National campaign group, Women and the Church (WATCH), makes a statement on why all diocesan bishops in the Church of England should treat all priests in their dioceses equally, irrespective of whether they are male or female. Clergy who do not personally recognise the ordination of women should not be appointed as diocesan bishops.
The Church of England has been ordaining women as priests for nearly thirty years, and female priests now play an important and essential role in their generous and often sacrificial ministries throughout the country. Nonetheless, the Church continues to ordain men who do not recognise as valid the ordinations of their female clergy colleagues, yet despite this, the Church expresses the hope that all can flourish.
A diocesan bishop oversees all clergy in their diocese, both women and men and so, appointing a diocesan bishop who does not personally recognise the ordination of women, could mean that some female clergy would struggle to flourish under his oversight. Unlike male clergy, female clergy (and their parishes) do not have the right to extended episcopal oversight by a bishop who affirms their ministries – both in their authority and ability to carry out priestly roles.
There are non-ordaining bishops who are supportive of women in the Church and have encouraged them in their ministries and recommended them to senior roles, but if these bishops do not fully recognise the priesthood of their female clergy, they do not ordain women in their diocese.
Furthermore, questions arise as to how they can authorise female clergy to celebrate the Eucharist, baptise, give blessings and absolve people of their sins. When a priest is licensed to a parish role, such as vicar, the diocesan bishop shares with him or her ‘the cure of souls’ to do these things, and usually does this in a public service so that all the parishioners can hear and see this authority being shared with their new vicar. Parishioners need to know that their priest is affirmed by their diocesan bishop as being able to carry out priestly duties without question, and all priests need to know this too.
When parishioners come to understand that their bishop is not personally confident that female priests can undertake priestly roles, such as consecrating the bread and wine, this undermines the authority of their vicar, if she is a woman. Rev Martine Oborne, Chair of WATCH and vicar of St Michael’s in Chiswick, says ‘I personally find it undermining to explain to members of my congregation that some of my clergy colleagues, including bishops, would not receive bread and wine that I had consecrated. So I tend not to say anything about the situation. Nonetheless, this is a heavy burden to carry and makes me feel that I am a second-class priest.’