Supporters of women bishops have rounded on senior leaders within the Church of England after they inserted last minute amendments to proposed legislation that will allow female clergy to hold the highest levels of office alongside their male colleagues.
Proposals to break down the church’s final glass ceiling are expected to be passed later this summer when the General Synod meets to vote on the final legislation. It is the culmination of more than a decade of tortuous wrangling between a majority who support women bishops and a minority of traditionalists, conservatives and Anglo-Catholics who are theologically opposed to women holding senior ecclesiastical positions.
Following elections last year 42 of the 44 dioceses across England and Wales voted in favour of creating women bishops without any major concessions to accommodate for conservative demands.
However in a tense closed door meeting in York this week the Synod’s House of Bishops made two final amendments to the final proposed legislation which will be debated later this summer.
The first amendment addresses the wording revolving around parishes that might refuse to be administered to by a woman on theological grounds. Pro-women groups want to make sure that female bishops would have exactly the same authority as a male bishop. Traditionalists want to make sure that any male bishop who serves them should not have to answer directly to a female bishop more senior than him. They are also opposed to answering to any male bishop who might have been ordained by a woman.
The new amendment makes clear that although a male bishops derives his legal authority from his female superior, his authority to work within traditional parishes comes solely from his own ordination.
The second amendment will add a new “code of conduct” which will insist that parishes who opt-out of being served by women bishops are administered to by a male bishop who shares their theological opposition to gender equality.
The two changes are subtle and less drastic than an alternative proposed by the traditionalists who wanted to see the entire legislation reworded. But the amendments have nonetheless sparked a row amid concerns that traditionalists might succeed in a last minute wrecking drive later this summer.
The campaign group Women and the Church said the House of Bishops had “failed to listen to the voice of ordained women and those who support their ministry and [had] been swayed by those who are opposed into making concessions that can only undermine the ministry of women in future years.”
However the Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent, who supports women bishops, hit back. “I think what we’ve done is send out a message to opponents that they’re still part of the CofE but without undermining the ministry of women bishops,” he wrote on his blog. “Others are free to disagree. The important thing is to get this legislation through and get to the next stage.”