Skip to comments.England: Church-State war looms over women bishops
Posted on 03/05/2006 5:37:31 PM PST by sionnsar
The prospect of the most almighty Church-State row is looming after Labour MP Chris Bryant, former Church of England vicar, has tabled a parliamentary bill that could force the Church of England to permit the ordination of women bishops six years earlier than planned.
Chris has used the Ten Minute Rule system to table private member's motion that would remove from the 1992 women priests measure the bar on ordaining women bishops. Bryant, who was an early member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, came up with the idea after secret meetings with a group of senior Oxford theologians who told him the Church was taking too long to ordain women bishops. They pressed Bryant to find some way of forcing the Church's hands.
Watchpostcardcropped The last two bills tabled under the Ten Minute Rule to make it onto the statute books were both in the 2001-2 session. They were Andrew Dismore's Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill and Neil Gerrard's Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc) Bill.
However, several senior Government ministers are already understood to have voiced support for Bryant's bill. If enough MPs turned up to vote for the bill at the first reading, the pressure for change would be difficult for the Government to resist.
If the Government did allow the bill through, this would create a constitutional crisis unparalleled since Parliament rejected the Church's 1928 Prayer Book. The Church has had the power to create its own laws, or measures, since the 1919 Enabling Act created the Church Assembly, now the General Synod. But Parliament retains the power of veto because the Church is established by law.
The bill is due to be debated on Tuesday 21 March, the day before the Budget. I first came across it on Ekklesia. It would amend the 1993 parliamentary legislation that allowed for the ordination of women priests and extend the provision to remove the bar on women bishops. In the unlikely event that it becomes law, it will certainly lead for demands for disestablishment from Church leaders who would strongly resist any further intervention by the State in Church affairs. Thinking Anglicans has recorded it here.
Bryant, a former chairman of the influential Christian Socialist Movement which counts the Prime Minister among its supporters, said: "The reason I am doing it is because there are a lot of us, active Anglicans and others, who think that the church is shilly shallying on this issue and that the ultra-consrvative tail is rather wagging the mainstream dog.
"The number of parishes that have declared themselves women priest free zones is tiny, less than 10 per cent . If women are ever consecrated, Parliament will have to vote on it like they did with women priests.
"For a start, Parliament cannot force the Church to consecrate a single woman bishop, even if it removes the legal impediment. What we can do is indicate our support for women's ministry at every level."
Under the procedure, Bryant will speak for ten minutes to his bill and an opponent will have ten minutes to reply. a vote will be held if there is even a single objector. But if the bill gets a majority, it will get a second reading.
The Church is presently engaged in a tortuous and convoluted process towards the consecration of women bishops. The subject was debated three times at the February synod and is likely to be on the agenda of every synod until 2012, the first date that a woman could be consecrated if the present procedures are followed. The matter could be rapidly speeded up however if the Church were to adopt the single-clause measure approach, but this would cause ecumenical difficulties and massive rebellion among traditionalists and defections to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Bryant said: "If there is a majority of 100 or 150 for this, it will give a strong indication to the Church that 2012 is a little far off. God may move in a mysterious way, but it would be good if she moved a little faster."
He continued: "It is not for sinners such as politicians to tell the saints in the Church what to do. But it sticks in our throats when the Church preqaches about equality and won't institute it within its own ranks. No-one would ever think to say to a parish, you can vote not to have a black priest."
The bill has the support already of Tory MP Robert Key, also a member of General Synod, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and about 45 others. "I hope people are going to write to MPs. There is a letter writing campaign and people will be coming to Parliament on the day," said Bryant, MP for Rhondda.
He continued: "People have questioned why I am doing this and have asked what it has got to do with Wales.
Tuabrahamw But William Abraham, the first MP for Rhondda elected in 1885 and known as Mabon, spent his whole career devoted to the rights of miners and the disestablishment of the Church in Wales."
Fourteen Anglican provinces have already voted for women bishops, including Scotland, but not all have actually appointed one.
Geoffrey Kirk, of the traditionalist grouping Cost of Conscience, warned that the bill could in theory go through and said it could present a "serious problem" for the Church.
A Church of England spokesman said: "Whether women should be ordained bishops must in the first instance be a matter for the Church to determine in accordance with its own assessment of the relevant theological issues. The Church is already engaged in a careful consultation process which seeks to ensure that all views on this important issue are heard and respected. General Synod will again look at the subject this summer. It is only once Synod has approved legislation that the need for Parliamentary approval arises. The proposed bill would be contrary to the longstanding constitutional convention that Parliament does not initiate legislation on such matters."
But Christina Rees, of the campaigning group Watch, said: "This is fantastic. It reflects a widespread move for women bishops, not just in the Church but in wider society. This is a very interesting development."
FORWARD IN FAITH RESPONDS TO CALL TO ORDAIN WOMEN BISHOPS
Welsh MP attempts to undermine General Synod
March 5, 2006
Forward in Faith notes with some disquiet the news reported by Ruth Gledhill of The Times that the Member of Parliament for Rhondda, Chris Bryant, has tabled a Parliamentary Bill designed to force the Church of England to permit the consecration of women as bishops.
Forward in Faith notes that Mr Bryant, before his election as an MP, ministered as a priest of the Church of England in the dioceses of Oxford and Peterborough. He is a signatory of the Inclusive Church Petition and evidently enjoys the support of both Affirming Catholicism and WATCH in this blatant attempt to undermine the General Synod.
Forward in Faith therefore welcomes the very clear statement issued by Church House, Westminster in response:
"Whether women should be ordained bishops must in the first instance be a matter for the Church to determine in accordance with its own assessment of the relevant theological issues. The Church is already engaged in a careful consultation process which seeks to ensure that all views on this important issue are heard and respected. General Synod will again look at the subject this summer. It is only once Synod has approved legislation that the need for Parliamentary approval arises.
The proposed bill would be contrary to the longstanding constitutional convention that Parliament does not initiate legislation on such matters."
Notwithstanding the fact that that Mr Bryant's motion has been introduced under the '10-minute rule' which is generally used to attract publicity for an issue rather than as a vehicle for serious proposals to change the law, Forward in Faith urges all its members to write to their MPs without further delay, to protest this blatant attempt to undermine the Synod, and to urge their Member to attend the debate on 21 March and vote 'NO'.
It is vital that this bill is defeated at the outset.
E-mail addresses for MPs are available here, as is a listing by constituency, for those unsure as to the identity of their MP.
These other people can find legitimate jobs somewhere else.
Ordination of female bishops then becomes a non-issue.
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