Church of England takes a further step towards the consecration of women as bishops
Last week, the Church of England’s General Synod decided to proceed to the next stage towards the consecration of women as bishops. The move was set in motion on the floor of the Synod by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff.
A steering committee had been instructed by the General Synod meeting last summer to prepare draft legislation on the basis of what was described as “option one”. A mandatory grievance procedure, in which diocesan bishops would be required to participate was also envisaged, along with a declaration of the House of Bishops. These provisions were to assist those who remained opposed to the principle of women in the episcopate.
Last week, the report of the steering committee presented a draft measure and amending canon as the legislative approach; the measure is what will pass to Parliament, while the canon refers to ecclesiastical law. The report also presented a draft House of Bishops’ declaration and procedure for dispute resolution.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND WOMEN BISHOPS
What became clear, perhaps above all, at last week’s meeting in London of the General Synod of the Church of England was that the intense efforts expended in the process of trying to find a way forward on the subject of women in the episcopate in the Church of England bore fruit (report, page 1).
Last July, it was decided to ask a steering committee to frame matters in terms that would find greater consensus, and extra members were brought into the steering committee so that it would be as widely representative as possible.
The work was done and now the General Synod has approved draft legislation to be brought back in February next for further consideration. If it passes then, as seems likely in current circumstances, the approved proposals would then have to be considered by the dioceses before returning to the General Synod in either July or November for Final Approval. That will largely depend on the pace of the diocesan consideration process. The parliamentary process would follow.
If all goes according to the will of the proponents of change, it is possible that a woman could be consecrated in 2015. There is a constant stream of vacant episcopal positions in the Church of England, given that there are suffragans as well as diocesans, and there are expectations that, if the legislation goes ahead, before long there would in fact be quite a number of women bishops appointed.
There also arises the question of women bishops taking seats in the House of Lords. These places are for senior bishops, but Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated that the Government is “ready to work with the Church to see how we can get women bishops into the House of Lords as soon as possible”.
These developments ‘across the water’ have been taking place against the backdrop of the election of the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland, the Revd Pat Storey. Her elevation to the episcopate on St Andrew’s Day naturally will only help the movement towards women bishops in the Church of England. Interestingly, while there are certain regulations in England regarding permission for ‘Overseas’ clergy and bishops to officiate, the definition of ‘Overseas’ does not include Ireland.
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