Archbishop-elect makes 'game changing' speech on women bishops

By staff writers
November 20, 2012

As anticipated, the Archbishop of Canterbury designate, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, has made a strong but courteous and generous appeal to the Church of England's General Synod to vote in favour of women being able to become bishops.

Adopting what one participant described to Ekklesia as a 'bridge-building tone', he told the established Church's governing body today (20 November 2012) that it was "time to finish the job" started with the appointment of women priests in 1994, following a Synod vote 20 years ago, in 1992.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, who is currently Bishop of Durham, told the members of Synod that he would ensure provisions for the care of opponents to the measure were "carried out faithfully".

"The ministry of women priests,” he said, “has been powerful in all areas of the church except as part of the episcopacy”, making it clear that it was now time for this to change.

The three 'houses' of Bishops, Clergy and Laity are due to vote on proposed legislation later today. A clear majority is likely, but the lay members' vote may be tight on the required two-thirds margin.

Opponents of women bishops, though a minority within the Church of England, have organised hard through elections to the House of laity in an attempt to thwart the legislation.

But some 80 per cent or more of active Church members are in favour of women bishops, along with 42 out of 44 dioceses, almost all existing bishops and the great majority of clergy.

Bishop Welby said that in the midst of differences "the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of view without division; diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity,” he said.

“This approach that we have before us today is I believe, after much discussion with many people, as good as we can get... Our will and intention are far more important than the rules," he declared.

Shortly afterwards, the Times newspaper's religion correspondent described Bishop Welby's speech as "game changer" which appeared to have altered the mood of Synod in a positive direction.

She wrote: "The future Archbishop of Canterbury put his authority on the line today with a powerful speech advocating women bishops in the Church of England.

"The vote on women bishops at the General Synod [is] on a knife-edge as supporters and opponents battle it out in a marathon all-day debate at Church House, Westminster," she added.

The Rev Rosie Harper, vicar of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, said earlier in the debate: "If the proposed legislation fails, the consequences I believe are .. severe."

"A Church with lower moral standards than the rest of society risks its right to comment on other issues," she explained. "It will inevitably be seen as the act of a dying Church more wedded to the past than committed to hope for the future."

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, told Synod how he had changed his mind on the issue of women bishops, and also urged a vote in favour.


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