How would you describe the senior appointments system in the Church of England? Nepotistic? Obsessively secretive? Resistant to incomers? Biased against minorities?
It was once the habit of 30Days in this paper to place alongside every new appointment the candidates years of association with Robert Runcie. Aficionados were to be observed scurrying to their copies of Crockford’s to prove us wrong. But now it’s official: we were right. The system is all of those things and more. The recently published Pilling Report is another damning indictment.
This time a significant part of the report concentrates on the appointment of traditional catholics. It reveals that in the period since 1993 opponents of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate have been effectively excluded from senior posts as deans, archdeacons and suffragan bishops.
This is all the more worrying since both the House of Bishops, in the Manchester document Bonds of Peace, and the General Synod, in the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, instructed otherwise.
Both Bishops and Synod have been flagrantly ignored.
The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, in confirming earlier undertakings, states 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 positions about the ordination of women to the priesthood.’
An Act of Synod is defined as ‘the embodiment of the mind or will of the Church of England as expressed by the whole body of the Synod,’ and this particular Act of Synod was passed by overwhelming majorities in all three Houses (Bishops: 39-0; Clergy: 175-12; Laity: 194-14).
The Manchester Group, seeking to draft legislation of permit women to become bishops, will also need to take note of Pilling. Any thought of provision for opponents by Codes of Practice and gentlemen’s agreements’ must now be set aside.
If an Act of Synod has so conspicuously failed to deliver, it is clear that nothing less will do and something more is inevitable.
But let the Report speak for itself:
4.5.7 A willingness on the part of traditional catholic candidates to work with women clergy (while also safeguarding their own integrity with regard to the sacraments) is clearly essential if they are to be appointed to senior office. The small number of tradi-
tional catholics who have been appointed to senior office have, we believe, in general demonstrated such willingness. Such working together involves generosity on their part as it does on the part of the women priests with whom they work.
4.5.8 We have no reason to believe that there are not priests of traditional catholic views with the necessary skills and experience, and the requisite positive attitude to working with women priests, to qualify them for senior appointment. Nor have we been made aware of other issues, comparable to those raised in the case of conservative evangelicals, that might make traditional catholics reluctant to accept one of the appointments under review. That being so, it is difficult not to conclude that there is an element of unfair discrimination (whether conscious or unconscious) in the system.
4.5.9 It has been suggested to us that the small number of appointments of traditional catholics results from an unwillingness on the part of the majority of those (ordained and lay) who are consulted in most dioceses to accept the appointment of someone of traditional catholic opinion. But as long as those opinions may legitimately be held by Church of England clergy, such an unwillingness will need to be challenged. The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod represented a solemn undertaking on the part of the Church of England as a whole to the minority who do not agree with the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is not for us to express a view as to whether that undertaking should continue, or what effect the ordination of women to the episcopate might have on it. We are clear, however, that as long as that undertaking does continue to be enshrined in an Act of Synod, those who make senior appointments (principally, though not exclusively, diocesan bishops) have an obligation positively to confront resistance to the appointment of members of the minority and ensure that such candidates receive fair and equal consideration. We recommend that efforts be made to persuade both those responsible for making appointments and those whom they consult that while the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod remains in force its prohibition of discrimination should be adhered to.
4.5.10 We also recommend that bishops should be asked to indicate which (if any) of those currently on the List from their dioceses are ‘traditional catholics’. Bishops should be asked positively to look for clergy from this constituency who might either be qualified for inclusion on the Preferment List or might be developed in such a way that they might be qualified later on.