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6.11.12 Women in Episcopate debate - General Synod

Statement on the Measure to admit Women to the Episcopate to be debated at General Synod November 2012

From the beginning of the debate on the admission of women to the episcopate, Affirming Catholicism has argued that the key structural principle that must remain unimpaired, if the ministry of women in the episcopate is to be accepted within the Church of England, is that also enunciated in the first clause of the Act of Synod: “The bishop of each diocese continues as the ordinary of his [sic] diocese.”

Moreover, we recognise that a degree of diversity is core to Anglican ecclesiology; we believe that the Church as a body is enriched by including people with different views, even on key issues of Christian faith. Affirming Catholicism has therefore consistently argued that in moving towards opening the episcopate of the Church of England to women, it is also necessary to make provision for the minority within the Church of England who continue to have private reservations about women’s ministry, provided that these provisions do not compromise the recognition of diocesan bishop as ordinary in that diocese.

Consequently, and despite some continuing reservations about the provision for on bishop’s declarations (§§2.4 and 2.5) and the issuing of letters of request (§3), in July 2010 Affirming Catholicism welcomed the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure to admit women to the episcopate as “a good and balanced means by which the Church of England can legislate to allow women to take their full place within the Church of England’s ministry”.

That Measure was referred to the Dioceses of the Church of England, and accepted by 42 of 44, being narrowly defeated in Chichester and London. Moreover, 33 Dioceses voted explicitly against adding additional provisions for those who do not feel able to recognise the ministry of women as priests and bishops, and only nine in favour of doing so. In February 2012, General Synod voted resoundingly in favour of a motion that asked that the House of Bishops should not amend the draft Measure “substantially”.

When in May 2012, the House of Bishops agreed two amendments to clauses 5 and 8 of the draft Measure, Affirming Catholicism welcomed the latter, and particularly its confirmation that the delegation of authority by the diocesan to another bishop “shall not be taken as divesting the bishop of the diocese of any of his or her authority or functions.”
However, Affirming Catholicism argued strongly against accepting the second amendment, the addition of clause 5(1)(c), requiring that the Code of Practice to be drawn up and promulgated by the House of Bishops should offer guidance as to:

“the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3.”

Affirming Catholicism was very pleased that the July General Synod referred this amendment back to the House of bishops for further consideration.
In September 2012, the House of Bishops suggested a further amendment of clause 5(1)(c) to require that the Code of Practice should offer guidance as to:

“the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3 (3).”

This is the wording of the Measure that General Synod will be asked to vote on in November. No further amendment can be made to the Measure.

Affirming Catholicism believes that the revised clause 5(1)(c) is in accordance with the Measure as it was agreed by the General Synod in July 2010 and affirmed by a substantial majority of Diocesan Synods. The legislation as proposed, as the Report accompanying it maintained, “will, for the first time, enable women to be admitted to all orders of ministry. By preserving intact the authority of the diocesan bishop it will avoid any changes in the historic understanding of that office and of the episcopate more generally. And by making statutory arrangements for those with theological difficulties it will endeavour to preserve that broad and comprehensive character of the Church of England that is one of its defining and most attractive features” (GS 1708-09Y, paragraph 459).

Affirming Catholicism recognises that this Measure represents a compromise by people on all sides of this debate. Many of those who support the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate would have preferred a Measure with fewer provisions for those who do not accept the sacramental ministry of women. Many of those who do not accept the sacramental ministry of women would have preferred more robust structures. Affirming Catholicism welcomes the fact, that unlike suggestions for a separate province or society for those who cannot in conscience accept the sacramental ministry of women, the Draft Measure preserves the parochial and diocesan structures of the Church of England, preventing the creation of parallel Church of England jurisdictions in the same place. And the voting in Diocesan Synods would suggest that the vast majority of their members also support this way forward.

Affirming Catholicism strongly affirms the basic assumptions upon which the Draft Measure is based and hopes that General Synod will now vote for the Measure, recognising that in doing so it is enacting the will of the Church of England.

Affirming Catholicism, November 2012


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