Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu have released the text of a proposed resolution on the consecration of female bishops in the Church of England. Read the resolution and their accompanying letter.
NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENTS
1. The General Synod's motion of 10 July 2006 set the mandate for the legislative drafting group on the admission of women to the episcopate and instructed that the results of its work should be submitted to the House of Bishops' for consideration and submission to the Synod.
2. The drafting group, chaired by the Bishop of Manchester, completed its work in April. With our agreement and that of the House of Bishops Standing Committee the report was published at the same time as it was submitted to the House of Bishops. This has given Synod members longer than would otherwise have been the case to consider the report. It also meant that when the report was considered at the College of Bishops' Meeting on 21 May and subsequently at the House of Bishops on 22 May, those present had the benefit of some initial reactions from around the Church of England.
3. The House of Bishops would like to place on record its gratitude to the members of the group for producing an agreed report that analyses the issues and options so carefully and comprehensively. The clarity of the report is welcome, though it inevitably throws into sharp relief the significance and difficulty of the choices that the Church of England now faces.
4. In the Synod debates of 2005 and 2006 there were significant majorities in all three Houses that women should be admitted to the episcopate. Equally, it was clear that a substantial variety of views and theological convictions was held in all three Houses not only on whether but on how this should be achieved. It is unlikely that this variety will have significantly reduced. The question now, therefore, is whether a sufficient consensus can be established on a particular way forward, so that the drafting group can be given a clear sense of direction as it completes its task of bringing forward to the Synod draft legislation for consideration.
5. In its own consideration, the House of Bishops noted that the report identified. at paragraphs 22 and 53, two key questions:
Does the Church of England wish to continue to accommodate the present diversity of theological views within its life on the issue of women's ordination?
Following on from this, does the Church of England wish to continue to make available special arrangements for those who, on grounds of theological conviction, have difficulties over the ordination of women?
6. At its meeting. the majority of the House of Bishops was clear that it wished to answer both questions in the affirmative. There was a reaffirmation to the principle of admitting women to the episcopate, out of a conviction that this would be in the interests both of the Church of England and of its mission to the nation. There was also a reaffirmation, consistent with the motion of 10 July 2006 and resolution III.2 of the Lambeth Conference 1998, that "those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans." The Church of England will be diminished if there are those who decide that they cannot remain, should women be admitted to the episcopate.
7. The House of Bishops agreed, therefore, to recommend that special arrangements should be available for those unable, as a matter of theological conviction, to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests.
8. The difficulty arises in identifying what those arrangements should be. Within the House of Bishops several different views were expressed; and it was recognised that the Synod would need to have the opportunity to consider carefully all the options set out in the Drafting Group's report.
9. A significant minority within the House was prepared to contemplate the possibility of a small number of new dioceses, or alternatively, mandatory transfer of functions within existing dioceses, in order to provided an assured space for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests. While there was an acknowledgement that this would involve many difficulties the judgement of those who took this view was that the alternatives were worse. They were particularly mindful of the assurances given fifteen years ago when women were admitted to the priesthood.
10. A majority of the House, however, was not persuaded that it would be right to pursue either a structural solution- in terms of setting up new dioceses- or a legislative scheme that involved the dividing up of a diocesan bishop's functions and powers in a way that could be seen as radically altering or indeed undermining the nature of episcopal authority within the Church of England.
11. Thus those bishops who took this view, while entirely willing to set up arrangements that would be available to those with conscientious difficulties over women's ordination, favoured the securing of them by means of a national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard. This would entail no legislative limitation on the exercise of episcopal ministry by women.
12. It would mean that the existing provisions (in part II of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993) for parishes unable to accept the ministry of women as celebrant or incumbent would be repealed, to be replaced by arrangements made under the proposed national code of practice. In addition, the natural consequence of such legislation and a code of practice would be the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993.
13. The House noted that a code of practice included a spectrum of possibilities between, at one end, an entirely informal code and at the other one secured by legislation, which itself set out in some detail the ground a code would need to cover. The majority of the House concluded that the next stage of the drafting group's work would have to involve the production of a draft code and a proposal about the extent of its statutory underpinning. There was, however, agreement that the code should be national and that there should be a clear requirement that all concerned should have regard to the code's provision.
14. The motion now presented to the Synod is offered as a starting point for discussion. It does not represent a consensus within the House on what the conclusion should be but rather the view of the majority on the best place for Synod to begin examining the options. The House hopes and expects that amendments will be tabled which promote other options identified within the group's report, in order to test the strength of opinion within Synod. Some members of the House are likely to table or speak in support of amendments of this nature.
15. Given the importance of the choices facing the Synod the House has asked the Business Committee to schedule sufficient time in July so that members of the Synod have time to listen to each other both in small groups and in the debating chamber. It has now been agreed that the Bishop of Manchester will have the opportunity to make a short presentation on the Friday evening on the report. This will include an explanation of the difference between a statutory and non-statutory code.
16. There will then be group work on the Saturday morning before a take-note debate which the Bishop of Manchester will lead. Synod will then turn to other business before returning on Monday afternoon to considering the motion from the House of Bishops, together with such amendments as Synod members may have tabled. The whole of Monday afternoon will be available for that debate.
17. As paragraphs 161 — 163 of the report make clear, we are still at the preliminary stage of what will, whichever approach is adopted, be a long and uncertain legislative process. Next month's debates will, nevertheless, mark something of a watershed in that they will, for the first time, give the Synod the opportunity to come to a view on the underlying approach that it wishes to take to the legislation.
18. The task before us requires a great deal of prayer and patience from all concerned. Diverse views are held with deep and passionate conviction and there is a general acknowledgement of the cost involved in every option. Communications from various groups within the Church of England, to which the bishops have paid close attention, have spelled out the different sorts of possible cost- to our sense of continuity, our mission to the nation, our confidence that we can find coherent and just patterns for our life as a church. We are encouraged by the level of care for and attention to each other that has been evident in previous Synod debates and in the discussions within the House of Bishops; and we pray that the same care for our life in communion will characterise the forthcoming considerations of this matter.
REPORT OF THE WOMEN BISHOPS LEGISLATIVE DRAFTING
GROUP (GS 1685)
REPORT FROM THE HOUSE OF BISHOPS (OS 1685A)
A member of the House of Bishops to move:
'That this Synod:
(a) reaffirm its wish for women to be admitted to the episcopate;
(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;
(c) affirm that these should be contained in a national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and
(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.'
Published by the General Synod of the Church of England and on sale at the Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SWIP 3BN