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.