Archbishops defeated over plan to entrench opponents of women bishops

By staff writers
July 11, 2010

Anglican women have expressed delight that the General Synod has defeated a plan which they say would have made women second-class bishops in the Church of England, entrenching opposition to their ministry.

The established Church's governing body, meeting in York, voted on Saturday 10 July 2010 to re-iterate its decision of July 2008 - that when women are appointed bishops, they will be in charge of their entire Diocese.

Amendments suggesting that there should be separate dioceses for those opposed, or permanent 'flying bishops', or that parishes should automatically be transferred to another bishop, were all rejected by the Synod.

In particular, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury lost their controversial amendment that would have effectively created parallel jurisdictions.

The proposal was that a ‘nominated’ bishop proposed by the Archbishops would be provided for those who refused to recognise the authority of a woman diocesan bishop.

But Archdeacon Christine Allsopp of Northampton said that this would make it impossible for a woman to be figure of unity as a bishop, a key purpose of the oversight role, by creating two rival jurisdictions within a single diocese.

The archbishops defended their plan as promoting 'unity', but critics said that it would actually institutionalise a permanent small minority of anti-women lobbyists in much the same way as the Act of Synod promulgated after the ordination of women in the 1990s did.

This is something which women say has undermined their ministry significantly, and they were eager not to see the same "disastrous" mistake repeated in relation to episcopal appointments.

A small majority of Synod members voted for the amendment, but it did not achieve the required majority. Fifteen bishops opposed Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu, and 90 out of 180 clergy voted against them, with five abstentions. A significant number of lay representatives also went against the archbishops.

Hilary Cotton, vice-chair of WATCH (Women and the Church), declared: "We are absolutely delighted that Synod has stuck with its decision of two years ago and wants women to be bishops with full authority. This is good news for all women, not just women in the Church."

Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH added: ”This has been an agonisingly slow journey and the Church has rightly wanted to do all it could for those who find this difficult, but we are delighted that Synod has made the right decision in the end. Now at last the Church can move forward and accept the wonderful gifts of leadership that our women bring.”

In the Synod debate, Canon Celia Thomson of Gloucester Cathedral, said that the archbishops' proposal was "the source of such sadness, such dismay that I'm compelled to oppose it".

She continued: "If the church is seen to continue to discriminate against women by law, not only will it compromise the ministry of its women priests in the future, but more fatally the future mission of the Church in the 21st century."

Lay member Christina Rees, a leading campaigner for women bishops, said that the plans would create "a two-track system" and would "establish a strand of episcopacy that is restricted to men."

On Monday the Synod will decide what minor amendments to make. It will also be given the opportunity to vote for the simplest possible legislation - that "the Church will appoint male and female bishops".

Arrangements for those who remain opposed would then be entrusted to individual bishops under a Code of Practice that will be drawn up in the near future.

"This is not the end of the journey," says WATCH. "The wider Church will now be invited to debate the proposals and if approved General Synod will have a final vote on them in about eighteen months time."

Earlier in the day, Archbishop Sentamu defended Archbishop Williams over the rejection of partnered but celibate gay priest Dr Jeffrey John, currently Dean of St Albans, as a candidate for the bishopric of Southwark.

He attacked the media for its reporting of the situation, and criticised pro- and anti-gay lobby groups.

But journalists and commentators say that senior figures in the Church of England are hopelessly out of touch about the why their tolerance of anti-gay prejudice, secretive procedures and refusal to understand the way the institution looks from the outside is creating such a bad public and media impression.


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