Church of England General Synod seeks to preserve full authority of future women bishops
Last week, the Church of England General synod, meeting at Church House, Westminster, took a further important step towards legislating for women bishops.
At what was the first meeting of a new triennium, synod members rejected an attempt to weaken the authority of a woman bishop, should legislation to allow women bishops ultimately proceed.
The Synod held with the draft legislation before it, allowing a male bishop to provide alternative oversight in a dissenting parish, but only with the consent of the woman bishop of the diocese.
A motion from the diocese of manchester had sought to have the existing draft legislation changed by the House of Bishops to provide ‘co-ordinate’ jurisdiction between the female and male bishops.
DEAL NOT DONE YET
Once again, the proceedings of the Church of England General Synod were dominated last week by the issue of legislating for women bishops. In the Church of Ireland, we have long ago agreed to having women bishops – but we just haven’t elected one in the intervening years. It was a new triennium for the English Synod, so voting patterns had not yet been established and therefore it was difficult to gauge just how synod members would take to the matter. This gave added anticipation to the debate on the topic.
Like our own General Synod, there are quite complex procedural regulations for any kind of legislation, but it seemed that new Synod members had quickly come to terms with the method of working. Perhaps we fret too much in the Church of Ireland about simplifying our own procedures because, as is the case in the Church of England, if things were not done as they are done, another way of introducing the safeguards and recognising the detail of legislative work would have to be found. the expression, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, comes to mind.
The upshot of last week’s women bishops deliberation in the synod Hall at Church House, Westminster, was that a good majority of synod members wanted women bishops, while allowing those parishes which did not accept them on the basis of their gender to ask the woman diocesan bishop to appoint an alternative male bishop to provide oversight. The full authority of the woman bishop would not be compromised, however, as the decision would be the woman bishop’s. That is already asking quite a lot and moves to ask for more for those opposing women bishops understandably did not get much sympathy.
The English House of Bishops has the right to amend the legislation before it comes back for final approval at the General Synod. Last week, the Synod asked the Bishops not to make any substantial amendment. It is clear that, were they to do so, the whole process would be thrown back possibly for some years. There is no real stomach for that either in the church or in the country as a whole and it is, therefore, most likely that next July will see the Church of England General Synod considering the matter for final approval. However, as two-thirds majorities are required separately among Bishops, Clergy and Laity, the deal is not yet done.
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