On Saturday the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod debated, and approved by a large majority in all three houses, the draft ‘Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure. It also rejected the Following Motion being sponsored by the Church of England Evangelical Council that stronger provision should be written into the legislation for those who feel this development to be wrong and who would therefore want episcopal ministry from a male bishop.
Once upon a time, let us remind ourselves, this would have been the majority of ordinary evangelicals. The 1977 Nottingham Statement from the second NEAC declared that whilst leadership in the congregation ought to be plural and mixed in gender, “ ultimate responsibility” should be “normally singular and male”. Some of us still believe this, and the Anglican Church purports to welcome us as faithful fellow-Christians.
However, the focus has shifted from theological argument to practical provision. Yet it is here that further problems lie, for the proposed legislation is, in my view, bad law both from a practical and from a moral viewpoint.
It is bad morally because whilst, as I have just observed, the formal position of the Church is that all are welcome and included, the legislation places all the demands and obligations of ‘conformity’ on one party and not the other.
For example, a petition by a PCC for the provision of oversight under the Measure will only be effective for five years, after which it will have to be revisited (3.13).
One might say, “Fair enough — opinions change and people move on,” which is true. But what about PCCs that have not petitioned for such provision? If the law is even handed and if the underlying principle is that both views are valid, ought they not be required, every five years, to consider petitioning for provision — even if it is only a formality on the agenda? After all, the present legislation requires every PCC to consider Resolutions A and B (concerning only having ministry from a male priest), whenever there is an interregnum.
What we see in the proposed legislation is massive legal slippage which makes it clear who really ‘belongs’ and who does not. All Anglicans are equal, but ...
There is, however, another problem area, identified in the question time at Synod and to which there still seems to be no satisfactory answer.
Under the present legislation, episcopal ministry is provided to those parishes which request it by a bishop of what the Church of England chooses to call the same ‘integrity’. Actually ‘integrity’ is not a bad word in this case since it reflects the mood, prevalent in the 1990s, that both opponents and supporters of women priests may be moved by theological integrity rather than misogyny on the one hand or theological laxity on the other.
Under the new legislation, however, one of two things must happen. Either there must be a huge increase in the number of serving bishops opposed to the ordination (and now consecration) of women or integrity must be sacrificed by both parish and bishop alike.
The reason is this. Section 2 of the legislation (Duty of diocesan bishop to make arrangements) states that:
(1) The bishop of each diocese shall be under a duty to make and publish a scheme containing arrangements in his or her diocese for the exercise by way of delegation to a male bishop who is a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of that or another diocese of episcopal ministry which appears to the bishop to relate to —
(a) the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service in parishes which request such arrangements in accordance with section 3, or
(b) the provision of pastoral care to the clergy and parishioners in those parishes.
Now we must leave aside whether (a) and (b) above cover the fullness of episcopal ministry (which in my view they do not). The point to notice is that the Measure legally excludes anything like the existing Provincial Episcopal Visitors from providing such ministry.
How so? Because the bishop concerned must be “a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of that or another diocese”.
Incidentally, this also means (as we were assured during the debate) that this ministry cannot be from a retired bishop, since he would not be a “member of the House of Bishops”.
Now if integrity is to be maintained, this means that there will have to be a bishop available in each diocese — or at least in every other diocese geographically, since it would be unreasonable to expect busy bishops to be travelling much further than the odd 100 miles or so round trip — who is opposed to the ordination and consecration of women. Two cheers for the new legislation.
Unfortunately, that is not quite what the legislation requires, for it does not actually say that the bishop himself needs to be opposed to the ordination and consecration of women. All he has to be legally is male.
But this is where integrity goes out of the window. How so? (you may again ask). Because the situation would then be that at the very point at which the ministry of Bishop A was provided to Parish B, there would be disagreement.
The justification for having Bishop A (and not the female Bishop B) provide such ministry would be solely (according the legislation) the “theological conviction” that “episcopal ministry and pastoral care should be provided by a male bishop” (Section 3.1). Yet if the said male bishop did not share that theological conviction, he would in effect be saying, “The one thing that justifies me, rather than someone else, ministering to you is a point on which I actually do not agree with you.”
To say the least, this would be a very odd basis for the provision of ministry and care.
Just to make this clear, the same proposed legislation envisages that,
(5) Where a scheme made under this section includes a statement by the bishop that he will not ordain women to the office of priest, the scheme shall make provision ---
(a) for the ordination of female candidates for the office of priest, and
(b) for the support of the ministry of clergy who are women and their pastoral care.
Now whilst 5.a obviously requires the ministry of a bishop in favour of women’s ordination, 5.b, technically, does not. One can provide support even for someone with whom one disagrees, as the recent Statement of Needs for Salisbury Diocese clearly envisaged when it (quite improperly and possibly unlawfully) stated that the new bishop “will have to be prepared to ordain men and women without discrimination, while sensitively engaging with the few parishes not accepting women priests or bishops”.
Nevertheless, one can imagine the problems if such a scheme under the proposed legislation appointed, for the purposes of support and pastoral care of women clergy, someone opposed to women’s ordination, rather than someone in favour.
Thus, as I said earlier, unless integrity is to be sacrificed (along with the principle of moral equivalence in the law), the existing legislation ought to require more, rather than fewer, bishops opposed to women’s ordination and consecration.
But is this the intention of the legislation? On the one hand it would seem that it is, since it is stated specifically that ministry could come from “another diocese”. Why would this even be considered, if not to ensure that ‘integrity’ is maintained?
Yet a specific question on this point (from myself) elicited the answer (as happened repeatedly) that this would “presumably be covered by the Code of Practice”. And this, of course, is no answer at all since no one knows yet what will be in the Code of Practice and the legislation is, in the end, the law that will be applied, whereas the Code of Practice will be just that — a Code covering the application of what the law says.
And the law, as it stands, says only that a male bishop will be provided, which can only mean one of two things — more bishops of the traditionalist integrity, or less integrity.
John RichardsonPlease give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.
6 June 2011
6 June 2011