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 General Synod Report 12 July 2010

Report on business from the General Synod at York University, Monday 12 July 2010

Women Bishops

Debate resumed on the various clauses of the draft legislation to consecrate women as Bishops.

However, first there were statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Chairman of the Steering Committee.  The Archbishop spoke about what had happened on Saturday and about the Code of Practice now to be produced.  He clearly thought it would now be possible to beef up the Code to appease those opposed.  He also seemed to be saying that there might yet be other options, although this seems a bit unlikely.

The first item for debate was Clause 2.  This is the first Clause making provision for those unable in conscience to accept the ministry of a woman bishop.   There have always been those who wanted legislation simply to permit women bishops and for everything else to be confined to a code of practice.  There were several people who spoke against Clause 2 but indicated that they would reluctantly vote in favour.  The Clause was eventually passed by 373 votes to 14.

An amendment to require PCCs to consult everyone on the electoral roll lapsed due to lack of support.

Gerry O’Brien moved an amendment which would require consideration of the issue by all PCCs every 5 years.  This was defeated after debate on the basis that the norm would be women bishops and the legislation only concerns those unable to accept this.

Another amendment to do with appointments also lapsed due to lack of support.

Peter Hobson moved an amendment to remove the requirement that 2/3rds of the PCC to be present when a vote was being taken about requesting the ministry of another bishop.   It was noted that this was an extraordinary provision and that it allowed 1/3rd of a PCC to block the resolution simply by not turning up.

This resolution was defeated by 239 votes to 128 but its intent was then picked up in the following motion from Clive Scowen which still creates a special rule for this one situation, but less draconian.  Clive’s amendment appeared to be accepted unanimously.

The next amendment, put by Gerry O’Brien and Paul Benfield, would have removed the requirement that an Incumbent or Priest-in-Charge must agreed to a Letter of Request for the ministry of a different Bishop.  It was argued, with some justification, that it would be difficult for the Incumbent and PCC to disagree on this matter.  However, there is no other case where such a blanket veto exists.  It could lead to a situation where the whole PCC wants the Letter but the incumbent, who may perhaps have changed their  mind, does not.  Since it is possible in law for a Bishop to impose a Priest-in-Charge it opens the possibility of an unscrupulous Bishop, imposing someone during a vacancy and thus undermining the stance of the parish.  It was also pointed out that if an incumbent is sick or absent for other reasons the resolution could not be passed.  However, the Synod voted, in all three houses, to reject the amendment.

An amendment to ensure that a better record of the results of the voting was kept was passed.

Clause 3 was then debated and agreed as were the following clauses up to Clause 7.

The new cobbled together Equality Act put through in the dying throes of the last government is still being assessed.  However, the lawyers of the Church and Government were of the view that this new Measure should explicitly state that it is exempted from parts of that Act.  Robert Key MP opposed this Clause but got short thrift from some on the Synod and in the end the vote in favour of Clause 7 appeared to be unanimous.

After lunch an amendment consequential on a previous amendment was passed as were Clauses 8-10.

Paul Benfield proposed that any future changes to this legislation should require a 2/3rd majority of each of the three houses of Synod.  There is a fear that without this all the hard work in producing the present legislation could be undone by a simply majority of the synod.  There was some opposition to this proposals but eventually it was passed by 287 votes to 78.

Paul Benfield then proposed that whilst the main legislation is being considered by Dioceses a Measure be brought which makes financial provision for those who suffer hardship because they feel in conscience that they must leave.  Following the earlier legislation to ordain as women as presbyters around 500 clergy left and the cost, when it is finally dealt with, will be around £30million.   This provision would be only for cases of hardship and there had already been discussion about a code possibly allowing for such cases – though it is questionable whether there is any legal framework to permit it.  The debate was perhaps the sharpest so far because after the rejection of adequate provision it is clear that some will leave.  The motion, not surprisingly, was defeated.

The final action regarding this business was an attempt to recommit the legislation to the Revision Committee on the basis that the Synod had voted by a majority for the Archbishops amendment but this had been lost in the vote by houses.  It would be possible for the Revision Committee to consider further options but given that no solution had been found yet it seemed highly unlikely.  After half an hour of discussion on this point it was lost by 293 votes to 102.

There followed a vote on the Amending Canon which accompanies the draft legislation and at 4.30pm it was complete.

The legislation will now be referred to the Dioceses and it is expected that it will return to General Synod in around 2 years when it will need the approval of 2/3rds of each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.  As it stands the legislation makes no realistic provision for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops.

The Synod then returned to the details of the new Faith and Order Advisory Commission and a Diocesan Synod Motion on job sharing.  However, after the marathon debates on women bishops there was a noticeable trickle of people leaving.

The business for the evening session is Final Approval for Additional Weekday Lectionary ad amendments to the Lectionary, Calendar and Collects.  This will be followed by a Private Members’ Motion calling for some central body to make available resources for fresh expressions.

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