All eyes will be on the General Synod as it meets this month in London. Readers of this magazine will continue to pray for those who represent us on the Synod, not least the Catholic Group. Whilst there may seem little to cheer us
in the Draft Code of Practice that comes before the Synod we can take some comfort from the words of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their introduction:
In the light of our discussion, the House will continue to uphold these three principles:
Bishops will continue not to discriminate in selecting candidates for ordination on the grounds of their theological convictions regarding the admission of women to Holy Orders;
In choosing bishops to provide episcopal ministry under diocesan schemes for parishes requesting this provision, diocesan bishops will seek to identify those whose ministry will be consistent with the theological convictions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate underlying the Letter of Request;
The archbishops and bishops commit themselves to seeking to maintain a supply of bishops able to minister on this basis. This will obviously have a bearing on decisions about appointments and on the role of bishops occupying the sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough (which will, as a matter of law, continue to exist even after the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod has been rescinded).
How these issues should best be handled and whether there are implications for the text of the Code of Practice, of the Act of Synod that rescinds the existing Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod or indeed of the legislation itself will need very careful reflection.We recognize how important they are and are determined to give them the time and attention they need.
What is clear however is that we are a long way from a satisfactory outcome to this debate. It is simply not good enough to promise to protect Catholic Anglicans like some sort of rare species; we need to be allowed to flourish to work for the mission of the Church. We cannot do this if we are continually looking over our shoulders at what Bishop X or Archdeacon Y are getting up to. Promises can be broken: if the House of Bishops and the Synod want us to trust them then they need to trust us and give us the provision we need so that the Church of England can get on with its life as a Church.
One of the most worrying sections of the draft Code of Practice concerns who can veto the letter of request that is to be sent to ask for alternative oversight. In paragraph 92, the draft code says that in order to send the Letter of Request ‘the incumbent or priest in charge votes in favour of the motion’. This seems to us to be extreme clericalism.
A bishop could appoint to a parish someone who was ‘broadly sympathetic’ to the Catholic tradition, an Affirming Catholic, for example, who could refuse to allow the letter of request to be sent. Thus despite the fact that the people of the parish might be united in believing that because of reasons of conscience and theological conviction they could not accept the ministry of a woman priest or bishop the priest could override this. It is impossible to see how any layperson, or priest for that matter, could vote to have the views of congregations trampled upon in this way.
Under the 1993 measure it was against the law for the parish priest to allow a woman to minister in a sacramental way in churches and other places including church schools within the parish. The draft Code removes this completely, allowing the priest who has the cure of souls to invite a woman priest to celebrate the Eucharist if he so wishes. The Code simply requires him to respect the views of the PCC. Once again this removes the rights of a PCC and congregation. Much of the language of the Code of Practice speaks
of bishops consulting parishes who have written letters of request. A cynic might point out that we are told that we have been consulted over this draft provision and despite being told we are being listened to, none of our requests have been granted. In parishes that have a number of PCCs the situation will be more complicated.
It will be possible for individual PCCs in these multi-parish benefices to send a letter of request even if other PCCs would be happy with receiving the ministry of a female priest or bishop. If, however, they do send such a letter, the code encourages them to make sure they reflect on the views of all the PCCs. Double standards?
Plus ça change!