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 Issues | General Synod | July 2006

General Synod

Women Bishops

In February the General Synod voted to continue to look at legislation to consecration women and to include in this consideration of  how adequate provision might be made for those who oppose the innovation.  A group under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Guildford had produced a report (the Guildford Report) which had formed the basis for the Synod's decision. However, it had been clear that there were significant differences of opinion within the Synod.

Following February the Bishops of Guildford and Gloucester met with various groups and produced some revised proposals which they set out in a report (GSMisc826).  The Bishops proposed a revised form of the Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) set out in their original report together with something new called Special Episcopal Oversight (SEO).  The Bishops specifically rejected the argument of anglo-Catholics that the acts of women Bishops or those who participated in the consecration of women as Bishops are invalid.

The idea of SEO was to prevent the transfer of ordinary jurisdiction which was necessary under TEA.  There are many who are entirely against this, yet it is this requirement which is generally an absolute must for those seeking adequate provision.

In the event the House of Bishops received GSMisc826 and apparently could not agree on using it as a way forward.

The alternative approach agreed by the House of Bishops is set out in an a statement by the Presidents (the two Archbishops) (GS1630).

First, the House:
agreed that the Synod should now be explicitly invited to reach a view on whether admitting women to the episcopate in the Church of England would be theologically justified.

Thus on the Saturday morning the Synod will debate the motion (Item 10)

‘That this Synod welcome and affirm the view of the majority of the House of Bishops that admitting women to the episcopate in the Church of England is consonant with the faith of the Church as the Church of England has received it and would be a proper development in proclaiming afresh in this generation the grace and truth of Christ.’

This resolution will amount to a change in the doctrinal position of the Church of England, it merely represents how the majority of Synod sees things.  Indeed it has been the argument of Church Society and others that the Synod does not have the legal power to agree to the consecration of women as Bishops since it is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

The resolution will require a simple majority whereas actual legislation, if it is eventually produced, will require a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses of Laity, Clergy and Bishops.  Whilst everyone expects the present motion to be passed the number of laity voting against will be significant in terms of possible future legislation.

If the Synod agrees with Item 10 then it will be asked to hold a further debate and pass a resolution on process.

Having arrived at an impasse the House of Bishops have decided to reverse the normal way of doing business. Ordinarily Synod agrees on principles and then passes this to a legislative drafting group to draw up legislation which the Synod then considers at some length.  This time, since there is no agreement on the principles, it is proposed to pass the matter straight to a legislative drafting group.   If the motion is passed as it stands the group will do some initial work and will presumably produce an outline of alternative forms of the legislation.  This initial work will be brought back to the House of Bishops and General Synod for consideration so that further direction can be given on the shape of legislation before the first draft is produced.  The resolution will therefore slow down the introduction of women bishops considerably firstly because the process of creating alternative proposals will be slow and secondly because it introduces a new round of reporting and debate in synod.

The resolution to be put to the Synod is as follows (Item 14):

That this Synod, believing that the implications of admitting women to the episcopate will best be discerned by continuing to explore in detail the practical and legislative arrangements:

(a) invite dioceses, deaneries and parishes to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of the issue;

(b) invite the Archbishops’ Council, in consultation with the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops and the Appointments Committee, to secure the early appointment of a legislative drafting group charged with:

(i) preparing the draft measure and amending canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women to the office of bishop;

(ii) preparing a draft of possible additional legal provision to establish arrangements that would seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops;

(iii) submitting the results of its work to the House of Bishops for consideration and submission to Synod; and

(c) instruct the Business Committee to make time available, before first consideration of the draft legislation, for the Synod to consider, in the light of any views expressed by the House of Bishops, the arrangements proposed in the drafting group’s report.

The report by the Presidents also contains a warning shot in relation to Canon A4.  This canon requires that anyone admitted into orders should be recognised as such by everyone.  This principle, they say, was also affirmed by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops.   However, in 1992 the provision of the canon was specifically over-ridden by the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure which allows conscientious objection on this point.  In fact, because it is an innovation and because by no stretch of the imagination can the ordination of women be proven from Scripture to impose it on others is to breach Article 6 which is part of the doctrine of the Church of England.

The other paper being brought before the Synod is some reflections on women bishops by the Faith and Order Advisory Group (which answers to the House of Bishops).


David Phillips June 2006


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