A Response to
The Report of the Women Bishops Legislative Drafting Group
(The Manchester Report)
We welcome the report of the Women Bishops Legislative Drafting Group as an important next step as the Church of England moves towards the opening of the episcopate to women, and offer this response to aid the Church in answering the key questions the Report poses. These are (see § 158):
• If there are to be women bishops in the Church of England, is there a need for some special, nationally agreed arrangements for those who in conscience cannot receive their ministry (and indeed the ministry of women priests)?
• If there is a need for special arrangements, would it be best to provide those by means of creating new structures, in particular additional dioceses within the Provinces of Canterbury and York?
• If, instead, the preference is for arrangements which do not involve new structures, which of the four variations explored in chapter five of this report comes closest to providing a coherent, comprehensible and widely acceptable approach?
Affirming Catholicism recommends the following answers to these questions:
• Yes – there do need to be nationally agreed arrangements for those who cannot in conscience receive the ministry of bishops and priests who are women. [This is effectively a recommendation against the “simplest possible statutory approach with no binding national arrangements” (§ 50), as described in §§ 53-77 and Annexe B].
• No – these special arrangements should not be provided by creating new structures. [This is effectively a recommendation against “legislation that would create new structures within the Church of England for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops” (§50), as described in §§ 90-102 and Annexe C, within which we include ‘variation four’ in chapter five (see below)].
• Of the three remaining variations explored in chapter five of the Manchester Report, Affirming Catholicism would strongly recommend the adoption of variation one – minimal legislation but including an obligation on the House of Bishops to make provision in a statutory code of practice, approved by the Synod, for the oversight by complementary bishops of parishes and clergy unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, of male priests ordained by women bishops or of male bishops participating in the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Bishops would be statutorily required to ‘have regard’ to such a code of practice (§ 115 and annexe D). While commending variation one, the comments we make on it could also apply to variations two and three.
The remainder of this Response summarises the proposals of the Manchester report and explains the reasons for this summary recommendation.
After the July 2006 General Synod, the Church of England – and therefore the LDG – found itself faced with the problem of finding a way to admit women from the Church of England into the episcopate which
(a) had ecclesiological integrity; (b) left space within the Church of England for those who in conscience could not accept the priestly or episcopal ministry of women; and (c) avoided any flavour of discrimination or half-heartedness on the part of the Church of England towards women priests and bishops. (§ 12)
The LDG has conceived its work in terms, firstly, of offering a clarifying summary of the situation in which the Church of England currently finds itself, and, secondly, of exploring a range of possibilities by which the challenging facing the Church of England might be met. These are set out in the Report, together with some indication of the implications and a summary for the arguments for and against each option. The Report points out, however, that before addressing the question of how the episcopate might be opened up to women of the Church of England, there is an initial question to be asked:
far and away the most important question that the Church of England now has to face is the extent to which it wishes to continue to accommodate the breadth of theological views on this issue that it currently encompasses (§ 22; and cf. § 53 and § 78).
Therefore, the report argues,
we believe that the House of Bishops and the General Synod need to be absolutely clear about whether they remain committed to finding an approach that accommodates those who have theological difficulties with women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. (§ 27)
That is, the report challenges the General Synod in particular and the Church of England as a whole to consider “what sort of Church it wishes to be” (§ 165). A subsidiary question is that of what degree of assurance should be offered to those who have theological difficulties with the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Only when this decision has been made is it possible to decide how the legislation should be formed, for:
the choice of instrument to adopt turns largely on a judgment about the degree of assurance required and the extent to which there is a wish to create rights which will, in the last resort, be legally enforceable. (§ 36)
Legislative expression, as the report notes, may be a way of providing “reassurance and predictability” (§ 37), particularly in a situation in which there is increasingly a “deficit of trust” (§ 38).
Affirming Catholicism commends the clarity with which these questions are posed.
