Female bishops in England: Moving forward through compromise

WATCH, the leading women’s organization in the Church of England has issued the following statement, which we bring to you via Thinking Anglicans:

WATCH supports the draft legislation proposed by the Revision Committee as a framework for moving forward without further delay. But this represents a significant compromise.

The ideal

WATCH has always campaigned for the simplest possible legislation for women bishops, that is, a Single Clause Measure. This is the only way of having women bishops without discrimination. A Single Clause Measure would have brought women in the Church of England under the protection of the Equality Act. It would also have put us in step with all other Anglican Provinces that have consecrated women as bishops. Most importantly it would have signaled that the Church now values women as much as men. What is being proposed falls short of this ideal.

The current proposals

The draft legislation provides for the consecration of women as bishops with special arrangements for those with conscientious difficulties by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop under a statutory Code of Practice. This is the approach that Synod approved after lengthy debate in July 2008.

Under the proposals, each diocesan bishop would be required to draw up a Scheme in her or his diocese that takes account of a national Code of Practice and provides local arrangements for the performance of certain Episcopal functions in relation to parishes with conscientious difficulties.

In addition such parishes would be able to request, when there is a vacancy, that only a male incumbent or priest-in-charge be appointed.

A compromise for WATCH

It is a significant compromise for WATCH to consider supporting anything short of a Single Clause Measure. However, the Revision Committee has listened to all viewpoints and investigated the practical possibilities with great care. Their lengthy report is a testament to the enormous patience and generosity of their process.

The Revision Committee’s proposals

•Allow for the consecration of women as bishops

•Maintain the integrity of the church and the episcopate

•Make provision for those who are opposed to women becoming bishops

There seems to be a consensus emerging across the moderate mainstream that this is a good basis for moving forward.

All these factors lead us to believe that WATCH should support the proposals at Synod. However, this is a compromise so that we can move ahead with women bishops NOW and be as inclusive as we can without compromising the integrity of the episcopate or of women.

Read it all. And see also WATCH’s response to Bishop Tom Wright, MSMC*, who has appealed for further delay in the consecration of female bishops.

* Most Self-Important Man in Christendom.

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