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House of Bishops approves Women Bishops Legislation

The House of Bishops of the Church of England today concluded its consideration of the draft legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops. It agreed that the legislation should be returned to the General Synod for final approval.

The House of Bishops had power to amend the draft legislation in such manner "as it thinks fit". It made two amendments to the draft Measure.

The House accepted an amendment making it clear that the use of the word "delegation" (in Clause 2 of the draft Measure) relates to the legal authority which a male bishop acting under a diocesan scheme would have and was distinct from the authority to exercise the functions of the office of bishop that that person derived from his ordination. For example, when another bishop ordains someone to the priesthood he needs permission to do from the bishop of the diocese ("delegation"), but the power to ordain derives from his consecration as a bishop. The amendment also makes clear that delegation should not be taken as divesting the diocesan bishop of any of his or her authority or functions.

The House also accepted an amendment to express in the Measure one of the three principles which the House had agreed in December (see notes). This amendment adds to the list of matters on which guidance will need to be given in the Code of Practice that the House of Bishops will be required to draw up and promulgate under the Measure. It will now need to include guidance on the selection by the diocesan bishop of the male bishops and priests who will minister in parishes whose parochial church council (PCC) has issued a Letter of Request under the Measure. That guidance will be directed at ensuring that the exercise of ministry by those bishops and priests will be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women which prompted the issuing of the Letter of Request. Thus, the legislation now addresses the fact that for some parishes a male bishop or male priest is necessary but not sufficient.

The House rejected more far- reaching amendments that would have changed the legal basis on which bishops would exercise authority when ministering to parishes unable to receive the ministry of female bishops.

It also rejected amendments giving statutory expression to the other two principles (see notes) that it agreed in December, judging that it would be better to leave them to be addressed in the Code of Practice or in other ways rather than referring to them in the Measure.

Now that the legislation has been amended the six Officers of the Synod (the 'Group of Six') - the Archbishops, the Prolocutors of the Lower Houses of the Convocations of Canterbury and York and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity - will need to meet later this week to determine whether the amendments constitute a change to the substance of the proposals embodied in the draft Measure as approved by 42 of the 44 dioceses last year.

If the Group of Six determines that no such change has been made - an announcement will be made after their deliberations - the way will be clear for the legislation to come to the Synod for final approval in York in July. This is subject to the possibility of the Convocations and the House of Laity asking for the draft legislation to be referred to them for approval before it is returned to the Synod. If they were to exercise this right, their meetings would take place in York immediately before the July meeting of General Synod, and the legislation would need to be approved by each of those bodies by simple majorities before the General Synod as a whole could consider it at the Final Approval Stage (at which two-thirds majorities in each House of the General Synod will be required).


The Group of Six
It is up to the Group of Six - the two archbishops, the two Prolocutors (chairs of the House of Clergy) and the chair and vice-chair of the House of Laity to determine, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and having received legal advice, whether these amendments alter the 'substance of the proposals embodied' in the legislation (which would require it to be approved again in its final form by a majority of the dioceses before it could go back to the Synod for Final Approval) Membership: Archbishops of Canterbury and York: Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu, Prolocutors: Ven. Christine Hardman and Canon Glyn Webster, Chair and vice-chair of House of Laity- Dr Philip Giddings and Mr Tim Hind

The Final Approval stage
This requires two-thirds majorities in each House (bishops, clergy and laity). If approved, the Measure would then go to Parliament for consideration by the Ecclesiastical Committee and each House of Parliament (see GS Misc 1012).

Three principles from the House of Bishops
Extract from Archbishops' foreword to GS MISC 1007 (January 2012)
"In the light of our discussion, the House will continue to uphold these three principles:
· Bishops will continue not to discriminate in selecting candidates for ordination on the grounds of their theological convictions regarding the admission of women to Holy Orders;
· In choosing bishops to provide episcopal ministry under diocesan schemes for parishes requesting this provision, diocesan bishops will seek to identify those whose ministry will be consistent with the theological convictions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate underlying the Letter of Request;
· The archbishops and bishops commit themselves to seeking to maintain a supply of bishops able to minister on this basis. This will obviously have a bearing on decisions about appointments and on the role of bishops occupying the sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough (which will, as a matter of law, continue to exist even after the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod has been rescinded). "

July 2000, The General Synod invited the House of Bishops to undertake the necessary theological work on the admission of the episcopate to women
November 2000, Publication of the Rochester report.
February 2005- July 2006 Preparatory Synod debates
July 2008, General Synod called for legislation to be drafted in line with the motion: 'That this Synod:
(a) affirm that the wish of its majority is for women to be admitted to the episcopate;
(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;
(c) affirm that these should be contained in a statutory national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and
(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.'
December 2008 A further report from the Manchester Group (GS 1707) and the draft legislation, together with an illustrative code of practice, were published
February 2009 General Synod debated the draft legislation sending it to a Revision Committee that was set up in March of that year.
October/November 2009 The Revision Committee issued two interim statements on its progress in Octoberand November.
May 2010 The Revision Committee's report was published with a revised draft of the Measure
July 2010, the Synod left the draft legislation largely unamended and narrowly voted against the Archbishops' amendment.
September 2010, the draft legislation was referred to the dioceses for debate and vote ('Reference to dioceses' explains this process in more detail and contains links to the relevant documentation under discussion).
February 2012, the Synod received a report (GS 1847) on the Reference to dioceses. Of the 44 dioceses, 42 had approved the legislation by a simple majority (Chichester and London voted against). The Synod then debated diocesan synod motions on making provision for those who, for theological reasons, would not be able to receive the ministry of women bishops. Synod voted in favour of an amended motion that asked that the House of Bishops should not amend the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure "substantially".
Code of Practice
The draft Measure requires the House of Bishops to draw up a code of practice (which is not subject to the diocesan reference procedure). This cannot be formally drawn up or laid before the Synod for approval until after the legislation has received the Royal Assent. An initial illustrative draft code was prepared by the legislative drafting group in 2009 and in the light of changes subsequently made to the draft legislation the House of Bishops accepted the recommendation of the Revision Committee that further work on a draft code should proceed, rather than waiting for the various legislative stages to be completed. A House of Bishops working party on the Code of Practice (chaired by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich) started work in November 2010 with a view to enabling the House of Bishops and the General Synod to engage further with the shape of a draft code before the draft legislation reached the Final Approval stage. The Bishop gave a presentation on the illustrative code (GS Misc 1007 link) to the Synod in February 2012.

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