Women bishops: Church leader Dr Philip Giddings wins confidence vote


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The Independent Online

A senior member of the Church of England today survived a bid to oust him from his position after he spoke against the introduction of female bishops ahead of a crucial vote.

Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the House of Laity, will continue in his role after 80 people voted against the motion of no confidence, compared with 47 voting for it and 13 abstaining, in a meeting at Church House in Westminster, central London.

Canon Stephen Barney moved the vote of no confidence after controversial legislation to allow women to become bishops failed in the House of Laity, one of three houses which makes up the Synod, by just six votes.

Dr Giddings said he was grateful for the vote of confidence but that discussions were needed about how the House of Laity should proceed in future.

"I hope and pray we can put this behind us and that the temperature can be lowered," he told lay members.

Today's vote came after the Church was hit by fierce recriminations following the legislation's failure in November.

The General Synod houses of bishops and clergy carried the legislation to introduce women bishops, but in the House of Laity it was six votes short of reaching the two-thirds majority.

Addressing lay members, Canon Stephen Barney, from the Leicester diocese, said the House of Laity had damaged the reputation of the Church.

"The House of Laity is seen as the body which frustrated the will of the Diocesan Synods," he told them. "There is widespread anger and disbelief at what we did."

Canon Barney added that national figures including Prime Minister David Cameron had spoken of their disappointment that the legislation was not passed, with outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams saying the decision had damaged the Church.

"There is no doubt in my mind that what we have done as the House of Laity has injured the reputation and mission of our church," said Canon Barney. "I feel deeply ashamed at this."

He also said that Dr Giddings had directly contradicted the views of incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who spoke immediately before him at the General Synod in November.

During that speech, Dr Giddings had told members there was "a better way" and that he believed it would be "unwise" to go ahead with the legislation.

He had also claimed then to be speaking on behalf of "a significant minority of lay people who are opposed in principle to women bishops" and went on to say he did not want them to be excluded from the Church.

Canon Barney said the speech convinced many floating voters but did not represent the views of the majority of Church members.

"From a private individual, this speech would have been just fine," Canon Barney said. "From the chair it was not. It was partisan and narrow when it should have been strategic and statesmanlike."

However, Dr Giddings responded to the motion by saying that he was speaking on behalf of the minority who opposed the introduction of female bishops, rather than representing the whole House of Laity.

"My case was, and is, that the Church of England can ill afford to alienate those who are opposed on grounds which have a long and honourable tradition within our own church and the church more widely," he said.

"My point was that whether we agree with them or not, we should make every effort to accommodate them within our church and its leadership."

He said the Church of England needs to find a way to achieving what most people want - "to have women bishops without losing those who have conscientious objections to that development".

Emotions ran high during the open section of the meeting, which had been called especially to debate the issue of Dr Giddings' position.

Some claimed Canon Barney wanted to make a "scapegoat" of Dr Giddings.

Debrah McIsaac, from the Salisbury diocese, added that the motion of no confidence could be "interpreted as vindictive action" and further damage the reputation of the Church of England.

There was anger too from Joanna Monckton, from the Lichfield diocese, who expressed "disbelief at the un-Christian behaviour" in calling the meeting.

"This is the most cruel way of treating anyone, let alone a senior Christian, who has every right to vote in the way that he did," she said.

"It is merely showing the world how divided we are," she added.

However, Christina Rees from the St Albans diocese, said she believed the motion was not about pinning the blame for the legislation's failure on one person. Instead, she said Dr Giddings had not behaved with transparency when elected to the role in 2010.

"Would he have been elected chair if some of us had known the full extent of his concerns about providing protection for those against having women as bishops?" she asked.

Madeleine Ratcliffe Holmes from the Europe diocese said she was "ashamed" to be a member of the House of Laity following the failure of the November legislation.

"Maybe some of you have been here for too long and cannot see. I just wish our chairman had done better for us," she said.

A total of 81 people had requested to speak but there was not time for all of them to put forward their views during the two-hour meeting.