([London] Times) Secret church memo on women bishops demands U-turn

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Church of England is facing a “major constitutional crisis” as a result of the fiasco last week over women bishops, according to an internal document written for the archbishops by one of their most senior staff.
The Established Church must take steps in July next year to consecrate women bishops and vote them through by 2015, otherwise it risks the matter being taken out of its hands by Parliament, the secret memo says. It is to be debated behind closed doors this week by the Archbishops’ Council.
The memo, a hard copy of which has been handed to The Times, is intended for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the council members.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops* Culture-WatchWomen

11 Comments
Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. MichaelA wrote:

Errr, so what?  Some Lambeth functionary is worried that the Parliament might act to override Synod (which it most likely will not do).  The same suggestion can be read in many other places and has been discussed many times before.  Where’s the news, London Times?

November 26, 7:15 am | [comment link]
2. MichaelA wrote:

Interesting that Fittall is said to be the author of the memo.

November 26, 7:53 am | [comment link]
3. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

The ex-boss of News International is up on charges for paying for leaks, but perhaps that has not happened in this case.

Another memo to order from Fittall, just like the one he did for the Church about ACNA, when Williams was panicking a few Synods back.  How convenient that it should be leaked, but then we got used to that from the sieve that was the CNC recently.

Nothing the observant could not have picked up by watching the fulminations of various MPs including two gay ones when Sir Bufton Tufton was falling all over himself to criticise the CofE he is supposedly a Church Commissioner for.  What memo will Mr Fittall produce when the same MPs are demanding gay bishops?

If Parliament wants to impose direct rule from Westminster, it can do so, but will probably destroy the CofE in the process, but there is no need for our bishops to wring their hands and embroider swastikas or hammers and sycles on their vestments in this unctuous manner.

We have seen their yellow streak this week.  Even for Frank Field the penny has dropped that the vote was not about women bishops but the provision in this measure for those opposed.  But no one outside will have gathered that from the squeals of ‘nothing to do with me, I am not a bigot’ rising from our wretched House of Bishops.  So of course, nobody in the public or House of Commons knows that, apart from Mr Field, and a few more observant commentators.

The 2/3 majority in all three houses for major legislative changes to the CofE was put in place by our forbears and Parliament for good reason to try to keep the church from error and to put a brake on the constitutional abuse which has gone on in TEC.  In many countries, good constitutions have such provisions for their legislatures to prevent just what is happening in Egypt at the moment.  It is easy on whatever topic if a vote is not likely to go your way to take the easy option of asking oponents to abstain [ignored quite rightly by the clergy and laity, but observed by two bishops] or to change the legislative system. 

Well we have seen the results of Rowan doing the latter with the Anglican Communion Instruments to get a short term advantage, but with the long term result of leaving them all in a constitutional shambles.  Rowan’s immediate reaction to the failure of the vote has been to call for exactly the short cut of changing the legislative system in just the way he disasterously used with the Instruments.

I hope people will calmly reflect before going down this route, and perhaps our bishops would like to be honest with MPs and the public about what actually happened at Synod.

Please Rowan, stop digging and hand over this issue to the new man, before this happens.

November 26, 9:09 am | [comment link]
4. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

As usual, you can read it all without paying a quid to the digger.

Not sure Welby will be much better - he has been creeping round meeting and lunching with Field and others, ready it appears to be His Master’s Voice.

November 26, 9:36 am | [comment link]
5. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

An interesting alternative view from Fittall’s has been given by Bob Morris of the University College London Constitutional Unit [picked up by Thinking Anglicans]:

The key political and constitutional problem is that, although the Church of England now behaves largely as if it is a voluntary society, it remains nonetheless part of the state. The Queen as head of state is ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church, must be in communion with it, holds the title Fidei Defensor and – nominally – appoints its senior clergy. The Archbishop crowns and anoints the new sovereign, and the Church conducts important public ceremonies and rituals effectively in relation to the UK as a whole. The Church’s courts remain courts of the land, although they lost their public law jurisdictions in the 1850s. Twenty-six bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords – each nowadays actually appointed by a private, unaccountable committee of the Church itself.

These are high matters and could be addressed again by Parliament. However, whatever the degree of change made, none could procure the appointment of female bishops unless Parliament legislated directly to that end. In other words, disestablishment could not by itself resolve the particular question of female bishops. On the other hand, what disestablishment could do would be – a very different matter – to permit the state and Parliament to wash its hands of Church of England affairs altogether.

