Glyn Win on what the Code of Practice might mean

The Code of Practice on women bishops cannot be settled until the Measure itself has been passed, but the Synod will debate an Illustrative Code of Practice on the Tuesday of its February meeting. Drafted by a House of Bishops working party, chaired by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, it supersedes the illustrative draft produced by another group in 2008, owing to the changes made to the draft legislation in the revision committee. The House of Bishops debated the new draft code in December, and the Archbishops’ foreword to the report says that the House ‘does not wish to see any outcome that would entrench radical division or give any impression of a two-tier episcopate’. But it is committed to ‘the most adequate and sustainable provision for theological dissent over the ordination of women’, and seeks ‘a balanced provision’ that will enable all members of the Church of England to ‘flourish’. The House has committed itself to three principles (1) ensuring that bishops do not discriminate when selecting candidates for ordination on the grounds of their theological convictions about the admission of women to holy orders; (2) paying heed, when new bishops are chosen to provide episcopal ministry under diocesan schemes, to the theological convictions on women’s ordination of those who issued the Letter of Request for their ministry; and (3) maintaining a supply of bishops who can minister to those unable to accept women as bishops. This appears to be in response to what the working group’s report refers to as ‘unresolved issues to be addressed’ particularly with regard to episcopal consecrations ‘come the day when a woman is appointed as archbishop’; and also to the possibility that its authors would envisage of guidance on the making of parochial appointments so that ‘those concerned with making the appointment should not simply see their responsibilities as having been discharged by appointing a male priest as incumbent or priest in charge, That, while necessary, will not in some cases be sufficient.’ The working party itself could not come to a common mind on what the Code should say about a parish’s request for the ministry of ‘a man ordained by man’. ‘In theory the range of possibilities extends from saying nothing at all to giving guidance that, where parishes so request, the diocesan bishop should choose a bishop holding a suffragan see that has been designated by the relevant archbishop (or perhaps the House of Bishops) or is perhaps a members of a recognised society’ the report says. While there was a real concern about ‘the notion of two classes of bishop or the concept of pedigree’ and about the ‘genuine discretion of diocesan bishops’ the group was also aware that ‘ while there are those whom nothing short of a Measure conferring an ordinary jurisdiction will suffice, there are also those who want, if possible, to remain within the Church of England as loyal Anglicans and are looking for a signal in the Code of Practice that they are not to have to rely solely on decisiosn taken by individual bishops under individual schemes, diocese by diocese.’

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