John Shepley acknowledges that the Manchester Group had to resolve two contradictory requirements but suggests that one of their own options is the easiest solution to both

What was the Manchester Group for? The question seems a strange one until its mandate from the July 2006 Synod is examined in detail. It was a convoluted motion, rendered more so by two contradictory amendments: That this Synod, endorsing Resolution III.2 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 ‘that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans’ and believing that the implications of admitting women to the episcopate will best be discerned by continuing to explore in detail the practical and legislative arrangements:

(a) invite dioceses, deaneries and parishes to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of the issue;

(b) invite the Archbishops’ Council, in consultation with the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops and the Appointments Committee, to secure the early appointment of a legislative drafting group, which will aim to include a significant representation of women in the spirit of Resolution 13/31 of the Anglican Consultative Council passed in July 2005, charged with: (i) preparing the draft measure and amending canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women to the office of bishop; (ii) preparing a draft of possible additional legal provision consistent with Canon A4 to establish arrangements that would seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops; (iii) submitting the results of its work to the House of Bishops for consideration and submission to Synod; and

(c) instruct the Business Committee to make time available, before first consideration of the draft legislation, for the Synod to consider, in the light of any views expressed by the House of Bishops, the arrangements proposed in the drafting group’s report.

An impossible task?

The conflicting amendments (italicized above) created problems. Supporters of the ordination of women were confident of the meaning of Canon A4, and supposed that it effectively undermined Lambeth 98 II.2. Opponents were equally convinced that Canon A4 was merely hortatory, and in any case had a purely historical significance, with no effect on Lambeth 98 II.2.

The purpose of the Manchester Group, given the self-contradictory tenor of its terms of reference, was to square the circle: to deliver women bishops whose remit would be exactly the same as that of male bishops, whilst ensuring the fair and equal treatment of those who could not in conscience receive their ministry. Despite seeming a near impossibility, it appears that one of its numerous options – that of creating separate dioceses for those opposed – has come close to the mark. To understand how close, we need first of all to examine the obvious deficiencies of the other possibilities.

Manchester’s first option – simple legislation with a non-statutory code of practice – is clearly the one least likely to achieve the desired end. It would, of course, deliver what the proponents want; but at what cost! The removal of safeguards and assurances claimed at the time to be permanent and immutable would openly reveal the deceit and subterfuge to which, in 1992, sup-
porters of women priests and bishops had been ready to stoop.

Not would such an arrangement fulfil the requirements of Lambeth 98 II.2. Codes of Practice, in this matter, are notoriously malleable in the hands of those who are unsympathetic to them; have been short-lived wherever they have been introduced; and often demonstrate a grotesque misunderstanding of the needs and concerns of opponents.

Flawed solutions

In short, they exist more to bolster the self-esteem and liberal credentials of those who frame them, than to meet the sincerely held convictions of those for whose purported benefit they are introduced.
But if a single clause measure with an attendant Code of Practice does nothing to satisfy opponents, the options which involve, in differing ways, the creation of ‘complementary bishops’ to minister to opponents seem to me to demand too much of the women who will be consecrated. They would be obliged to sanction (or have imposed upon them) a new species of episcopal life whose sole function would be to impersonate them to those to whom their ministry was unwelcome. Those ‘complementary bishops’, part of the structures of every diocese, would be a constant reminder to every woman diocesan of the limits on the exercise of her ministry. These new-fangled bishops, moreover, would be opposed to women priests and bishops and yet in full communion with the women prelates they were sent to impersonate. Inevitably the diocesan bishop would grow to despise the incoherence of their ecclesiology, and that of the parishes who sought their ministry.

A minor alteration

All these pitfalls are avoided by providing separate dioceses for opponents. Whatever Canon A4 means, it would still apply in all CofE dioceses; the position of the diocesan as ordinary would remain unaltered; women bishops would enjoy all the rights, responsibilities and dignity belonging to their male colleagues; and the national structures of the Church would continue to function as before.

The advantages of the solution are obvious. The creation of new dioceses is not a novelty in itself (as are ‘complementary bishops’). The relationship between and among diocesans is well understood. Dioceses which do not ordain women to the priesthood or the episcopate simply continue a long-standing practice in the CofE. The only ecclesiological adjustments which would need to be made would be the partial abandonment of the nineteenth-century ideal of the ‘territorial diocese’.

Such minor tinkering is a small price to pay for an arrangement which, whilst as permanent as needs be, could easily be withdrawn at a later stage, and which gives both parties what the General Synod voted for them to have: Lambeth 98II.2 and Canon A4.
Some, of course, will say that the very existence of bishops who do not ordain or consecrate women is am affront to consecrated women; but this would be no substantive change in present circumstances. There is no foreseeable time when the Anglican Communion will not contain such bishops (at present a majority). To want to eliminate them is to cease, in any meaningful sense, to be Anglican.