Since the House of Bishops first introduced it into the proposed Measure for the consecration and ordination of women, vocal opposition has been expressed, almost entirely by supporters of women bishops, to the provision of ministry “consistent with the theological convictions” of petitioning parishes on the ordination or consecration of women.
One of the chief objections is that the clause introduces new features into the legislation — something the House of Bishops is not allowed to do. Yet a careful reading of the legislation suggests that what the amendment proposes for opponents of women bishops, the legislation itself already does for supporters.
Here is Clause 2 (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.
So if the bishop does not himself ordain women, provision must be made, according to the legislation, for the support and pastoral care of women clergy in his diocese.
Let us compare this with the proposed situation regarding petitioning parishes and Clause 5 (1) c.
Clause 2 (1) b, let us remind ourselves, says that diocesan schemes shall address “the provision of pastoral care to the clergy and parishioners” in petitioning parishes (“pastoral care” of course being the term used with respect to women clergy in 2 (5) b).
Clause 5 (1) c now adds that the Code of Practice shall give guidance as to “the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request”.
The “exercise of ministry” referred to in 5 (1) c undoubtedly includes the “pastoral care” of 2 (1) b. What 5 (1) c does is to address whether this “pastoral care” is “consistent with” — no more than that — the theological convictions of petitioning parishes.
And yet opponents have called for this to be removed.
Suppose, then, that the same principle were applied to the “pastoral care” of women clergy under Clause 2 (5) b.
According to Clause 2 (4), a diocesan bishop may choose not to ordain women, on grounds of his own theological conviction (“whether of himself or of other persons in his diocese”).
If Clause 5 (1) c is removed, there is then no necessary requirement in the legislation for petitioning parishes and their clergy to receive pastoral care from someone who will do this in a manner “consistent with” their “theological convictions”.
Yet if this same approach were applied to Clause 2 (5) b concerning the “pastoral care” of women provided on the basis of the theological convictions of their diocesan bishop, then presumably there would be no express need for this to be “consistent with” their opposing “theological convictions” either.
It would surely be unreasonable, however, in a situation where a bishop had to draw up provisions for those who were distanced from his own theological convictions, for him to say, “My convictions have some bearing on the need for provision, but yours have no bearing on the nature of the provision itself.”
And supposing what he provided was another opponent of women’s ordination –- albeit a bishop? Would it be enough to say this represented ‘extra’ support merely by merit of being a special bishop for them (like having your own named contact at the bank, regardless of their views on the economy)?
Would the women not feel doubly aggrieved, first that they had a problem with their diocesan bishop, and secondly that they were being treated in a cavalier fashion?
The fact is that the legislation already in the Measure provides for women in certain circumstances what is being requested (but is not yet included) for clergy and parishioners in other, comparable situations. And if it is no problem in the former case, it should not be in the latter.
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