If all goes as planned, the draft Measure (legislation) for women to be appointed as bishops in the Church of England will come to General Synod in July 2012 for Final Approval. The key factors leading up to a successful outcome are summarised here, with the key dates in the process.
- Diocesan Synod voting results.
The national consultation across the Dioceses has produced very clear endorsement of the draft legislation. Only two Dioceses voted against (London and Chichester) and those by very small margins. 33 Dioceses voted explicitly against adding additional provisions for those who will not accept women as bishops, and only 9 in favour of doing so. The message from the Church at large is: “We want women bishops, and we consider this legislation to be the right way forward. “
- Possible amendment of the draft Measure by the House of Bishops
The House of Bishops is the only body able to amend the legislation at this late stage. They are under a lot of pressure to do so from those who will not accept women bishops and also some who consider this would be a way forward that will enable everyone to stay in the Church of England. The main suggestion is to incorporate the Archbishops’ Amendment of July 2010. This has always been unacceptable to WATCH and most senior women, as it changes the Episcopacy in ways which would undermine the catholicity, integrity and mission of the Episcopate and of the Church as a whole, as well as limiting the ministry of female bishops too far.
- Contents of the draft Code of Practice
The standard legislative process means that the Code of Practice will remain as a draft document until after the Measure to allow women to be bishops has received Royal assent; so its contents cannot be finally confirmed until then. Supporters of women bishops are clear that the Code must not restrict the authority, decisions, actions or ministry of female bishops beyond what is already in the draft Measure. In particular, the Code should not REQUIRE a Diocesan bishop to accede to a request from a parish that the male bishop they want should be one who does not ordain women or who has not been ordained by a woman. This would in effect be allowing parishes to choose their own bishop, and would open the door to this possibility in other contexts. We believe that this would seriously undermine the traditional historic episcopacy of the Church of England.
- Parliamentary involvement
Once General Synod has approved the Measure, then it goes to Parliament. It is very clear that Parliament is against unfair gender discrimination, and that it sees the Church of England as out of step in having only male bishops. Furthermore, any provisions the Church it makes in law for those opposed to women bishops will require additional exemption from the 2010 Equality Act. Tony Baldry MP is the 2nd Church Estates Commissioner and is thus the member of the Government tasked with steering Church legislation through Parliament. He is also ex officio a member of General Synod. In July 2010 he told the General Synod to ‘be under no illusion about one thing: a difficult task could well become impossible if I had to steer through the House of Commons any Measure which left a scintilla of a suggestion that women bishops were in some way to be second-class bishops.’ In other words, any changes to the draft Measure or further restrictions in the Code of Practice would be viewed with serious concern by Parliament.
- Involvement of women in discussions
In June 2008 some senior lay and clergywomen attended a meeting of the College of Bishops to discuss proposals for women bishops. Since then no women have been part of the discussions amongst the House of Bishops. It seems inconceivable to anyone engaged in equality and diversity work in other contexts that the Church would make the decision about consecrating women as bishops without seriously engaging during this last phase with those who will be most directly affected by that decision. Bishops therefore need to seek out those whom this legislation will most affect and be sure that their views are fully represented in discussions on the Code of Practice and on the possibility of amending the Measure. Women are the majority of church attenders, and many women (and indeed men) are seriously considering whiter they can remain part of the Church of England if this legislation does not go through unamended and with an acceptable Code of Practice.
6 Voting decisions by General Synod members
After the election of a new General Synod in October 2010 the opponents of women bishops declared that they had a ‘blocking minority’ in the House of Laity. In other words, they were sure that more than one third of the members of the House of Laity would not support the draft Measure as it stands. General Synod members are not delegates: they vote according to their own consciences, not as representatives of the views of their Diocese or constituency. So even though Diocesan support is overwhelming, the Measure may still fall. It will be important next July that all General Synod members weigh up their voting decisions in the context of the mission of the Church of England and its future as a place where women and men can flourish together. We entrust to them the decision not just for themselves but for the whole Church of England.
6th– 10thFeb General Synod, London. Report on Diocesan voting; presentation on Code of Practice
6th Feb WATCH event in St Margaret’s Westminster and Dean’s Yard
21st -22nd May House of Bishops meets
26th May WATCH Pentecost event at Birmingham Cathedral: all welcome
6th -10th July General Synod, York. Final approval debate and vote.
Produced by WATCH, December 2011