Amendments to draft legislation on female bishops allow traditional parishes to request male alternates. Photo: Eluveitie/Wikimedia Commons
Meeting in York on May 21, the House of Bishops of the Church of England concluded its consideration of long-awaited and much-debated draft legislation to permit the consecration of women as bishops. The legislation will go before the General Synod in July for final approval.
But in a move that has many women fuming, the bishops made two cop-out amendments to the draft measure. The first change would allow traditionalist parishes that reject the authority of female bishops to opt out and have recourse to an alternate bishop "consistent with the theological convictions" (code for male).
If, for example, a parish in the diocese of a female bishop does not recognize her authority, upon request, the bishop could delegate her powers to a male colleague to serve that parish.
The amendment is careful to say that although the alternative male bishop derives his legal authority from the diocesan woman bishop who appoints him, the authority to exercise the office of bishop comes from his own ordination.
Those who support women bishops view this as making women second-class bishops. Those opposed believe that a male bishop should not derive his episcopal authority from a woman in any way.
The second alteration concerns a new code of practice for bishops in the event the consecration of women bishops is approved. Guidance will be provided to the diocesan bishop for selecting the male bishops and priests who will minister in parishes whose parochial church councils have requested male-only clergy for theological reasons. The guidance will ensure that the exercise of ministry by bishops and priests appointed to serve in parishes objecting to female bishops will be consistent with those objections.
In a press release the House of Bishops said: "We 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."
Supporting the traditionalist view, a group of Church of England women presented a 2,200-signautre petition opposing the draft legislation to Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.