A better way forward

Simon Killwick explains to the Forward in Faith National Assembly why the General Synod must reject the women bishops legislation

I very much hope that the Assembly will pass overwhelmingly the resolution stating that the draft legislation is not fit for purpose. It is fundamentally unfair, because all the dice are loaded one way: provision is made for women bishops and their supporters by law; provision for us and our supporters is made in a Code of Practice.

Bishops provided for traditionalists would not have proper oversight as bishops; they would be allowed to preside at the Eucharist and Confirmations; they could not make appointments or license clergy; it is not at all clear they would be allowed to ordain new deacons and priests. Bishops provided for us would be second-class bishops, which would make us second-class Anglicans.

No guaranteed future

We would have no guaranteed future: the supply of traditionalist bishops would not be guaranteed. The rescinding of the Act of Synod, which would follow the passing of the legislation, would call into question the future of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors; their present posts could continue with the present Archbishops, but that is the personal decision of the present Archbishops; their successors could decide not to make new appointments. We would then be entirely dependent on other diocesan bishops appointing traditionalists as suffragan bishops, which diocesan bishops would be under no obligation to do. The record of such suffragan appointments to date is a mixed record, with a few in the north, and fewer in the south. There would be no guaranteed supply of bishops for traditionalists; nor would there be a guaranteed supply of priests for traditionalist parishes, as the legislation has no prohibition of discrimination against traditionalist candidates for ordination.

A Code of Practice will not do

We have always said this; a Code of Practice is like a blank cheque because we cannot know what will be in it until the Measure has become law, and then it is too late. Of course, assurances may be made that there would be enough put into the Code for us to live with; but the assurances given in 1992 and 1993 are about to be torn up, and we have been told that the General Synod

cannot make promises for the future – so how can we rely on assurances now? Watch have stated that they will oppose any provision being made for us in the Code which is not already in the Measure – the House of Bishops could not stand firm on clause 5(1)c when it was referred back to them, so they are not likely to stand firm on the contents of the Code.

A Code of Practice will not do; it would not be legally binding: bishops would have to ‘have regard’ to it, but they need not follow it if they can show ‘cogent reasons’ for not doing so, e.g. a shortage of suitable male bishops and priests, or a need for parishes to be amalgamated. The only form of appeal against a bishop’s decision would be judicial review, which few parishes could afford. The application of the Code would vary from one diocese to another – a postcode lottery. The Code could be changed at any time, meaning that any provision it made for traditionalists could be campaigned against and whittled away over time. We may expect a series of motions from the Diocese of Southwark calling for the provisions of the Code to be reduced.

Respect is not enough

The House of Bishops watered down the previous clause 5(1)c from ‘consistent with theological convictions’ to ‘respect the grounds’; we deeply regret the taking out of explicit reference to ‘theological convictions’. It is odd that Watch found it so unpalatable – the Church of England apparently doesn’t ‘do’ theological conviction (not in law anyway, despite the fact that freedom to manifest religious conviction in ‘teaching, practice, worship and observance’ is a fundamental human right (Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)).

Respect does not have a proper legal definition. One member of the House of Bishops has written that respect, in legal terms, ‘requires one person to be informed of another’s viewpoint and able to demonstrate how that information has shaped any action that follows. The information cannot be entirely disregarded, nor does it have to be followed in a narrowly prescriptive way. The person’s viewpoint that is to be respected is not an ultimatum.’ Respect does not create any entitlement, or any rights; rather it refers to entitlements or rights that already exist. With the Bishops’ amendment, we have a concept

of respect that is empty because it refers to no existing entitlements or rights which are to be respected. In any case, the concept of respect comes in the context of guidance in the Code of Practice; it is relegated to the Code of Practice, not part of the Measure itself.

Respect also means checking out with a PCC the grounds on which it has issued a Letter of Request; this would usually involve a meeting between the diocesan bishop or his or her representative (often an archdeacon); similar meetings have taken place in the past to discuss Resolutions passed by PCCs under the current Measure, or the Act of Synod; sadly, respect has not generally been shown for the PCC’s position at such meetings – why should we think that more respect would be shown in the future?

Lack of consensus

Major changes in Church order require a clear consensus; one of the reasons why we are opposed to women bishops is that there is no consensus across the wider Catholic Church. Orders belong to the whole Church. In the Anglican world, there is no consensus for women bishops across Anglican Communion.

Even within the Church of England, consensus is required; this is why legislation like this needs a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses of the General Synod, in order to pass. At no stage in the process so far has this draft legislation achieved the required majorities in the Synod, meaning that there is no clear consensus.

No real attempt has been made to reach consensus outside the formal synodical process. Supporters of the legislation realize that there is not enough consensus, and are resorting to unprincipled attempts to pressurize those opposed to the legislation to abstain, rather than to vote against, as their consciences would dictate.

A better way would be to follow the example of the Church in Wales, whose Governing Body rejected unsatisfactory legislation for women bishops, and is now looking at a new process with two linked pieces of legislation, one to provide for women to be made bishops, and the other to provide for traditionalists; the legislation for women bishops cannot come into force until the legislation providing for traditionalists has been passed. Such an even-handed approach would lead to the prayerful and reconciling dialogue the Church of England now needs in order to move forward.


We belong to a synodical Church, which means we must engage with synodical or political processes. We may be tempted to regret this, but politics are part of human nature, wherever people come together: in homes and workplaces, in local and national government, in international diplomacy. Forward in Faith is a political body; I ask you to support the Catholic Group in your prayers at home and in Church, and in campaigning for our future.

This Pre-Synod Briefing
was given at the National Assembly
of Forward in Faith, 13 October 2012