Church of England postpones vote on women bishops
Published 09 July 2012
The Church of England General Synod has voted to postpone final approval on legislation to allow women bishops.
The adjournment was proposed by the Steering Committee for the draft Measure in light of an amendment added by the House of Bishops that proved extremely controversial.
The amendment to Clause 5(1)(c) states that a priest or bishop appointed to provide alternative oversight should share the theological convictions of the parish that requested it.
It has proved unpopular with supporters as well as opponents of women bishops.
The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, said in an address to Synod that had the legislation fallen today, it would have been several years to get back to the final approval stage.
"Even before we got there the reputation of the Church of England would have been damaged," he said.
"The morale of our female clergy and, indeed, many others would have been seriously affected.
"It is imperative that we create the best possible prospect for securing two-thirds majorities when the final approval vote comes."
Attempting to explain the reasons for amendment 5(1)(c), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said there was a concern among bishops that the unamended legislation would equate to accommodating misogyny.
There was also, he said, a desire to see legislation on women bishops "pass and pass confidently".
The Archbishop supported the motion for adjournment, expressing his desire to see legislation passed that will "feel like something the Church of England can celebrate together".
He asserted that much of the “hostile” comment in response to the amendment suggested people had not read the text properly and that there had been “miscommunication” within the Church.
Going forward, he said that the hurt and offence could not be ignored, and that the Church should work with the House of Bishops in drawing up an alternative.
“An adjournment gives us a chance of lowering temperatures and explaining ourselves to each other,” he said.
“The adjournment is not a panacea. Nor should it be seen as a squaring of the House of Bishops,” he said.
“I hope we can say that an adjournment might be good for us if that’s what we decided. It might be an opportunity to do things better.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, said the amendment was added to Clause 5(1)(c) “with every good pastoral intention” but acknowledged that it had “not achieved its hoped for desire”.
He called for a “brief safe space” for further discussion on the amendment, saying he did not believe this “challenges or sets aside the authority of the bishops”.
Long-time campaigner for women bishops, Christina Rees, agreed that the amendment was implicit in the original Measure but raised serious concern about the prospect of Clause 5(1)(c) being passed into English law.
“What passes here will have to be ratified by the Houses of Parliament and I do not want to ask them to ratify a law with this kind of phraseology and what it says about women in English law. Nor do I want to ask the Queen to put her Royal Assent on such a law,” she said.
“What I hope we will do is send this back to the bishops and ask them to please trust, to look again for us all, but please, please, please, remove and withdraw that phrase from the Measure that will become the law of the land.”
Sir Tony Baldry MP suggested the Church of England could not send amended legislation to Parliament when the original unamended legislation had been passed by 42 out of 44 dioceses.
“If we have a train crash this afternoon on this Measure, my task of maintaining bishops in a mainly elected second chamber is going to be infinitely more difficult, if not impossible,” he said.
Opponents of women bishops were largely in favour of the debate going ahead on the amended legislation.
Chairman of the Catholic Group, Canon Simon Killwick, warned that without the amendments, the Measure would not pass.
“What bishops have done is just enough to ensure the Measure passes. Take the amendments out and I guarantee you that the Measure will not pass. Is that what we want? Adjournment is a high risk strategy.”
Mary Durlacher, of the Diocese of Chelmsford, thanked the bishops for their response to the “pleas” from conservative evangelicals for accommodation of their beliefs.
“The question before us is would adjournment make any substantial difference. Are we just delaying the pain?” she asked Synod.
“I think we have heard the arguments. Is there anything new that can be said? We have to make up our minds. We will replace one set of pain with one another side of pain.
“The world is waiting and we have had 20 years to think about it. Let’s get on with it. Let’s vote.”
The Rev Philip North, of London Diocese, stressed that opponents were not “bigots” and that they were not opposed to women in ministry.
“It’s not about taint. It’s about doubt,” he said. “The amendment is crucially important to us because it gives us access to bishops in whose orders we can trust.
“There’s no church within a church. It gives us a breathing space and an ecclesial future, a space to continue.
“I am profoundly grateful to bishops for throwing us this lifeline.”
Defending the amendment, the Bishop of Crawley, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, said the view of traditionalists “requires more than the warm promise of a male bishop”.
Despite their arguments, the motion to adjourn was voted through, 288 in favour, 144 against, with 15 abstentions.
The debate will now be delayed until November to allow the House of Bishops to reconsider Clause 5(1)(c).
Responding to the outcome, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said he had seen groups in Synod meeting across the usual division lines to engage in conversation on the issue.
"I very much hope these discussions continue," he said.
"There is a lot of work to be done over the next two months."
The Rev Rachel Weir, Chair of pro-women bishops group, WATCH, said: "We are very relieved that the House of Bishops now has the chance to reconsider Clause 5(1)(c) and we hope that there will be a thorough consultation process over the summer so that whatever is presented to General Synod in November keeps faith with the dioceses that voted overwhelmingly for the unamended Measure."
Rod Thomas, of the Reform group of orthodox Anglicans, said: "The House of Bishops has a huge amount of work to do. Unless it comes up with a clear space for us to have a permanent space in the Church, it will fail. That has to be done."
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