We note, however, that the term “assurance” is here being applied only to describe the needs of those who have theological difficulties with women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. Little or no attention is paid in the report to the need for assurance for ordained women and those who accept the ordination of women, particularly in dioceses where the bishop is himself opposed to the ordination of women or in parishes where the incumbent is opposed. We will return to this point below.
We further note that the Manchester Report continues to refer to the problems of conscience as extending to male bishops who ordain women as priests, without remarking on the inconsistency of this stance in a Church in which both Archbishops have ordained women to the priesthood. Affirming Catholicism would suggest that the time has come for discussion of the theological coherence of this position and of its implications.
Also to be commended is the LDG’s realisation that the current situation in which women cannot be ordained to the Episcopate is rapidly becoming intolerable. In a situation in which a growing proportion of the clergy of the Church of England are women, and about half of those in training are women, and on the basis of the submissions heard by the group, the ecclesiological imbalance of the exclusion of women from the episcopate is becoming increasingly problematic. The Manchester Report emphasises the importance of acting without further delay:
We have come to the conclusion that significant delay could further upset such equilibrium as has been achieved since 1994. We believe therefore that, despite the difficulties in the way of reaching a decision, the moment for making choices has come. (§ 47)
Affirming Catholicism welcomes the recognition that it is imperative that women be admitted to the episcopate in the Church of England.
The options put forward by the Manchester Report
The Report notes three possible “broad approaches” to legislation to admit women to the episcopate in the Church of England:
1. the simplest possible statutory approach with no binding national arrangements;
2. legislation that would provide some basis for special arrangements for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops, such arrangements to be made within the present structures of the Church of England; and
3. legislation that would create new structures within the Church of England for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops. (§ 50; numbered for ease of reference)
Chapter Four offers a consideration of approach 1 (§§ 53-77 and Annexe B) and approach 3 (§§ 90-102 and Annexe C); four variations of the second approach are presented in Chapter Five. We would however argue that variation four raises such profound ecclesiological problems that it should be considered alongside approach 3.
There can be no doubt that Approach 1 would offer the highest degree of ecclesiological clarity. The Report points out that Approach 1 would also have the advantage that “other churches would know that the Church of England had unequivocally and without mental reservation, committed itself to the view that all of its orders were open, without distinction, to men and women equally” (§ 61). What the Report does not point out, but is undoubtedly true, is that another advantage would be that the whole of the Church or England would also know itself to be committed “unequivocally and without mental reservation” to ordained women as priests and bishops. The provision of proper arrangements for those in conscience are not able to accept the ministry of priests or bishops who are women would then be, as the Report suggests, still possible, “to the extent that general law permitted … but this would be a matter of informal discussion and agreement, not the result of rights created in Church legislation” (§ 62). (§ NB Contrary to the implication of § 62, there is no suggestion anywhere in the Church of England that once women are ordained it would be impossible to receive the ministry of men!) The Report suggests that this that this would lead to unacceptable legal uncertainty (§ 60). We believe that the Report underestimates the ability of bishops, whether men or women, to establish appropriate relationships with parishes in their Dioceses who do not recognise their ministry; this has happened in the USA and in Canada, just as priests who are women have found ways to work with colleagues and parishioners who do not accept their ministry. Nonetheless, we recognise that in the Church of England’s present climate of suspicion this may not be a feasible way forward.
Approach 4 lists various solutions which would involve new structures, focussing on the possibility of creating new, “special, geographically non-contiguous” dioceses, which, as the report notes, would have the result that “the traditional dioceses would have a number of ‘holes’ left by those parishes that had left to join other parishes some tens or indeed hundreds of miles away” (§ 98). This situation would involve considerable cost to the ecclesiological and missiological coherence of the traditional dioceses and indeed to the Church of England as a whole. It would also pose a considerable conundrum for our ecumenical partners, who would find it very difficult to understand what kind of a church they were relating to. Moreover, this solution would seem to make it impossible for parishes to adopt a flexible approach to the ministry and oversight of their diocesan bishop.
