Archbishops baffle with women bishops proposal

June 22, 2010

abc williamsThe two highest spiritual figures in the Church of England made a last-ditch attempt to persuade traditionalists to stay within the Communion and not leave over the issue of women bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu put forward an amendment for debate at next month’s General Synod, or church parliament, suggesting that a legally protected “nominated bishop” work in parishes where a female bishop is not wanted.

It is a rare move for any archbishop to put forward an amendment for General Synod and comes at the end of a long and protacted process by the revision committee, tasked with drawing up draft legislation.

Women bishops, along with homosexual issues, are two of the most divisive subjects faced by the CoE, mother church of the Anglican Communion.

Anglo Catholics, who argue there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops, have threatened to leave in their droves ever since women were first ordained as priests about 16 years ago, a danger heightened by Pope Benedict’s offer of an Apostolic Ordinariate last autumn.

The traditionalists Forward in Faith “warmly welcomed” the amendment but most observers reacted with bemusement. Not only did they fail to comprehend how it would work, but queried what the archbishops were up to. All the more baffling as it is a matter of record they both support the consecration of women bishops.

The General-Secretary of the General Synod William Fittall could only point journalists to paragraph six of the proposed amendment, either unwilling or unable to explain the meaning himself.

“The jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop – whether male or female – remains intact: he or she would remain the bishop of the whole area of the diocese and would be legally entitled to exercise any episcopal function in any parish of the diocese,” it said.

“Where a parish had requested arrangements, by issuing a letter of request, the diocesan would in practice refrain from exercising certain of his or her functions in such a parish and would leave the nominated bishop to exercise those functions in the parish in question.

“The legal authority of the nominated bishop to minister in this way would derive from the measure itself – and would not, therefore, be conferred by way of delegation; but the identity of such a bishop and the scope of his functions would be defined by the scheme made by the diocesan for his or her diocese, in the light of the provisions contained in the national statutory code of practice drawn up by the House of Bishops and agreed by General Synod.”

The Daily Mail, writing before the amendment was released, reported that there could be a “bloodbath” at the General Synod, and warned the archbishops could face humiliation if the amendment was voted down.

The Guardian’s Andrew Brown summarised the move as one that will allow women to become bishops “so that it will also allow their opponents to carry on as if women weren’t really bishops at all”.

“This looks like a recipe for endless conflict,” he wrote in his blog, referring to the negotiations needed to determine which functions a bishop would have to give up.

The amendment, one of many expected, would interfere with the revision committee’s draft legislation published last May which proposed women should be consecrated as bishops on the same basis as men. It rejected calls for new dioceses or a special class of bishops.

It is the first time the 470-members of the Synod, as a whole, will discuss the proposed legislation clause by clause.

It is at a “difficult and unpredictable” stage, the Synod’s Fittall said.

There are four possible outcomes, two of which would overshadow the archbishops’ amendment.

They include the Synod failing to take note of the revision committee’s draft legislation, which would require the process to start all over again, or the Synod voting for an amendment that would require the committee to revise their work.

The other two possibilities are that the Synod runs out of time, in which case it would be picked up by the next synod, or it is voted through.

If passed, it still has to go to all the dioceses and parliament for discussion, and receive royal assent, with the first woman bishop unlikely before 2014.

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