Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Women Bishops - what the House of Bishops amendments mean

There's a fair amount going round the Twittersphere analysing the House of Bishops' amendments to the Women Bishops Measure. The debate at the last Synod asked the House not to make substantial amendments to the Measure (but didn't rule out tweaking the Measure). I think we've been faithful to the remit Synod gave us.

The House rejected amendments to ensconce Mission Societies in the Measure. It also rejected changes that would have removed delegation from the Measure.

Two amendments were passed. 

The first is to Clause  5. It inserts one of the three principles that the House of Bishops enunciated  in December. It would require the Code of Practice to make sure that, when Bishops are drawing up Diocesan schemes, they delegate, not just to any old male bishop, but to a bishop who shares the theological principles of the parish that is asking for delegated ministry. Put simply, if a female Bishop of London asked me, as a male bishop, to look after a traditionalist catholic parish which is currently under the oversight of the Bishop of Fulham, it wouldn't work! My sacramental ministry isn't acceptable to them. That's how it is. I ordain and champion women in leadership as priests - and, pray God, I'll be participating in the ordination and consecration of women bishops. So we need the Code to take seriously the integrity of parishes who are submitting a letter of request. Any old male bishop won't do, and it's better that the Measure says so. Being explicit about this is honest.

The second amendment is to clause 8 (the notes at the end of the Measure) and makes clear that the authority of Bishops that they receive in delegation is distinct from the authority inherent in the Bishop's office and ordination. (Which is the daily reality that Area Bishops live in day by day). And it also says that delegation doesn't divest a diocesan bishop of his/her authority or functions, thus preserving the integrity of the ministry of women bishops.

So I think what we've done is send out a message to opponents that they're still part of the CofE, but without undermining the ministry of women bishops. Others are free to disagree. The important thing is to get this legislation through and get to the next stage.


  1. Dear Bp Broadbent,

    Don't you find their "purity" demands more than a little offensive? To have people in the church keeping lists ( as they do in the US) of those who in any way support women's ordination is at least semi-donatist, if not the real thing.

  2. This whole question of delegation is a real problem, but not the only one. For me a much graver problem is that we can still have male diocesan bishops who do not recognise the validity of the orders of the female priests in their diocese. I have no idea how that squares with any notion of real episcopacy: The thing is I don’t think one can be a bishop and not be in communion with one’s priests. I just don’t get it. Most people see the problem from the other side, in terms of priests not being in communion with their bishop, or in terms of priests not being in communion with one another, or laity in communion with priests or bishops; but, as others have said now and then, the real problem for church order is the other way around. A bishop who is not in communion with his (or ‘her’ for the sake of argument) priests is not exercising proper episcopacy and breaks the catholicity of the diocese. It just makes a mockery of the Bishop’s role head of the college of presbyters. I wonder how much unity we're actually preserving....

  3. The second 'tweak' reinforces taint tant and more taint. In effect making women 'untouchable' by insisting that people can request a Bishop that is not only male but will not ordain or consecrate women or be consecrated by them. And since when in the Anglican tradition did we get to choose our Bishop based on agreeing with their theological position? And why is the only theological position that warrants special provision the one involving women? And then only if you OBJECT to ordaining women. If you AGREE theologically with ordaining women you cannot request alternative episcopal oversight that agrees with you, if you are in Chichester diocese, for example. This may not seem a 'substantial' tweak to the House of Lords. But even a degree out on a compass bearing can lead you deep into the wilderness in due course.

  4. It may not be what was intended by the Bishops, But they do seem to find it difficult to accept the lead that 42 diocese and General Synod have given them to accept the Measure as it stood. Instead they have yet again decided to give the impression that women could not be trusted to delegate to a Bishop who would be acceptable to Parishes who cannot accept women Bishops. They then compound this by making it clear that women Bishops are somehow different from men and need to be further explained in a way that they never felt the need to explain that area Bishops were 'real' Bishops.

  5. Sounds like 4th grade (10 year olds in the US) -- boys not wanting to get "girl cooties" -- time to get over it.

  6. I'd be interested to know more about the change to Clause 5. I didn't know parishes were supposed to have their own theological principles, over and above being Church of England, let alone that these principles can invalidate the ministry of bishops. When did this change happen? I'll have to tell my vicar. We'll develop our own theological principles, which would certainly include gay marriages. How do we go about getting delegated episcopal oversight by a bishop who does gay marriages? Or is this just another example of bishops changing the Church's ecclesiology on the fly, to accommodate the loudest complainers?

