29 December 2008

The chairman of Reform, the Rev’d Rod Thomas, today responded to the publication of the Church of England’s legislative proposals on women bishops.

He expressed appreciation for the detailed work undertaken by the Manchester Group, but warned that the end result of relying on a Code of Practice to solve differences over women bishops would be a proliferation of court cases. He said it was a huge distraction from the more urgent work of seeking to bring spiritual life and hope to an increasingly secularised and spiritually rudderless nation.

The proposed Measure and the associated Code make it clear that special provision for ‘petitioning parishes’ can only be made if a diocesan bishop chooses to delegate his or her authority to a ‘complementary bishop.’ This proposal is fraught with difficulty. On a purely practical level, if a diocesan bishop chooses not to delegate some of his or her Episcopal powers, then there is every possibility that a petitioning parish will seek a judicial review in the High Court. Instead of creating certainty, the legislation could lead to a multiplicity of damaging court cases. An alternative approach could easily have been adopted which would have avoided these difficulties. It would have been to provide, in a Measure, that where a parish so petitioned, the jurisdiction of a complementary bishop would apply. This would have avoided the need for a diocesan bishop to have been involved.

Mr Thomas added: ‘The outlook is very sad for the church. We now have the prospect of much wrangling in the General Synod, with at least some possibility that the whole project will fail to gain the necessary two thirds majority in a few years time. If the proposals are passed in their present form, we have an equally bleak prospect: that of the secular courts adjudicating on problems amongst God’s people. The Manchester Group have tried to do the impossible: while it is good that they have proposed that the Canons of the Church should be changed to acknowledge the legitimacy of those who cannot accept the role of women bishops, they have refused to allow the power of diocesan bishops to be affected in any way. No amount of ’delegation‘ of Episcopal power can cover up the fact that this power remains intact. And that means that female ’headship‘ will remain intact, despite our understanding of the Bible’s teaching to the contrary. Ultimately, therefore, since inadequate provision has been made to safeguard our ministries, we are bound to oppose what is on offer.’