Since nothing so far suggests that Parliament contemplates such a rupture, it follows that the Church must be allowed to deal with the present crisis itself. Whether in doing so it strengthens the case for a radical review of remaining church/state ties is another question.

However, the Parliamentary action at the moment seems to be based upon removing the CofE from the religious exemption to equalities legislation.  However, the law of unintended consequences comes into play with such rashness:

1. It will not be possible to remove that exemption just in relation to the CofE; other faith groups would have to be included, so it will be interesting to see the consequence of Parliament legislating for women cardinals and imams.  Any attempt to restrict this to the CofE would probably fall foul itself of EU human rights legislation.

2. Removal of the exemption would probably also bring in gay bishops, cardinals and imams.

Before long, all these blustering MPs are going to be asking us all to vote them into Parliament and government again.  That ultimately is the only check there will be on the bullying and over reach going on at the moment.

I also have to say, that it is quite a contrast looking at the dignified conduct of people a few years ago when the Bishops proposal for women bishops was pushed through Synod with a refusal to listen to them although in many cases reduced to tears by a combination of affirming catholics, Watch and ‘open’ evangelicals. 

How different this time round.  The alliance tried to push through this legislation which the more truthful Archbishops recognised was second best with a lot of pressure.  Ultimately it came down to no protection but having to trust the assurance that the bishops would ‘make it work’.  But those like WATCH had already made it clear that they regarded this as a step which would lead to further moves, and in some cases potential women bishops had pretty much said that they would treat a parish request as an opening for ‘dialogue’.  The prohibitive cost of judicial review and the obstacle of proving that the bishop had not shown ‘respect’ made any redress for parishes against a bishop not prepared to ‘make it work’ nigh impossible.  Alternative in church resolution procedures were not included, only the sledgehammer of going off to the High Court.

It was a high risk strategy by the bishops to push the measure in the current form having folded to the whines of WATCH, and it bombed.

I suppose I have three thoughts having spent a few days thinking about this:

1. How suitable are some of this generation of the supposed first women bishop candidates who have been leading the charge in WATCH to be bishops?  There are women who would be good bishops, but they do not get a word in edgeways with the noise coming from the liberal bastion of WATCH.

2. Something I have felt for a while, that the CofE is off track with worrying about bishops, any bishops.  I don’t know if Peter Price has done much more at Bath and Wells, I rather think he has, but Rowan Williams’ tribute to him concentrated almost exclusively on the restoration he had brought about to the medieval bishop’s palace at Wells.    A sad reflection on our priorities and the distance we have moved from a servant leadership.  It is all about entitlement rather than service in the CofE and its arguments.  How desperately sad and misguided.  We should not be spending our time on bishops, any bishops.

3. That having read and listened to the speeches at Synod, how seriously the lay members on all sides took this.  The legislation failed because a significant number of the laity who are in favour of women bishops yet voted against because of their concern at the second rate protection offered, and their desire not to lose people from the church even if they disagreed.  Overall, I don’t know where things are going at the moment, but I find myself profoundly encouraged by the simple courage of those Synod members who under overwhelming arm-twisting to accept the second best for others, yet put that aside, along with the calls to abstain, and knowing the abuse they would receive afterwards, voted with their conscience as Christians.  There were no winners, many women will have been hurt, as have the traditionalists.    I think I would say I am encouraged and very grateful for the decency and courage shown by the laity - something which surprised me, but which shouldn’t knowing the many ex headmistresses, public servants and community-minded people who serve in Synod.  They have shown up the rest of us, if we but paused and thought about it.  I think in the long term, that is a good sign for the Church of England and its future.

St Paul, I think, talks about the need to wait for our brothers and sisters.  I can’t remember the exact reference, but I have been thinking about it the last few days, and hoping in vain that perhaps one of our bishops would also remember and bring it up.  Oh well.

November 26, 10:27 am | [comment link]
6. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Just one more thought, and an odd one, this is actually an opportunity to be truthful for the CofE, and to get its message across, if it gets out of watch-my-own-back mode.  The message should be the care that the church shows for ALL its members and their flourishing including getting legislation right.  The media spotlight is on - will we take that opportunity for the Gospel?

As I read Mark Lawrence say on a T19 article, a crisis is a terrible things to waste!

