Friday, May 14, 2010

CofE Women Bishops Update

With the Church of England’s Revision Committee issuing its report on woman bishops, this is a good time to update the situation there on that issue.

And the situation is not good and perhaps worsening. The committee completely failed to recommend adequate provision for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops.

Committee member Bishop Pete Broadbent sums up the situation succinctly:

There are 4 defining motifs:

1. It's rooted in monepiscopacy (one Diocesan Bishop having authority in the Diocese) - which has become a kind of faux catholic shibboleth for a certain sort of liberal catholicism. That determines everything else, because on that presupposition you can only have one bishop and no dual or twin track arrangements. What we've produced is internally consistent with that approach.

2. It doesn't give women bishops an entirely clear run, so it won't satisfy those who want the ministry of women to be untrammelled and equal in the Church. But it probably does enough to satisfy WATCH - though they have to compromise their position.

3. It doesn't do the job for traditionalist catholics and conservative evangelicals, whose desire for "sacramental assurance" and "headship" respectively aren't met. (These are doctrines that I personally don't believe in, but they have been clearly laid out very clearly by those who espouse them, and what the Revision Committee has produced simply doesn't deal with this) So we know before July that those two groups will seek to amend the report to take account of their concerns. Read the report - we crossed a rubicon at paragraph 148.

4. The report gives a good account of all the arguments and would repay reading (I would say that...) But the content of a Code of Practice isn't yet worked out, and is likely to be pretty minimalist, giving less to those opposed than the earlier woman priests legislation.

Biggest problem is that the CofE varies hugely regionally (lots of clergy and parishes opposed in the big city dioceses; very few opponents in many rural areas). That, plus the fact that loads of people have been ordained since the 1992 legislation and don't see why we should be making "provision" will, I fear, make the whole debate in July a dialogue of the deaf.

By the way, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Bishop Pete. He is decent and fair-minded. He is also good company in a pub and, as you can tell, pleasantly straight-spoken.

Backing up his third point, both Forward in Faith and Reform have clearly said the committee report will not do.

The report is not the final word. July’s General Synod will be crucial and likely definitive. (Caveat: I am not an authority on Church of England governance.) But, as I said, the situation is not good. Prayer is in order.

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