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Archbishop speaks about women bishops draft legislation

Wednesday 12th September 2012

In an audio recording, the Archbishop of Canterbury gives his thoughts on Wednesday's vote at the House of Bishops.

The bishops had been considering the text of the legislation to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.

Listen to the audio recording  [5Mb, 5 mins] or read the transcript below.

The House of Bishops of the Church of England has just completed its discussions of the form of legislation to allow women to become Bishops in the Church of England, and have settled the text that will be brought back to the General Synod of the Church of England this November.  The process began a very long time ago, and over recent years the general Synod has discussed this subject on more than one occasion, and the different dioceses of the Church of England have had a chance to express their views.

By February of this year, we knew that an overwhelming majority throughout the Church of England very much wanted to see women as bishops, and that was represented at the Synod discussion in February.  At the same time, it was clear that people wanted to see proper provision made for those whose consciences gave them difficulties with the idea of women as bishops, and would find it difficult to receive their ministry.  The dioceses reflected this.  Perhaps a third of all votes cast in the dioceses suggested that we needed to be careful and generous about the provision that was offered. 

It was in the light of this that the bishops were encouraged to go and finalise the legislation with all of that in mind.  At their meeting in May, the House of Bishops proposed an amendment to the legislation which would have strengthened somewhat the provision for the minority, in the hope that this would allow people in the minority to feel that their position was respected, that they were allowed to flourish, and that they were welcome in the Church of England – without undermining the central vision of women as bishops, and the dignity and security of the position of women when they were ordained as bishops.

However, that suggestion created problems of its own.  In the event, it was found to be not only unhelpful, but quite deeply offensive by many who did regard it as enshrining unacceptable discrimination in the Church of England, and as undermining the position of women bishops.  In July the General Synod of the Church of England asked the bishops to think again about this. 

During the summer, a consultation has been going on – well over a hundred responses have been received – and that has given us, as bishops, some idea of what the feeling is in the Church at large about the possible wordings that might go into the legislation.

One of the submissions made in that process of consultation came from The Revd Janet Appleby, a parish priest in an urban priority area in the North East.  She suggested that we needed a very simple form of words which had at its heart the notion of respect.  The legislation already – even before the bishops amended it – gave parish church councils the right to request the services of a male bishop or a male priest, and some of the difficulty we’ve had has been embodying that in ways that don’t undermine the ministry of a woman bishop.  Janet Appleby’s suggestion was that we should quite simply say that the selection of male bishops and priests to serve parishes such as that, should be made ‘in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils have requested such services’

The important thing there is that notion of respect.  ‘Respect’ means taking somebody else in their own terms; letting them define what they believe, what they think, who they are.  It means trying to find a settlement that allows them to recognise in whatever emerges that their views have been taken seriously.  And because of all that, this takes for granted a process of engagement – a building of relationship between bishop and parish in this potentially quite difficult and challenging area. 

The bishops were deeply impressed by the moral and spiritual and relational content of this word ‘respect’, and they were eager to go for a form of words that had the advantage of simplicity and directness about it.  They believed it was also very important that this had come not from themselves, but from the process of consulting the wider Church.  It’s in the light of all that, that the bishops in their discussion converged in a very strong and very impressive way around these words, around this idea.  They are commending it to the Church and to the General Synod in November in the very strong hope that the Synod will find this an acceptable way forward, which will allow us all to be enriched and enlivened by the ministry of women as bishops – something which I along with so many of my colleagues look forward to with great joy and anticipation.

© Rowan Williams 2012


Press release regarding the House of Bishops decision

The House of Bishops has today by an overwhelming majority settled the text of the legislation to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.

The House of Bishops made clear its desire for the draft legislation to be passed into law when it goes forward for final approval to the Church of England’s General Synod in November.

Speaking on behalf of the House at the conclusion of their meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said:

“Before turning to the matters we have been discussing, I want to say, on behalf of the Bishops, that our thoughts and prayers are very much with the people of Liverpool and all affected by the Hillsborough tragedy on this day when the report is released. The Bishop of Liverpool has done a great service in steering this work to a conclusion and helping us as a nation to confront this deeply traumatic memory.”

Dr. Williams continued:

“Since women were first made priests in the Church of England in 1994, their ministry has hugely enriched both church and society. It has become increasingly clear to most of us that barring women from becoming bishops is an anomaly that should be removed, for the good of the Church’s mission and service.

“In July this year, the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to reconsider an alteration it had made to the proposed legislation on this subject. The Bishops have taken very seriously the anxieties expressed about the possible implications of their amendment and there has been widespread consultation since then. We are very grateful for all the points and suggestions offered by synod members and others.

“In light of this consultation, the Bishops have discussed the measure again and are now bringing forward a new text that expresses both our conviction of the need to see this legislation passed and our desire to honour the conscience and contribution of those in the Church of England whose reservations remain.

“It is particularly significant and welcome that the new text emerged not from the House of Bishops itself but rather from a serving woman priest.

“I hope all members of Synod will now reflect carefully on what the Bishops have decided and will continue to give thought and prayer to how they will vote in November.”

“I am convinced that the time has come for the Church of England to be blessed by the ministry of women as bishops and it is my deep hope that the legislation will pass in November.”

At its meeting in July the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to reconsider a provision in the legislation - Clause 5(1)(c) of the draft measure.

The new amendment submitted by the Rev. Janet Appleby during the consultation process received overwhelming support from the House of Bishops in both their discussions and in the final vote.

In discussion the Bishops welcomed the simplicity of the new text, its emphasis on respect and the process of dialogue with parishes that it will promote.

The final text proposed by the House of Bishops is:

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"

The House also agreed to establish a group to develop the illustrative draft Code of Practice published in January to give effect to the new provision.

The full vote on the legislation takes place at the meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England which meets in London from 19 – 21 November. For the legislation to pass it will require a two thirds majority in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.


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