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Women in the Episcopate: The Next Steps

The Standing Committee of the House of Bishops has set out the next steps in the Church of England's debate on Women Bishops.

Following the decision of the General Synod on 9th July 2012 to refer the matter back to the House of Bishops for further consideration, the Standing Committee has met to consider the options available when the House meets in Oxford on September 12. 

At its meeting yesterday the committee considered all the submissions received in response to a request for members of General Synod and interested groups to suggest possible ways forward, in addition to taking account of comments from the Steering Committee responsible for taking the draft legislation through the General Synod. 

In total 120 submissions were received: 17 were from bishops, 33 from clergy members of the General Synod, 48 from lay members of the Synod, 7 from groups and 15 from other individuals who do not sit as members of Synod.

Of the seven options presented in the paper the two which received the greatest level of support are options 1 and 2: retaining Clause 5(1)(c) in its present form or deleting it without replacement. 35 correspondents expressed a preference for retaining the provision (option 1) and 41 for deleting it (option2). Option 3 attracted relatively little support whilst options 4 to 7 attracted some support and also some criticisms. In addition a few new options were suggested by respondents.

In terms of groups representing particular opinions on this issue the submissions from WATCH - advocating women in the episcopate - firmly supported Option2 whilst Reform and the Catholic Group - opposing women in the episcopate - firmly favoured option 1.

Having considered and discussed the submissions received, the Standing Committee resolved to invite the House of Bishops to consider the Committee's assessment of the seven options in GS Misc 1033 and of the additional suggestions received during the consultation process .Members of the House have the right to table amendments before 5pm on Tuesday September 11th.

The amendments will be voted upon at the meeting of the House of Bishops by simple majority.  If no amendment were passed the draft Measure would return to the General Synod unchanged (option 1 from GS Misc 1033).

The amendments that the Standing Committee has suggested for discussion in the light of the consultation are as follows:

  • (Option 2 from GS Misc 1033) Delete clause 5(1)(c)- 
  • (Option 4 from GS Misc 1033) Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):

"the selection, after consultation with parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3, of male bishops and male priests to exercise ministry in the parishes of those councils," 

  • (New option suggested by a Synod member) Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):

" the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3,"

  • (Option 5 from GS Misc 1033) Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):

"the selection, following consultation with parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3, of male bishops and male priests, the  exercise of ministry by whom appears to the persons making the selection to be appropriate for the parishes concerned,"

  • (Option 6 from GS Misc 1033) Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):

"the selection of male bishops and male priests the exercise of ministry by whom respects the position, in relation to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care, of the parochial church councils who issue Letters of Request under section 3,".

The General Synod will vote on the draft Measure at its meeting in London on 19-21 November.

Notes:

The discussion document GS Misc 1033 was issued on 25 July and set out 7 options making clear that these were not an exhaustive list:

Option 1- Retention of Clause 5(1)(c) in its current form.

Option 2 - Deletion of Clause 5(1)(c).

Option 3 - Replacement of "consistent with" by "respect" or "take account of".

Option 4 - Focus on broad subject area and perhaps process.

Option 5 - Focus on suitability/appropriateness.

Option 6 - Revised formulation of what parishes need (inserting references to the position of PCCs in relation to the celebration of the sacraments etc).

Option 7 - Option 6 plus some process.