THE HOUSE of Bishops has agreed overwhelmingly to replace the controversial clause in the women bishops legislation with a watered-down version.
The original clause, 5(1)(c) would have given traditionalist parishes more say appointments, but the new clause says that bishops only need to ‘respect’ the views of traditionalists.
Announcing the result of the meeting of the House of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said that it was now time for the Church to allow women to be bishops.
However, the response so far has been cautious.
The bishops have been seeking to achieve a balancing act by paving the way for women in the episcopate while ensuring a space for traditionalists. However, the new clause, proposed during the consultation phase by the Rev Janet Appleby, gives less protection than the wording it replaces.
The new clause now reads: “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″.
Dr Williams said: “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.”
The pressure group Women and the Church (WATCH) wanted the whole clause abandoned, and was disappointed with the fact that it was replaced. However, they welcomed the Archbishop’s comments about the ministry of women.
In a statement they said they would need time to consider the new wording.
The Rev Rachel Weir, Chair of WATCH said: “The House of Bishops has today confirmed its commitment to having women as bishops and has attempted to find a new way forward that will ensure the draft legislation is passed by General Synod in November. Time will tell whether the new Clause 5(1)(c) will produce the desired outcome.”
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.
A podcast from the Archbishop of Canterbury on this issue will be available from www.archbishopofcanterbury.org