Mixed feelings over Archbishops’ proposals on women bishops

An amendment on women bishops put forward this week by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York has met with harsh criticism from those who feel there should be no compromise.

The Archbishops propose allowing male bishops to oversee traditionalist parishes in an amendment to the draft Measure on women bishops to be debated at the General Synod in York in two weeks.

While the amendment stats that the diocesan bishop, male or female, would still be “legally entitled to exercise any episcopal function in any parish of the diocese”, an exception would be made for parishes that had requested a traditionalist bishop – a system they call “co-ordinate jurisdiction”.

The diocesan bishop would have the authority to decide which traditionalist bishop – or “co-ordinate bishop” - to appoint, but the transfer of authority would come from the Measure itself and not therefore be delegated by the diocesan bishop.

The proposals have been condemned by supporters of women bishops who believe the Church of England’s failure to approve their consecration is unjust.

Lindsay Southern, of Women And The Church (WATCH), spoke of her “great dismay and disappointment” in a letter to the Archbishops. She warned that, if accepted, the amendment would set a “dangerous precedent”.

“There will be many who will be unable to support the proposed transfer arrangements and continual public undermining of women's spiritual authority implicit in these amendments (paragraph 6), even if it means proceeding sooner rather than later,” she said.

“The smoke and mirror strategy of giving jurisdiction by virtue of the Measure, rather than transfer or delegation in effect implies that the Church of England as a whole is ambiguous about the identity and authority of both bishops who are female and male priests who accept their ministry.

“This is a dangerous precedent to set and leaves women in ministry vulnerable as they, along with every Christian, continue the battle against the principalities and powers of darkness but without the full support of the Church that recognised and authorised their divine calling to ordained ministry.”

Writer Maggi Dawn wrote in her blog this week that the proposals would not help the Church achieve its desire of evangelising the nation. She was referring to a report out this week in which the Church of England stated that evangelism was still its primary mission.

She said the amendment “downgrades the status of all the women in the Church”.

“It seems outrageous to me that we continue to believe that it’s OK to delay indefinitely the active acceptance of women at all levels in the Church,” she said. “It’s patently obvious that the world at large thinks so too, and this unacceptable injustice towards women is far more of a blight on evangelism than shyness.”

The amendment was welcomed by traditionalists in the Church who cannot in conscience accept women bishops but wish to remain within the Church.

In an open letter to the Archbishops, Simon Killwick, Chairman of the Catholic Group in the Church of England, said: “We very much hope that they will provide 'nominated bishops' who will be real leaders in mission and ministry.

"It is also be vital that the amendments provide for us to continue to hold a principled theological position, looking to the faith and order of the undivided Church.

"We believe that the Church will be better served by the consistency of a national scheme of provision.”

Rev Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform, said: “The Archbishops have given a clear lead to get the church out of a potentially destructive dilemma. We very much hope that Synod will follow their lead.

“Though the details in this amendment seem designed more with Anglo-Catholic objections in mind, we welcome the direction this takes.”