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In England, what do amendments to legislation on female bishops mean?

In England, what do amendments to legislation on female bishops mean?

Two esteemed online friends are debating the significance of the amendment that the Church of England’s bishops have made to legislation that would permit women to be ordained as bishops.

Previous coverage of the amendment is here, here, here and here.

Church Mouse argues that the amendments don’t make any difference, and that General Synod shouldn’t worry about agreeing to them.

The two amendments make absolutely no difference. Not a single thing has changed. The law is exactly as it was. Provisions under the measure are unamended.

Just to clarify, here’s Mouse’s reason for saying that.

The first change (to Clause 2 for those who want to check these things) is a clarification of the term ‘delegation’. It points out that a bishop is entitled to ordain people not because he has delegated authority from someone else, but because they are a bishop, and therefore given this authority at their ordination. However, under the highly convoluted scheme designed to provide for those who cannot accept the authority of a woman bishop, the diocesan bishop can ‘delegate’ the ability to ordain on that particular geographical territory.

So that one is simply a definition of terms. It changes nothing.

The second amendment, he says, is already dealt with in proposed Code of Practice on this issue.

Maggie Dawn, however, points us to a blog posting by the Archdeacon of Richmond who writes:

Well, I can see that to pass legislation that is completely unacceptable to those who do not want women priests and bishops is a very hard decision to take (and not, at this point, one that is open to Synod) but let’s look at the cost of continuing with this ‘two integrities’ approach

*It seriously endangers the coherence of episcopacy in the Church of England. The bishops will be trying to move in two directions at once over a good number of issues to do with gender and the ordering of the church.

*It will cause arguments in parishes where there is a divergence of view about women’s ministry, particularly as the ‘supply’ (to use the bishops’ word) of clergy gets smaller.

It makes for a national church that treats women as second class, something parts of the church have to be protected from. How proud of that can we be?

*It means that language about ‘taint’ and ‘the unsuitability of women having authority’ will continue to be a norm of church life. (As Desmond Tutu so famously pointed out, what you say about people in fact shapes the possibilities of your behaviour towards them.)

It endorses the notion of different churches within the Church of England needing different types of theological leadership – will other grounds for being able to petition for a different bishop begin to emerge? This leads to chaos!

Thinking Anglicans has WATCH consults membership over Clause 5 amendment

Women and the Church (WATCH) has issued a press release….

“WATCH recognises that some amendments were rejected by the House of Bishops. However, the WATCH committee is unanimous in its serious concern about the amended Clause 5 and is therefore consulting further about how to proceed as we approach General Synod in July.”…The WATCH committee will meet later in the week to consider the merits of these and other arguments. We will then consider how best to respond to the House of Bishops’ intervention….

We have made a copy of the For and against paper available online.


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Bill Moorhead

“It points out that a bishop is entitled to ordain people not because he has delegated authority from someone else, but because they are a bishop, and therefore given this authority at their ordination.”

Well, Church Mouse, I think maybe not exactly. Yes, in Anglican polity (and catholic polity generally) the authority to ordain is committed to, and reserved to, the bishops. (BCP page 517.) But this authority can be regularly and licitly exercised only within the context of the canonical provisions of the Church. Bishops do not have the authority to run around ordaining people on their own (as episcopi vagantes have done). A bishop may ordain by virtue of his/her orders, but if he/she is not the diocesan, may do so regularly and licitly only under the authority of the diocesan bishop (or other canonically designated diocesan Ecclesiastical Authority). In TEC, even the diocesan bishop may not ordain a candidate until he/she has been approved by the Standing Committee. I assume that comparable provisions are made in CofE canon law.

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