  7. The problem is this is a Boys' Club deciding whether to let the girls in.

    Nothing that can be said by any member of that club about anything that enshrines any more "protection" for the boys who don't want the girls in will be easily accepted by those who think the girls should be in.

    That's an almost Rumsfeltian sentence but I think it makes sense.

    I don't think the House of Bishops is a group of bad people, nor I do I think that those people who think women's ordination is utterly null and void are bad people.

    But I do think that 1) the House is wrong to enshrine sexism and to shroud it in an (genuine) desire for unity. What about unity with all the people who can not understand why the church can't cope with gender and / or sex. And I also think it is wrong that the exact nature of the reform of one of the last all-male constitutional power bases in this country - the House of Bishops - is determined by - yes - the House of Bishops. Sure Synod will get to vote on it, but this legislation is now the creature of a group of male bishops, not of the 42 dioceses who passed the earlier unamended legislation. I am sure the House is made of prayerful men, but without women present how can their voice have been properly heard, and even if it had been, how can there be any assurance that it has been? And how can one have power over the reform of such a body so concentrated in that body.

    I fear what is being perpetuated is the same sexism inherent in the earlier measures.

  8. On the Western side of the pond we had something called 'a conscience clause' 30 years ago. It didn't work then and what you have devised won't work either. The guys who are afraid of 'girl cooties' or those who have gotten 'girl cooties' by laying hands on them will be forced to leave the Communion eventually. Hopefully not like they did in my Diocese and try to take the silver with them. Don't set yourselves up to condone this repetition of history. Either stand for women, full-stop or quit baptizing us!

    From Fort Worth, TX

  9. This is little more than a disastrous attempt by the House of Bishops to enshrine the principle of two cl;asses of Bishop on the future of the Church of England - licit and illicit.

    While members of different parishes can have different theologies of episcopal order within the one Church body; this implies a loss of 'catholic' integrity - which has always assumed the autonomy of diocesan bishops in the Church of England.

    No amount of casuistry can dress up the term 'delegation'to mean anything other than the surrendering of the canonical ordination rights of a (female) diocesan bishop to another (male) bishop, who does not even believe in her power to delegate.

  10. I get that supporters think that the House of Bishops have made concessions that have gone too far. I get that opponents think we haven't gone far enough. But what we haven't done is make a substantial change to the Measure (as the Group of Six declared that we hadn't).

    The "on grounds of theological conviction" phrase references what is already in the Measure at Clause 3 (1). Interestingly, the phrase was inserted there during the Revision Committee precisely to prevent parishes passing a resolution for a letter of request on grounds other than their convictions that women should not be priests. It was part of the series of amendments which was drafted by the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich. So supporters are arguing about something which was already in the Measure that WATCH and others urged us to pass. The House of Bishops amendment seeks to elucidate what might be required by a parish who submitted such a letter of request.

    So, thanks to all of you who have commented thus far.

    In response:

    1. Delegation was already in the Measure.
    2. Discrimination and sexism is already in the Measure. Only a one clause measure is non-discriminatory.
    3. We already have experience of bishops who aren't in unimpaired communion with their clergy. It's a reality. You can't just wish it away!
    4. I have no idea what cooties are.
    5. Provision is made for women in dioceses where the Bishop is opposed. People keep on saying that there is no provision. Read Clause 2 (5).
    6. The House of Bishops has a specified role in dealing with legislation (our polity is not like that of ECUSA or Canada) - and the House takes its role of scrutiny seriously. Measures with specific doctrinal or liturgical implications have to signed off by the House before they come to Synod. So we're not "interfering" - it's our defined constitutional role.

  11. Re 3: My point is not whether bishops are always in full communion with their priests (they're not) but whether a would-be diocesan bishop ought to accept the post knowing that he won't be in unimpaired communion with his priests -- especially if he is the one not recognising the orders of some of his priests. I think this is a legitimate question of integrity, even if the law allows it.

    Re 6: I think the problem is the ability of the HoB to modify legislation, which then goes back to Synod on a take it or leave it basis. If I recall correctly, if the Synod votes it down, it cannot then come back to synod durng that quinquennium. Yes, it's constitutional, but is it the best way of proceeding? Not sure. If it is purely doctrinal, then the bishops ought arguably to have a veto. I suspect the point about delegation and episcopal power being exercised individually is a doctrinal point, though I might have thought that power and jursdiction really do belong together (a point arguably flowing from Nicea, if I recall correctly)....

  12. Just read the news release from the Group of Six and now appreciate that the process is more complex and does include a provision to adjourn the final debate and have the bishops rethink amendments. Looks like a good provision that probably addresses the issue I raised. Happy to be wrong sometimes.....