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By Roland W. Morant
Special to VirtueOnline
January 6, 2009

The General Synod of the Church of England met in July 2008 to further the wish of its majority for women to be admitted to the episcopate. It affirmed that special arrangements should be made available within the existing structures of the Church for traditionalists, that is, those who will not accept women as bishops or priests.

It decided that these special arrangements should be contained within a statutory code of practice (COP) to which all concerned would be required to have regard. It therefore instructed the Legislative Drafting Group (LDG) under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Manchester to get on with preparing its first draft of this new code in time for presentation to the General Synod in February 2009.

On 12th December 2008 the LDG published its further Report (GS1707) together with a number of accompanying documents in response to the above instructions of the General Synod.

In the previous five-month period, Forward In Faith UK representing mainly the Anglo-Catholic constituency of the C. of E. had made it abundantly clear that a COP would be totally insufficient to meet the needs of traditionalists. "A code of practice will not do." was the repeated cry that was made at its annual assembly back in October. Similar objections were made by the conservative evangelical organisations Reform and the Church Society, and by the Third Province Movement.

We have to remember that the General Synod in July 2008 gave the LDG a thankless task, ruling out completely in its remit any structural solution for traditionalists. It was to be a statutory COP and nothing else. It was therefore not surprising to most observers that, working within this narrow straightjacket and with the best will in the world, the Bishop of Manchester's group was not going to produce anything that would satisfy traditionalists. And so it has turned out.

What then are the precise objections to this draft COP?

The diocesan bishop or ordinary

First and foremost is the proposal to enable women diocesan bishops to serve in their dioceses with precisely the same authority as their present male counterparts. As the Rev. Rod Thomas of Reform recently commented on these draft proposals, the LDG has "refused to allow the power of diocesan bishops to be affected in any way". This means that there can be no provision for traditionalists in a woman-led diocese unless she permits it, given the fact that female headship is not permitted in the Bible. This view is taken by the Rev. D. Phillips of the Church Society who says that the innovation of women bishops "is incompatible with the plain teaching of Scripture".

The duty to have due regard to the COP

In the enacting Measure that will be needed to bring the COP into effect, the LDG proposes that any person (meaning chiefly a diocesan bishop aka ordinary) who exercises any functions "shall be under a duty to have regard to" the COP issued under this Measure. The LDG admits that any COP necessarily involves the ordinary having a measure of discretion and therefore having to give his or her consent before arrangements come into effect.

COPs in all walks of life are notoriously difficult to enforce and considerable ingenuity is often required to get round difficulties in regard to a particular code. The Act of Synod, presently in force, is such a code and has been manipulated by those opposed to it many times in order to obviate its effects. Notwithstanding a recent ruling of the House of Lords (mentioned by the LDG) making more rigorous the interpretation and application of such codes, there is little evidence that the proposed COP will not become the subject of a succession of law-suits and judicial reviews, if not of downright bad feeling.

The appointment of complementary bishops

The LDG proposes that the two archbishops, male or female, will nominate one or more suffragan sees in each province. How the holders of such posts are to be initially chosen is not clarified and this could well cause particular difficulty were the archbishop of the particular province female.

According to the LDG, the scheme will rely on a process of extended or delegated episcopy for traditionalists using complementary male bishops. The ordinary will be permitted to select from one of the holders of the suffragan sees to act as a complementary bishop in her diocese. The authority exercised by the complementary bishop will be conferred by delegation from the diocesan. The LDG suggests that such a bishop should become an assistant bishop of hers.

Traditionalists are united in believing that a scheme of alternative episcopal provision where responsibility for petitioning parishes could be transferred by statute from the diocesan bishop to another bishop outside her jurisdiction is far more desirable. Clearly a structural solution to the problem was one that the LDG felt was outside its remit.

The chief problem with the LDG proposal is that traditionalists will not accept the authority of women bishops in the first place. They will therefore be unwilling to accept that such women can delegate episcopal powers to any other bishops, be they called complementary or anything else. Traditionalists will therefore continue to oppose such proposals vigorously.

Oaths of obedience

There are two problems here. The first is that it is not stated to whom a complementary bishop will direct his oath of obedience, certainly not to his ordinary if a woman, and certainly not to his ordinary if a woman and archbishop of Canterbury or York.

The second problem involves oaths required of other traditionalist clergy. The LDG proposes that such individuals will have to make two oaths, one to his complementary bishop (no problem) and the second to his ordinary which he will refuse to do. If he regards his ordinary as a lay-woman he will resist any attempts to make him conform.

In addition to these, we must ask why it is deemed necessary for oath makers to be permitted not to "swear by Almighty God", but to "sincerely and truly declare and affirm" without reference to God? Is this another example of secular practice being brought into the religious domain?

