Mark Stevens on the financial implications of the Manchester Report
Reports (and the recent Manchester Report is no exception) are often more eloquent in what they omit than in what they include.
The Report is frank about the disruptive results of what it calls ‘the simplest possible statutory approach with no binding national arrangements’, stating that ‘there is no doubt.. .that proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence.’
The Report is less than frank about the nature of that ‘turbulence’. The removal of provisions which had been given ‘in perpetuity’ would undoubtedly provoke anger. But it cannot bring itself to admit the most likely expression of that anger -in legal action by clergy for constructive dismissal and loss of earnings.
What is more, the Report admits in as many words that ‘priests and congregations would undoubtedly leave’; but it nowhere mentions the possibility of a need to make financial provision for those clergy who would be obliged to move into a different walk of life.
Some of the clergy leaving would be older men, for whom alternative employment would be difficult, if not impossible, to find. Others would be young clergy, whose vocations had been discerned after 1992, and who had gone forward to ordination on the assurances given. They and their families would be rendered homeless, without any assistance to smooth their path into a different walk of life.
It may be, of course, that the reason the Report omits any mention of financial provision is because the Church of England can no longer afford even the minimal terms offered in 1993. But in that
case the Manchester Group should have said so. It should also have admitted that failure to make provision might prove, in the end, the more costly option.
The cost in terms of reputation, public profile and self-esteem will probably outweigh any financial cost. What would the world make of a Church which offered safeguards ‘in perpetuity’ and withdrew them within a single working lifetime? What would the world make of a Church which is more tolerant of opinions held by its ecumenical partners than it is of those same opinions among its own faithful?
The strong suit of the supporters of women bishops (as Manchester puts it) is that ‘given the strong hostility to discrimination that has grown up in society more generally, they would see this as a potential barrier to the effective ministry of the Church to this and succeeding generations.’ But ‘hostility to discrimination’ is by no means straightforward and un-nuanced. The notion of’human rights’, and the ethical a priori imperatives associated with it, includes many anomalies and paradoxes. The same principle, which is thought to require equal access to all levels of ministry in the Church of England, upholds the rights of the Roman Catholic Church to exclude them, and of Muslims and Hindus to other equally ‘discriminatory’ practices.
Because the Church of England is an established church, and its law is the law
of the land, it should not follow that it can outlaw, among its own members, opinions which law protects and ensures to other of the Queen’s subjects.
If, in the event of single clause legislation for the consecration of women bishops with no legal or binding provision for opponents, Synod fails to provide any financial provision, it risks unprecedented turbulence, and parliamentary and public opprobrium. The Manchester Group must have known this when it took the decision to omit all mention of the possibility. We can confidently conclude that no reference is made to possible financial arrangements for the simple reason that the need for them is a most powerful’ argument against single clause legislation.