CofE memo: vote for women bishops or face consequences

Nov 26, 2012

Secret note says Church must vote for women bishops by 2015 or Parliament will force its hand

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THE Secretary General of the General Synod has said the Church of England must vote in favour of women bishops by 2015 or risk having the decision taken out of its hands by Parliament. 

William Fittall, described by The Times as someone who the Church “rarely if ever ignores”, talks of an incipient “major constitutional crisis” and even hints that the Church of England might eventually be disestablished over the issue.

The dark assessment of the C of E’s situation comes in an internal document written for archbishops by Fittall called Women in the Episcopate - Where Next? and seen by The Times. It was circulated within 72 hours of last week’s shock vote by the Synod when, as the Times puts it, “a small number of the house of laity overturned the will of more than seven in ten synod members and secured a vote against women bishops”.

The motion rejected last week provided for those parishes opposed to women bishops to be administered by a male bishop instead. Fittall suggests a simpler motion next time: a plan to consecrate women bishops with no provision for opponents.

The new motion could be put to Synod when it meets at the University of York in July 2013. A vote could then be held by 2015. The proposal will be discussed by the Archbishops’ Council this week before being passed on to an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops next month.

The Guardian expressed bemusement at the Fittall proposition. How, when a measure that made provisions for opponents of female bishops failed to muster the required two-thirds majority, could a more radical measure paying less attention to their position be expected to get through the Synod? “The answer, say some, lies in the fact that some of the lay members who voted against may have done so out of objections to the measure rather than to female bishops.”

Fittall, however, is resolute. “We simply have to try again,”  he says. “We have to do so because time is not on our side. Parliament is impatient. Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”

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