Functions of the complementary bishop

The number of functions to be delegated to the complementary bishop by his ordinary looks impressively long. At first sight it appears that the LDG has proposed to delegate most of the ordinary's episcopal powers to her complementary bishop. Reading the text however suggests that negotiation may well take place between the bishop and a petitioning parish over the precise identity of the functions to be carried out by the complementary bishop. The illustrative draft instrument of delegation is set out in an annex to the COP. It shows the entire range of functions from which the diocesan bishop may delegate some, but not necessarily all such functions. This seems to be a particular area of potential conflict.

Existing resolutions and new petitions

It is quite clear that one of the unwritten aims of the LDG has been to reduce the number of existing resolution parishes, there being at the present time about 1000 that have passed Resolutions A and B. Of these, 500 have petitioned the diocesan bishop for the services of a provincial episcopal visitor (PEV) or the equivalent ("Resolution C").

In its draft Measure and COP, the LDG proposes to sweep away the 1993 Measure that legalised the ordination of women, and the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod that enabled PEVs to be appointed and for parishes to petition for their services. A scheme of extended episcopal ministry that has survived for sixteen years, bringing a degree of stability to traditionalists in their parishes will be ended.

Resolution A and B parishes, unless they rescind their resolutions in the meantime, will be able to continue for five years from the starting date of the new Measure. Also, from the same starting date the Act of Synod will be rescinded, and parishes will no longer be able to petition for extended episcopal provision ("Resolution C"). For those parishes that already have petitioned status on the starting date, their extended episcopal oversight will continue for twelve months only.

What does the future hold for petitioning? The LDG proposes that under the COP there will be two kinds of petitioning to replace the three (A, B and "C") that presently exist. In Petition 1, said in the LDG Report to be the wider in its scope, a parochial church council (PCC), because of its unwillingness to receive the priestly or episcopal ministry of women, will be able to request the ordinary to make arrangements for it in accordance with the new COP. In Petition 2 the PCC restricts itself to not wanting a woman as incumbent, priest-in-charge or team vicar or episcopal oversight, thereby asking for appropriate arrangements to be made by the ordinary.

Before a petition can be presented to the ordinary, the LDG proposes that the PCC must at an annual or special parochial church meeting seek the views of those present on whether the petition should be proceeded with. Such a course of action sets a new precedent in church petitioning procedures and may have the effect of reducing the authority vested in a PCC in taking decisions of this kind. Why shouldn't such a procedure now be applied when a diocese decides to close a church building, bring about a local parochial reorganisation, or put pressure on a parish to sell off its parsonage house?

Apart from the necessity of having to present the petition to the diocesan bishop, a PCC will then be required to engage in discussing with her the precise list of functions that the complementary bishop will be required to undertake in the parish, with all the difficulty that such a negotiation might entail.

The LDG appears to say nothing about new parishes wishing to petition for special arrangements. We have therefore to ask whether the omission is deliberate and whether new petitioning will be restricted to those parishes having A, B or "C" status at the time when the new Measure takes effect.

Arrangements for individual clergy and lay ministers

The problem of such individuals, salaried or not, who are unable to accept the episcopal ministry of women and are serving in a non-petitioning parish is addressed by the LDG but half heartedly. The group suggests that such bishops "should endeavour to put arrangements in place which, while consistent with the views of the parish, respect the theological convictions of the clergy or lay ministers concerned".

Just how this will be done is not made clear. Whether a system of mentoring can be devised whereby such individuals can be put into touch with a complementary bishop who would act as a spiritual father-in-God might be possible. There is little doubt that when women are appointed as diocesans, these people are going to be left high and dry unless proper arrangements are made for them.

To conclude

The fundamental problem relating to the consecration of women as bishops, as with the earlier ordination of women as priests, is that traditionalists from both wings of the Church, Anglo-Catholic and Conservative Evangelical, doubt whether women can really become bishops or priests even though they may satisfy the legal requirements. For Anglo-Catholics the problem has always been one of sacramental validity; for Conservative Evangelicals one of biblical non-authorisation.

However much the revisionist majority in the General Synod may forcibly impose their provision by means of a COP unwanted by the traditionalist minority, it will not have any success in making them comply. An appalling modern example of how things can go wrong when a dominant and domineering majority is able to impose its liberal non-traditional and non-biblical agenda on the other members of a church is seen in TEC.

Unless agreement can be reached at this late hour by means of a structured solution which is what those opposed to the recent proposals of the LDG require, the terminal decline of membership of the Church of England - like that of TEC - will be accelerated, with elimination of traditionalists from both wings of the church leaving a rump of feminists (of both sexes), revisionists, and liberals in otherwise empty church buildings.

---Roland W. Morant is a cradle Anglican who has spent his professional life as a teacher, and latterly as a principal lecturer in education in a college of higher education, training students as teachers and running in-service degree courses.

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