The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Forward in Faith have issued this statement on the House of Bishops report GS 1886 Women In the Episcopate – New Legislative Proposals. They do not like the bishops’ proposals.
WOMEN IN THE EPISCOPATE: NEW LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS
STATEMENT FROM FORWARD IN FAITH
We are grateful for the work of the working group whose report is annexed to the House of Bishops report GS 1886 (‘Women in the Episcopate – New Legislative Proposals’). We strongly welcome the House of Bishops’ endorsement of the group’s five-point vision (para. 12 of the House’s report).
However, we are puzzled by the conclusions that the House has apparently drawn from the working group’s report.
We continue to believe that a solution to address the new reality of women bishops will need to build on the existing framework which has enabled us to live together in the Church of England over the last twenty years. We agree with the view that there can be ‘no cheap trust’. Our future can only be based on a mutually trusting relationship. The proposal of legislation which sweeps away existing legal security damages trust.
In November, an attempt to push through a Measure with legal provisions which no representative of the minority recognized as remotely adequate failed – after much prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals, which would involve no legally binding provision at all, are more likely to gain the necessary majorities.
As an organization whose members are overwhelmingly lay, the fact that the House of Bishops’ proposals would involve a significant shift of power in favour of incumbents and bishops is of particular concern to us. So too is the fact that the proposals would expose lay representatives, as well as incumbents and priests in charge, to the risk of incurring significant costs in defending themselves against legal challenges.
We still hope that the ‘new way forward’ promised in February will involve prayer, reconciliation, mutual respect and consensus. We welcome the facilitated conversations as a means of moving towards this end. We do not believe that the House of Bishops’ preferred option (Option 1) represents the mind of the whole Church of England.
We therefore hope that the General Synod will choose a way forward which builds on the existing arrangements rather one which destroys them. Such legislation would be far more likely to secure final approval in the shortest possible time.
Our comments and questions are set out in more detail in the document which accompanies this statement.
+ JONATHAN FULHAM
The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham
Dr Lindsay Newcombe
4 June 2013
The comments and questions are below the fold.
GS 1886 – COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS FROM FORWARD IN FAITH
1. In commenting on the ‘Report from the House of Bishops’ on new legislative proposals, we begin by reiterating that we are not trying to prevent women from becoming bishops in the Church of England.
2. Rather, we are trying to ensure that new legislation will provide a firm basis for those who uphold the traditional understanding of the Church and its ministry and sacraments to continue to flourish within the Church of England. We cannot see that the House of Bishops’ proposal would achieve this.
3. The Secretary General’s note about ‘a new way forward’ (GS Misc 1042), circulated in February with the agreement of the House of Bishops, reported that the facilitated conversations revealed ‘strong support for giving the highest priority to finding a solution which will enable legislation to be approved by Synod on the fastest possible timetable’ (para. 9) – involving final approval by the present Synod. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals will achieve this.
4. The House of Bishops’ proposal would transfer power from the laity (who currently have the ability to pass the legally binding Resolutions A and B) to bishops, patrons, and incumbents or priests in charge, who would be free to take ‘discretionary decisions’ (GS 1886: Annex, para. 88) about appointments and ministry in parishes, ‘taking such account as they wished of any statements declarations or guidance that the House of Bishops might have made nationally’ (Annex, para. 83). As the great majority of Forward in Faith’s members are laypeople (including very large numbers of lay women), we note this with particular concern. We are also puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that this new proposal is more likely to commend itself to the House of Laity than the Measure which failed in November.
5. Reference is made to the legal right of representatives of the laity to veto parochial appointments. However, we note that if the Bishop suspends presentation to the living, as happens in a great many cases, parish representatives have no legal right to veto the appointment of a priest in charge.
6. We note with concern that, as the report admits, there would be a possibility of litigation against lay representatives exercising their veto on the presentation of an incumbent, in which case they would be ‘personally exposed to having to defend (at their own cost) their decision’ (Annex, para. 133). Again, we are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that this new proposal is more likely to commend itself to the House of Laity than the Measure which failed in November.
7. We further note with concern that an incumbent or priest in charge who declined to nominate a female curate ‘would be in a similar position’ (Annex, para. 134).
8. GS 1042 included four propositions from the working group which ‘commanded a wide measure of endorsement’ in the facilitated conversations (para. 17). The fourth of these (paras 28-9) was that any new package would need to fulfil two objectives:
The House of Bishops’ new proposal is to repeal the 1993 Measure (including Resolutions A and B) without replacing them with any legal provision at all. This cannot fulfil the objective of providing ‘a greater sense of security for the minority’ than the Measure which failed in November.
9. While trust and grace are obviously important elements in the life of the Church, we agree with the Church Times in noting:
10. The 1993 settlement included elements that are difficult for female priests and their supporters. It also included elements that are difficult for us. That is the nature of compromise. Despite those elements of difficulty, we continue to believe that the 1993 settlement has essentially worked and that only a solution which builds on it rather than destroying it stands any chance of commending itself to a sufficiently broad range of members of the Church of England and of the General Synod.
11. In November 2012 a legislative process that had begun six years earlier (with the appointment of a legislative drafting group) ended in failure. At no stage in the process had there been any evidence that the legislation would command the support of the necessary two-thirds in the House of Laity. The fact that the legislative process was nevertheless pursued to its predictable conclusion has been hugely damaging for the Church of England’s credibility. To embark upon a fresh legislative process on the basis of proposals that would appear to stand even less chance of commanding the necessary breadth of support would be highly irresponsible.
12. We continue to be committed to playing our full part in working to identify a way forward that is based on consensus and will command the necessary breadth of support.
4 June 2013