March 2011

Focus On

Diocesan Synod to vote on women in the episcopacy

Following many years of debate and discussion at General Synod and more widely, each of the 44 dioceses in the Church of England has been asked to vote on the proposed legislation for women bishops. On Saturday 7 May members of Canterbury Diocesan Synod will have the opportunity to vote on the following motion:

"That this synod approves the proposals embodied in the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and in draft Amending Canon No 30.'

What does the draft Measure say?
The Measure as drafted enables women to be ordained as bishops. Alternative provision for those unable to receive the Episcopal ministry of women will be by delegation from each diocesan bishop. The House of Bishops is required to produce a Code of Practice which will offer a framework within which each diocesan bishop must draw up a diocesan scheme to provide sacramental and pastoral care for those unable to accept the ministry of women priests or bishops. This will be triggered by parishes issuing Letters of Request. If the diocesan bishop will not himself ordain women to the priesthood, provision for women to be ordained and their ministry to be supported, must also be contained in the diocesan scheme.

What provision will there be for those opposed to the ordination of women?
Locally agreed diocesan schemes (drawn up within the guidelines of a nationally agreed, statutory Code of Practice) will ensure that all parishes will continue to receive the priestly and episcopal ministry they need to thrive. Parishes holding the minority position will continue to be encouraged to foster vocations and to present candidates for ordination (a plentiful supply of priests and bishops to minister to those opposed is an essential pre-requisite for the legislation to work). There is no cut-off date: provision for those opposed will always be there.

Who votes on this draft legislation?
In September last year, the draft measure was referred from General Synod to the dioceses for debate and vote (this process is called an Article 8 Reference). In line with other dioceses, Canterbury Diocese has asked every Deanery in the diocese to discuss the issue at Deanery Synods; these deanery discussions will mostly have been completed by May 7th.

What is an Article 8 Reference?
When major legislation (a measure or a canon) proposing changes to the ordinal (among other things) is going through General Synod, it requires an Article 8 Reference. The legislation to provide for Women Bishops in the Church of England falls within this category.

What happens next?
After the Diocesan Synod vote in May, the voting figures will be fed back to General Synod. If a majority of the diocesan synods give consent (23 out of 44), the drafts will then return to the General Synod for the steering committee to shepherd through to final approval. The issue is likely to be decided in July 2012; approval at General Synod will require a two-thirds majority in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity. If passed, the draft Measure would then need to be accepted by Parliament and receive the Royal Assent before it became law, just like an Act of Parliament. The earliest that the first women could be consecrated as a bishop would be 2014.

Women Bishops - explanatory papers

Some explanatory papers, including the full text of the draft Measure and draft Amending Canon mentioned in the above motion, are available below:

A copy of the Draft Measure - Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure

A copy of the Draft Amending Canon No 30 (A8 (WE) AC)

Consecration of Women to the Episcopate: A note from the Business Committee explaining what these two documents are actually saying (GS Misc 964)

An explanatory memorandum on the draft legislation

A background note

Short handout distributed to deaneries in Canterbury Diocese for their discussions

Further information on women bishops from the Church of England website