Saturday, 26 October 2013
Women Bishops: Take Two...
Proposals for new legislation to enable women to be bishops, have just been published. They can be found here, on the Church of England website.
Overall, I welcome this report and would support this legislation. It seems to me to provide a wise balance of simple legislation and guiding principles, giving effect to the wishes of General Synod as expressed in July.
There are points on which I have some serious reservations, but I can of course see that the same could be said by everybody in this process, and that some mutual compromise is necessary. For me personally, the biggest concession demanded by this legislation is the continued ordination of candidates who are against the ordination of women.
I welcome, however, the structure of the new proposals, with their four inter-dependent elements which need to be read as a whole.
Guide to the new proposals
The new package is designed to be seen and understood as a whole. Each element needs to be read and interpreted in the light of each other element.
There are four parts to this new package:
1. The Measure.
This is the bit that will become law, and that will need to be passed by Parliament as well as by General Synod. It is much simpler than before, as requested by General Synod in July. It basically says men and women can both be bishops, end of. The only other substantial provision is a single amendment to the Equality Act, designed to prevent legal challenges to this package.
2. The Amending Canon.
This changes the internal rules of the Church of England. The main point here is that both for priests and bishops, the rules will simply say men and women can be ordained and consecrated, without having separate provision for the ordination of women . A new Canon will also mandate the grievance procedure (see 4 in this list).
3. The House of Bishops' Declaration.
This is the heart of the package for those who disagree with the ordination of women. All arrangements for dealing with the variety of opinion that exists are in this Declaration, which would have similar force to the current Act of Synod. It includes the provision that, once the Bishops have agreed this text, it can only be changed by a 2/3 majority of each House of General Synod.
4. The Grievance Procedure.
The newest element of the proposals, this will be an ombudsman-style process, and it will be made compulsory by being included in Canon Law. This means all clergy, including bishops, will have to comply with it. It exists primarily to provide a way for PCCs who don't think their theological convictions have been handled adequately to complain, but the stated aim is not so much to deal with such complaints, but to prevent them arising in the first place by providing an independent and national level of scrutiny over how (for example) bishops go about providing male bishops for petitioning parishes. It doesn't include penalties, but it seems likely that failure to comply with its recommendations would be grounds for a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure.
So, this November, Synod will be voting on whether
1) to give First Approval to the Measure and Canon and
2) to ask the Bishops to agree texts for the Declaration and Grievance Procedure.
If all goes to plan, the February 2014 Synod will then hold the Revision Stage of the legislation (the Measure), and will have the full set of documents agreed.
At the end of the February Synod, they will vote on sending the whole package to the dioceses again. The dioceses will only be voting on the Measure, but will be able to see the whole package so they aren't 'signing a blank cheque'.
This Reference to the Dioceses stage is expected to be fast-tracked, and should be back with General Synod by July or November 2014.
In theory, then, Final Approval could be given in 2014, or in Feb 2015.