Response to GS 1924: Report of the Steering Committee for the Draft Legislation on Women in the Episcopate
Affirming Catholicism welcomes the publication of the Report of the Steering Committee for the Draft Legislation on Women in the Episcopate (GS 1924) and the proposals to admit women to the episcopate of the Church of England. In particular, we applaud the use of a simple measure with associated guidelines for provisions for dissenting parishes, and dispute procedure. We especially value the recognition that provisions for alternative ministry will be overseen by the diocesan bishop, and that oaths of canonical obedience will continue to be made to the diocesan bishop.
The proposals have been admirably summarised by Will Adam (http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/10/28/women-bishops-what-you-see-and-what-you-dont/). They comprise:
1. The draft Measure – essentially a single-clause Measure – contains a principal clause making it legal for the Synod to legislate by canon to enable women to be ordained as bishops and priests. There is an additional clause stating beyond doubt that the office of bishop is not a “public office” under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and there are a number of consequential amendments to other legislation.
2. The Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 is repealed and along with it Resolutions A and B.
3. An amending Canon, which
a) adjusts the Canons of the Church of England to put those canons about the ordination and ministry of deacons, priests and bishops on the same footing for men and for women.
b) proposes a new Canon C 29 which places a new duty on the House of Bishops to make Regulations (to be approved by a two-thirds majority of each House of General Synod) for “the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements for which the House of Bishops’ declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests makes provision”. This assumes that the House of Bishops will have made such a declaration.
4. a draft declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests that the House of Bishops could make; and
5. a set of draft regulations for a system for resolving disputes, introducing an “Independent Reviewer” whose function is similar to that of an ombudsman.
The Report thus presents all (or nearly all) the different elements of the package for discussion by General Synod, allowing a much clearer sense to be gained of how this process will work. In particular, and centrally, the introduction of a process for dispute resolution is integral to the package. Affirming Catholicism also welcomes the use of small groups and facilitated conversations in the drafting of these proposals.
However, we continue to have some concerns:
a) The proposals imply that the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 will be rescinded (§41) but this is nowhere explicitly stated. The proposals affirm that “the sees [of the current PEVs] will continue to exist, and the post holders continue to remain in office,” but do not clarify the status of these sees.
Affirming Catholicism would welcome clarity on these points, and in particular about the status of the “sees”: are they to become effectively suffragans of Canterbury and York?
b) The provisions to be made for dissenting parishes to issue letters of request (or to rescind such a request) will be made at the request of a PCC passed (apparently: again, this is not stated explicitly) by simple majority at a meeting of which at least four weeks’ notice of the meeting has been given; either 2/3 of the PCC members must be present at this meeting, or the motion must be passed by a majority of all the PCC members (Annexe A, §§19-20). If two thirds of the PCC are present and the request is passed by a simple majority, then it can potentially be passed by one third of the PCC plus one person. This is contrary to the provision made in §54 that there will be “a resolution-making procedure so as to ascertain that the decision has the support of the majority of the PCC.”
Affirming Catholicism continues to believe that a question of such import for a parish should be decided by a meeting of all those on the electoral roll, and that a two-thirds majority of those present and voting should be required. We note that a two-thirds majority in all three houses of General Synod will be required to change any of these proposals, and believe that it would be consistent to expect a similar level of agreement for the issuing of Letters of Request by PCCs.
Failing that, we would recommend that it can only be passed if two-thirds of the PCC are present and voting and with a two-thirds majority of those voting. This would at least ensure that a majority of the whole PCC is required.
We would also welcome the incorporation of a requirement that a motion to issue Letters of Request can only be put forward after a documented process of widespread consultation, either at the parish level or at least within the congregation, and that and after any decision, the formal Request must be publicised in the church, like faculty notices.
c) The provisions also introduce a commitment to the continuing “presence in the College of Bishops of at least one bishop who takes the Conservative Evangelical view on headship” (§30), which is seen as “important for sustaining the necessary climate of trust.”
Although we recognise that the constitution of the College of Bishops needs to reflect something of the diversity of the Church of England, as recommended by the Pilling Report, we would not wish this to be operated along the lines of a quota system for the College of Bishops. This comes close to viewing individual Bishops as representatives of the views of particular groups rather than as a focus for unity in their Dioceses and the Church as a whole. It is important that those selecting bishops – which in the case of the diocesan appointments is the Crown Nomination Commission – are free to identify the best person for a particular situation and context. We note again the need to clarify the canonical position of the sees formerly designated for the PEVs.
d) For the purposes of the Equalities Act, the legislation has found it necessary to define a diocesan bishop as being not a public office, in that the appointment of bishops is not “on the recommendation of, or subject to the approval of, a member of the executive” (§21).
Affirming Catholicism views with considerable concern the suggestion that bishops do not hold a public office. Although we recognise that the report does note that “The definition of ‘public office’ is solely for the purpose of the Equality Act and has no implications for the public role of bishops more generally,” we believe that this is an unfortunate concession.
Affirming Catholicism would also observe that continuing relationships with the Methodist Church and other ecumenical partners are in some cases predicated on the expectation that the Church of England will admit women and men to leadership positions at all levels. It is not clear to us whether this legislation, with its explicit concessions to allow the Church of England to avoid the requirements of the Equalities Act, will be held by our ecumenical partners to fulfil that requirement.
A PDF version of this document is available here.