Paul Benfield explains why the word respect is not enough, nor does it make the legislation any better’

In last month’s ND I argued that the draft legislation on women bishops should be rejected. The Bishop of Chelmsford and others have argued that those who were going to vote against the measure should consider abstaining ‘for the good of the Church of England as a whole’.

In a letter to the Chelmsford General Synod members (which can be seen on his website) he argues that in the new clause 5(1)c ‘we have found a genuine place of acceptable compromise.’

Under the revised clause, the Code of Practice must give guidance as to ‘the selection of male priests and male bishops in a manner which respects the grounds on which Parochial Church Councils issue letters of request under section 3.’ Bishop Stephen says that some may have concerns about the strength of the word respect, but ‘the lawyers tell us that this word will require bishops to really take account of the theological reasons for the request.’

So what does this word ‘respect’ mean? The lawyers’ advice has not been published and I am unaware of any legal definition of the word. If the bishops are to ‘really take account of’ the theological reasons for a request then surely they would have to make provision for the parishes that was consistent with those reasons? But the words ‘consistent with’ are the very words which caused so much fuss over the summer when they appeared in the original clause 5(1)c and which ere dropped by the House of Bishops in September. So whatever ‘respect’ means, it would appear to mean something less than ‘consistent with.’

In my opinion the new clause 5(1)c adds nothing to this flawed measure and is no reason not to vote against it. It was interesting to hear Bishop John Hind say at the FiF National Assembly that he had been wrong to argue that Catholics should abstain at the final approval of the legislation.

It is now imperative that all Catholic bishops, clergy and lay people vote against it. And because of electronic voting we will be able to see that they have done so!