In the period leading up to the introduction of women priests we were told that the provisions respecting the consciences of those who could not accept women priests would be there
for as long as they were needed. We were told that we would have an honoured place in the Church of England. And so the Measure permitting women priests contained provisions for PCCs to pass Resolutions A and B. They were to be there for all time – a clause which would have limited them for a period of 20 years was dropped at a late stage.
The first important thing that this draft measure does is to revoke the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 in its entirety. And so, at a stroke, the protection in law given to those who cannot accept the sacramental ministry of ordained women goes. For in this new draft Measure there is no equivalent of Resolution A, which prohibits a woman from presiding at the Holy Communion or pronouncing the absolution in a parish where the resolution is in force. Under this new measure there is no protection for the laity who cannot accept a woman priest. Whether or not a woman is invited to officiate in that parish will be entirely a matter for the incumbent or priest in charge. He will not even be required to give notice that he has invited a woman to officiate at a particular service. Where is the honoured place for the laity there?
And as far as a woman bishop officiating in a parish is concerned, even if the entire PCC wish to have a male bishop, the resolution requesting that it be a male bishop overseeing the parish is only effective if the incumbent or priest in charge votes in favour of the resolution. The priest can veto the wishes of faithful laity who are simply, according to their consciences, trying to be obedient to scripture and tradition. Where is the honouring of promises there?
From the beginning of the discussions about women bishops we have argued that there ought to be equal provision in law for those of both opinions on the question of women’s ordination. That is what we had in 1993. Those who could not accept women bishops were protected in law and any cleric who did not follow the law could be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
Code of Practice
But under this draft measure the protection of the law is gone. The protection for those loyal Anglicans is now to be contained in a code of practice. And a code of practice is not sufficient protection. As the Archdeacon of Berkshire, when Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, asked in a debate in Synod several years ago, ‘Why should this code of practice be followed any more than the Code of Practice
to the Pastoral Measure dealing with the suspension of presentation to benefices is followed?’ We all know of many cases where that code has not been followed.
You will say ‘Ah, but the bishop must have regard to this code of practice – is says so in clause 6.’ Yes, it does, but the legal advice is clear that he or she need not follow the code if he or she has cogent reason for not doing so. I venture to suggest that, with the reduction in clergy numbers, the vastly different populations, churchmanships and so on across England, with particular and local circumstances in mind, it will not be difficult for a bishop to find cogent reason for not following the code. And if an aggrieved parish feels that a bishop has not followed the code, either in relation to the making of a scheme for his diocese under clause 2 or in relation to the parish, what are its remedies? The only remedy is to bring an action for judicial review in the courts. In such an action the parish will be paying its own legal costs whereas the bishop will be supported by the vast resources of the Church Commissioners who pay bishops’ expenses. Where is the equality there?
And the code of practice can be changed by a simple majority in the General Synod. The provisions at first might be generous and workable. But there will be pressure to change them. We will be engaged in a constant battle as one side tries to whittle away the protections given by the code of practice and the other tries to increase them.
From the earliest discussion on this matter it was realized that jurisdiction was the key to the situation in which we find ourselves. And so the Guildford Working Party of the House of Bishops, which reported as long ago as January 2006, said that whether one was concerned with sacramental assurance or headship ‘in either case the theological issue flows inevitably into the question ofjurisdiction.’
So they proposed Transferred Episcopal Authority to transfer jurisdiction. But that was rejected. Later the Archbishops proposed their amendment about coordinate jurisdiction. But that too was rejected. We have known for over six years that the issue that had to be addressed is jurisdiction and yet we have not done so. This draft measure leaves jurisdiction unaltered – jurisdiction remains solely with the diocesan bishop. Any arrangements made under this measure or its code of practice will be by delegation from the diocesan bishop. It is true that the new clause 8 (2) draws the distinction between the authority to exercise certain episcopal functions and the authority of a bishop which he has by virtue of his consecration.
But this does not alter the fact that the diocesan bishop remains the chief pastor and Father in God to all his or her clergy. He or she has oversight over them and part of that oversight involves performing sacramental acts, which he or she may delegate to other bishops. But because he or she is the diocesan bishop and chief pastor he or she is owed canonical obedience by all the clergy of the diocese. In the words of Stephen Slack, Chief Legal Advisor, in an appendix to the Guildford Report:
‘If a cleric cannot recognise their bishop as chief pastor and father in God because they question their episcopal orders and thus their sacramental and pastoral ministry, surely there is from their point of view an understandable difficulty about accepting that they should owe the duty of obedience which would otherwise arise?’
There is indeed, and yet that is what is expected under this measure. Traditionalist clergy – whether catholic or evangelical – who have a woman diocesan bishop will either have to resign or act against their consciences. Where is the honoured place for clergy faced with such a dilemma?
This draft measure has not got things right. At this late stage the only course open to us is to defeat it and start again, addressing the real questions that need to be addressed – honouring previous promises and assurances, provision in law for those opposed, jurisdiction and canonical obedience.
We have to ask ourselves what sort of Church of England we want to be. The broad all-encompassing Church where a wide variety of views is accepted? Or a narrow sect where only one view is permitted? Bishop Tom Wright warned Synod in his last speech to it before leaving Durham that the we were in danger of becoming a church where you can believe what you like about the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection and so on, but you have to believe in the ordination of women. It has been the wisdom of the Church of England over the years to follow the via media. This measure does not follow that way and must, therefore, be rejected. ND