We believe that the proposal in chapter five, ‘variation four’, partakes of the same ecclesiological difficulties as the proposal for special dioceses. The ordinary jurisdiction of the bishop actually in post would not be exercised, even by an act of delegation, having been replaced by the authority of the Measure. This is unacceptable for two reasons. Firstly, it creates as ecclesiastical space within which the episcopal ministry of women would not function, the relevant decisions having been made before any women were ordained bishop. This is only necessary if the Church accepts, not merely that it should be legitimate to decline the ministry of women, but also that it is legitimate to doubt their orders. The Manchester Group’s discussion of Canon A4 makes it clear that this situation would not be acceptable. Secondly, the transfer of ordinary authority from bishops, individually or collectively, to the legal instrument of a Measure is an innovation which undermines episcopacy as the Church has understood it. We are not convinced, pace §121, that the collective decision of the House of Bishops in this respect would preserve episcopal leadership. A Measure is not solely decided upon by the House; it seems to us that properly episcopal authority would be shared with the other Houses of Synod, and also with Parliament, if enshrined in Measure.
Affirming Catholicism believes that it is vital that in admitting women to the episcopate the integrity of the interaction between the parochial and diocesan structures of the Church of England should be preserved, and therefore does not see the creation of the new structures proposed here as a possible way forward.
The concern about flexibility and permeability of arrangements also guides our assessment of the other options presented in Chapter Five. The first three variations offer a range of different responses to two questions:
- what sort of relationship is there to be between, on the one hand the parish and its priest who cannot receive the ministry of women bishops or of men who participate in the ordination of women priests and bishops, and on the other, the diocesan bishop and such other bishop as may be authorised to provide episcopal care to them?
- what level of assurance and enforceability for these arrangements is necessary or desirable? (§ 110)
The proposed variations are:
- Variation one - minimal legislation but including an obligation on the House of Bishops to make provision in a statutory code of practice, approved by the Synod, for the oversight by complementary bishops of parishes and clergy unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, of male priests ordained by women bishops or of male bishops participating in the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Bishops would be statutorily required to ‘have regard’ to such a code of practice. The complementary bishops would exercise powers delegated by the diocesan bishop. Part II of the 1993 Measure would be repealed;
- Variation two – as variation one, except that Part II of the 1993 Measure would continue in full force …. Thus the statutory rights that parishes currently have to decline the ministry of women priests would be perpetuated. It is only the new provisions in relation to episcopal ministry that would be governed by statutory code of practice;
- Variation three - as variation two, except that the legislation itself would require the diocesan bishop to delegate the prescribed functions to a complementary bishop rather than requiring him [sic!] to have regard to a statutory code of practice [i.e.: “mandatory delegation”];
Affirming Catholicism believe that the first of the variations listed here is the most feasible.
We believe that the provision of a statutory code of practice would alleviate the anxieties over the legal status of the provisions made for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of priests or bishops who are women, whilst allowing a certain flexibility for a bishop to work out her own pattern of ministry in her diocese, depending on the needs and wishes of individual parishes.
We would therefore suggest that the draft code of practice set out in Annexe C is too rigid. For instance it should be possible for a parish which has declined to accept the eucharistic ministry of women simply to ask their bishop, if a woman, to make other arrangements for sacramental ministry whilst respecting her authority and valuing her ministry in all other areas. Similarly, a parish which had declined the eucharistic presidency or incumbency of a woman priest for particular local circumstances, would not necessary decline to recognise the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop in ordination.
We have noted above the problematic nature of the suggestion that statutory provision should make it possible to decline to accept the ministry of “male bishops participating in the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate” in a Church in which both Archbishops must currently included be in this category.
With these provisos (which would also apply to variations 2 and 3), Affirming Catholicism would therefore support the exploration of Variation one.
