Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Women-bishops package makes brisk progress

Click to enlargeIF NOT arguably at the "hell-for-leather gallop" suggested by one member, the passage of the women-bishops legislation proceeded at a brisk pace on Tuesday morning.

The morning's votes were carried with comfortable majorities. 

Both the draft Declaration from the House of Bishops and the draft procedure for the resolution of disputes were welcomed, with few queries from the floor.

The Draft Measure and Draft Amending Canon were both revised swiftly, although revision was in full Synod, without a Revision Committee. 

Amendments concerning the Equality Act fell, after speeches reassuring parish representatives and patrons that sufficient protection against claims under this legislation was in place.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff (above), who chaired the steering committee that produced the new package, acknowledged that "We cannot in the end guard against legal challenge with 100-per-cent assurance." 

But there was "no doubt at all" that a PCC resolution "held on the grounds of strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of those worshipping in the parish" was permitted by the Act.

The Synod also carried first consideration of the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 - part of the provision for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests.

Finally, members voted to suspend a clause of the Standing Orders to reduce from six months to three months the period of time that diocesan synods will have to vote on the draft legislation when it is referred to them.

Objections were raised to this.

Susie Leafe, director of Reform, spoke of "the pressure for us to get with the programme". 

Every poll and vote had suggested that about 25 per cent of regular worshippers had 
theological convictions that meant that they would seek provision under new arrangements and it was "vital" that diocesan synods, churches, and deaneries had time to understand the "package in which they are being asked to participate. . . We are missing an opportunity to build trust in every place where trust is most needed."

The Synod voted, however, in favour of the procedural motion by an overwhelming majority of 358 to 39, far in excess of the 75 per cent required.

Christina Rees, speaking as a member of WATCH, argued that the Synod had never rushed in its long debates on women's ordination and consecration to the episcopate. "We are keeping faith in the diocese and honouring the desire of the wider Church to have women bishops," she said. Delay would "continue to allow the church and this Synod to be held up to ridicule and our credibility will be further undermined."

Prebendary David Houlding, a traditionalist, agreed with Mrs Rees that there was no benefit from any delay.

Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Bishop Langstaff said that the first woman bishop could be appointed "in the early months of next year".

"It is one thing to make something possible and another thing for it to happen," he said. The Crown Nominations Commission would "need to believe that that person is the right person for that post".

The Synod will vote on giving the package final approval in July.

Canon Simon Killwick, who chairs the Catholic Group in the Synod, said that he hoped for an "overwhelming" vote in favour of the Draft Declaration and dispute- resolution procedure, and that the package would progress "quickly and smoothly through its remaining stages". 

The Synod had been "blessed by the degree of reconciliation that has taken place recently through this process".

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