The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 is quite clear. ‘The General Synod regards it as desirable that … except as provided by the Measure and this Act, no person or body shall discriminate against candidates, either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views or position about the ordination of women to the priesthood.’ You cannot (as they say) say fairer than that.
But is the Act being fairly operated? Two instances have recently come to light.
The first was an advertisement in the Church Times of May 17, for something called the ‘Spencer Benefice’. It concluded: ‘The benefice has agreed that this post could be filled by a man or a woman and that he or she must be prepared to work with an NSM of the same or opposite sex.’
Leaving aside the interesting question of whether ‘a benefice’ is capable of ‘agreeing’ anything, one wonders how the words in italics square with the requirement of the Act of Synod that there be no discrimination. As information about the post is obtainable from the office of the Bishop of Peterborough, it rather looks, on the face of it, as if a Bishop is publicly supporting the flouting of an Act of Synod, if not actually doing the flouting himself.
One can recall advertisements which mentioned that there were women priests working in a parish (which would naturally result in certain priests choosing not to apply), but never an advert requiring willingness to work with women priests in the abstract.
The second instance relates to the Crown Appointments Commission.
It has been widely and accurately reported that the Vacancy in See Committee of the Diocese of Canterbury asked explicitly for a bishop who would ordain women. Did that legal eagle Dame Butler-Sloss, as Chairman of the CAC, ask the diocesan representatives, one wonders, to withdraw any such request; or did she merely instruct the Commission to ignore, as inadmissible, any such sentiments?
It would be good to know – though no one, mercifully, seems to have suggested that the Bishop of Peterborough was one of the candidates considered.