Canon A4 and the situation of women priests in the Church of England
An important aspect of the Manchester Report is its discussion of the situation in which the Church of England presently finds itself. Particularly, in the context of the Report’s discussion of Canon A4 (§§ 128-144), the current legal status of the ordination of women as priests is considered. The Report points out:
The Measure, and in particular Resolution A, do[es] not provide that women’s orders are legally recognised in some places and not in others; rather they place limitations on the exercise of women’s priestly ministry in certain places. (§ 134: bold in original)
The provision made in the Measure to pass Resolutions A and B and the Act of Synod therefore make space for the exercise of “conscientious doubts”:
It may be that members of a PCC which has passed Resolution A, have conscientious doubts about women’s priestly orders; but it does not follow that they can question the validity of women’s ordination in legal terms. (§ 134)
This is an important clarification. The Report suggests a revision of Canon A4 to make it explicit:
1. Those who are ordained or consecrated bishops, priests or deacons in accordance with the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests or Deacons annexed to The Book of Common Prayer and commonly known as the Ordinal, or in accordance with any form of service alternative thereto approved by the General Synod under Canon B 2 or authorized by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York under Canon C 4A, are lawfully ordained or consecrated bishops, priests or deacons and are to be accounted as such by all.
2. Those who, having been lawfully ordained or consecrated as described in paragraph 1 of this Canon, are duly appointed to any office in the Church are the lawful holders of such offices and are to be accounted as such by all.
3. In making special arrangements to respect the conscience of those who are unable, on grounds of theological conviction, to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, the Church of England nevertheless accounts and affirms those who are ordained or consecrated as described in paragraph 1 of this Canon to be truly bishops, priests and deacons. (§ 141)
Affirming Catholicism strongly supports the suggestion that Canon A4 be reworded in the form of § 141.1–2. However, we would view the inclusion of the suggested § 141.3 in the Canon as deeply regrettable, since it would enshrine mention of special arrangements in the Canons. Assuming that the Church of England decides to adopt an approach that accommodates those who have theological difficulties with women’s ordination (which we believe it should), Affirming Catholicism therefore believes that §141.3 should be included, not in the Canon, but in a preamble to whatever form of special arrangements are adopted for those who in conscience cannot receive the ministry of bishops and priests who are women.
Affirming Catholicism further notes the importance of such a revised Canon A4 in preventing (or at least discouraging) the compilation of “genealogies” of priests and bishops ordained in the Church of England. (What is the “status” of a male priest ordained by a male bishop who was himself ordained priest by a female bishop?)
The section on oaths (§§ 145-150) indicates that this is not such a problem as previously suggested. There are indeed precedents in the oath taken by the Canons of Westminster Abbey, which is to the Monarch (currently a lay woman; for the text see Women as Bishops, p. 194). There are also precedents in Catholic tradition for parallel structures of canonical authority, for instance in parishes which had as their canonical superior the Abbess of either Essen or Quedlinburg.
The Manchester Report is silent on the question of reciprocity. Affirming Catholicism believes strongly that arrangements requiring those in favour of the ordination of women to exercise sensitivity for those opposed in certain pastoral circumstances must be balanced by reciprocal arrangements for such circumstances requiring pastoral sensitivity also from those who are opposed towards ordained women and those who are in favour. Such arrangements should include the explicit expectation that every Diocese would include in its senior staff a bishop who does ordain women. These arrangements must be carefully handled in order to avoid creating parallel jurisdictions within dioceses, but are necessary to counter the implication that considerate and sensitive behaviour in these matters is required only on behalf of those to whom the sacramental ministry of women is acceptable.
Further details on Affirming Catholicism’s position can be found in James Rigney and Mark Chapman (eds.), Women as Bishops (Mowbray 2008), which includes the text of the submissions made by Affirming Catholicism to the process so far and the rationale for these.
Prepared on behalf of Affirming Catholicism by
Rev’d Dr Mark Chapman
Rev’d Jonathan Clark
Mrs Mary Johnston
Rev’d Canon Dr Charlotte Methuen.
19th May 2008.