‘Grounds’ for ‘Respect’ in the Church of England

As noted in an earlier post, here, the General Synod of the Church of England is to meet on 16th to 19th November, and the Agenda and papers are available on its web site, here.  The major item of business will be the ordination of women as bishops, for which there are three legal components

  • Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure [item 501], GS 1708D
  • Draft Amending Canon No.30 [item 502], GS 1709C
  • Draft Petition for Her Majesty’s Royal Assent and Licence [item 503], GS 1709E

and the explanatory document and Annex

  • Reconsideration of Clause 5(1)(c) by the House of Bishops, GS 1708-09ZZZ

Although this web log has not ventured into the area of the appointment women as bishops (and archbishops), some of the legal issues associated with proposed new Measure, amended Canon &c deserve attention, particularly the meaning of the word ‘respect’.  For those, like us, who have not followed each development in detail, the Church Mouse has briefly come back into the blogosphere to assist.  Building upon the substantive issue outlined in his Ladies hats post, back in January, there are current updates in Yes 2 Women Bishops: Part 1 and Yes 2 Women Bishops Part 2: The Right Measure at the Right Time.  Whilst written from the point of view that supports the appointment of women as bishops, it provides an accessible summary of both sides of the argument.

On the basis that the proposed draft Measure and other provisions are adopted by General Synod, and women may thereafter be appointed as bishops and archbishops, the focus shift to those whose theological convictions are not in accord with the new arrangements, and how episcopal oversight is to be arranged.  Currently, this is through the appointment of Provincial Episcopal Visitors, (PEVs), commonly known as ‘flying bishops’ under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993.  Their continued existence will not be consistent with the new arrangements, and following Synod’s earlier consideration of various options, it is now being asked to approve the introduction of a new clause 5(1)(c) into the proposed draft Measure, viz.

“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,”.

The document GS 1708-09ZZZ details the prior debate, and an attached Annex summarizes the legal advice given to the House of Bishops on the fourth of the proposed amendments to clause 5(1)(c), above.  The Annex states (at paras.2 and 3):

“The effect of the amendment would not merely be to require that guidance be given on the issue of the selection of male bishops and male priests: like some of the other possible amendments, it would impose a requirement as to the end to which that guidance is directed – in this case, that the selection of male bishops and male priests be such as to respect the grounds on which PCCs issue Letters of Request under the Measure.

The effect of the use of the word ‘respect’ in that context is to require the Code of Practice to give guidance to the effect that, in selecting a male bishop or male priest, the person(s) making the selection would need to seek to address, or accommodate, the grounds on which a PCC has issued its Letter of Request. They could not simply fail to give effect to those grounds at all, even if they considered that there were cogent grounds for doing so.”

With regard to the meaning of the word ‘respect’, the advice states in the context of the guidance that the effect of using ‘respect’ is less prescriptive then ‘consistent with’, but would be more prescriptive ‘taking account of’ or ‘having regard to’.  Although a formal Code of Practice has not been agreed, the wording in an illustrative draft reflects this interpretation, in its suggestion of the wording that might be used:

“In making the selection of the bishop who is to exercise episcopal ministry by delegation the diocesan bishop should seek to accommodate the parish’s concerns relating to holy orders and the exercise of ordained ministry of women so far as those matters are relevant to the grounds of theological conviction as to the consecration and ordination of women on which the PCC issued its Letter of Request.”[emphasis added]

With regard to the meaning of the word ‘grounds’ [on which PCCs issue Letters of Request under clause 3 of the Measure], the Annex states that these are grounds of theological conviction and limited to the consecration or ordination of women.  It concludes by summarizing the position as:

“the guidance required to be given by the amendment would have to be limited accordingly – that is, it would have to make it clear that the grounds which the selection of male bishops are to ‘respect’ were limited to grounds of theological conviction as to the consecration or ordination of women. The illustrative draft wording that has been produced to show what the Code of Practice might say about the selection of male bishops were this amendment to be made to the Measure reflects that position.”