C of E edging slowly towards women bishops

By staff writers
February 13, 2009

The long road towards accepting women bishops in the Church of England became an inch shorter on 11 February as the Church of England's General Synod passed a motion to send a draft measure on the matter to a revision committee that will spend the next 12 months reworking the legislation.

However, critics say that at this pace it is unlikely that the first woman will be consecrated until 2014, and opponents have made it clear that they will continue to obstruct and demand concessions for "hurt feelings" all along the way.

The draft measure has two principal objectives: "to give the General Synod power to make provision by canon allowing women to be consecrated as bishops; and to set out the legal framework for the arrangements to be made for parishes which, on grounds of theological conviction, feel unable to receive the ministry of women."

The synod was not asked to amend the draft legislation, only to decide on whether it should be "considered for revision in committee." With a majority affirming that decision, synod members now have until March 16 to submit proposed amendments for review by the revision committee.

Bishop Nigel McCulloch of the Diocese of Manchester, chair of the drafting group responsible for drawing up the legislation, introduced the motion to synod, saying that "today marks the start of a completely new phase in synod's consideration of the admission of women to the episcopate."

The two pieces of legislation now in the hands of the revision committee are a measure titled "Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women)" and a proposed amendment to a canon that deals with "the accommodation that will need to be made … to welcome women wholeheartedly and enthusiastically to each order of ministry and leave generous space for those who in conscience cannot receive this development," said McCulloch.

The draft measure and amending canon, together with an illustrative draft Code of Practice and an explanatory memorandum, are available here.

The revision committee is expected to report its conclusions and present a revised measure to synod in February 2010, at which point amendments may be debated.

The process involved in allowing women in the episcopate of the Church of England is complicated and ultimately will require endorsement by the British Parliament before any measure can take full effect.

It is generally estimated that - assuming all stages of the legislative process proceed without delay - women bishops will not be canonically possible until at least 2014. (An article on the differences between the General Synod and the Episcopal Church's General Convention is available here.)

Christina Rees, a lay member of synod from the Diocese of St Albans, said that she was grateful for the work of the legislative drafting group, but described the proposals as "a jigsaw put together with a hammer. Some of the pieces don't quite fit together."

Chair of the advocacy group Women and the Church, Rees added that the "jigsaw … seems to support implicitly that women are God's faulty creation ... The tragic reality is that our history has said things about women that we would now condemn. My greatest hope is that when we come to final approval all those echoes will have stilled."

With thanks to the Episcopal News Service

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