November 26, 11:14 am | [comment link]
7. Milton wrote:

#5

St Paul, I think, talks about the need to wait for our brothers and sisters.  I can’t remember the exact reference, but I have been thinking about it the last few days, and hoping in vain that perhaps one of our bishops would also remember and bring it up.  Oh well.

Perhaps Romans 14:1 - 15:3?

November 26, 11:41 am | [comment link]
8. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

#7 Yes, Milton, that is close enough to the waiting for one another, and particularly in the AV:

15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves

and

15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Jesus Christ


I hope that we will make the effort this time to engage with the issues, read the Rochester Report and its digest and that the offer of groups to talk is taken up and that effort is taken to understand their theological worldview [one shared by most of the world’s Christians in the two main denominations]; the objections and needs actually involved are addressed.

The worst possible thing would be to try to cajole, threaten and pressure for a quick fix based on the existing proposal or a single clause.

We need to learn from this the third major church humiliation of this Archepiscopacy after the events leading up to establishment of the Ordinariate, and the dogfight between two self-absorbed groups of liberals in St Paul’s led to the Occupy fiasco.  We have an opportunity to show ourselves and the Communion good governance and conciliar decision-making.  What a contrast to the TEC style short-cuts which failed in Synod last week.  I do hope we take this as an opportunity, for failure will impact on us domestically and internationally, where only the most blind of us must recognise that others are not going to just stand by if we behave like TEC.

November 26, 1:00 pm | [comment link]
9. MichaelA wrote:

One would think that if the numbers were there in Parliament to remove the exemption from discrimination for churches, it would have happened by now.  If they try it, they will stir up a hornets nest of the Roman Catholics, Orthodox, various evangelical groups etc.  Also, if it is worded so as to prevent discrimination on the grounds of belief (which it would most likely have to be), then they will aggravate every Christian group, as well as the Muslims, the Jews, the Parsees, etc etc.  So that’s not going to happen.

What they could do is try to just remove the exemption in respect of the CofE, on the basis that its an established church.  That would be a dream come true for AMiE.

There’s an awful lot of froth, bubble and bluster coming from the British media and liberal establishment at the moment.  I am wondering if even 1% of it has substance.

November 26, 6:33 pm | [comment link]
10. MichaelA wrote:

Interesting that Labor MP Frank Field, a savvy political operator, can see how the proponents of women bishops blew it:

“On BBC Newsnight tonight, Frank Field MP criticised “the reformers”, those who brought forward the Women Bishops Measure, being “ungracious and ungenerous” in failing to meet the objections of those who disagreed.

He claimed that “The state has an interest in ensuring that the Church does not go off and behave in an absurd manner.  Most people will think that its actions over the last few days show a real lack of politics in the church. Why did the reformers fail? They have some serious questions to answer here in satisfying those who were upset and disquieted by the proposal for reform.”

He added that the crucial question about women priests was decided decades ago. He urged “The real issue is that the reformers were ungracious and ungenerous in meeting the objections that many in your position actually hold. My advice to them, which was ignored such as it was, is that the crucial thing to establish is the principle of women bishops. Whether they are curtailed in certain ways, that does not really matter. One should actually stuff the mouths of the opposition with gold to get the major reform through. They failed to do that. The Church must now very quickly reconvene on this issue, listen very carefully to those that it failed to persuade, meet them in those objections and get the general principle agreed”.”

See: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2012/11/22/frank-field-urges-women-bishops-reformers-to-meet-the-objections-of-opponents-to-get-the-major-reform-through/.

Field is very pro-women bishops.  But whereas the proponents of women bishops in the CofE are blaming everyone but themselves, Field turns the spotlight where it should be turned: on the people who put this measure forward, the fools who kept insisting to the orthodox: “This is as good as it gets”.  It is these people who, through their utter intransigence and incompetence, have left CofE in a position where women bishops continue to be illegal.

But why should I complain?  I am against women bishops.  And it seems my best allies are: ++Rowan Williams, ++Justin Welby, +Alan Wilson, Giles Fraser, and numerous other CofE liberals.  What a strange world we live in.

November 26, 6:42 pm | [comment link]
11. AnglicanFirst wrote:

But the question remains to be answered,
“Are the Sacraments valid if an attempt to perform them is made by a woman priest or bishop?”

Or to put it in another form,
“If a women is made a priest or a bishop, is she really a priest or a bishop?”

Answers from the secular realm of thought are not an adequate reply.

November 26, 10:36 pm | [comment link]
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