop of Manchester spoke on Wednesday.
“There was a particularly telling sequence of devastating attacks from the formidable combination of Detta O’Cathain (normally a supporter), Elspeth Howe and Margaret Jay. Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”