Bad move on bishops
The newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, is still waiting to be enthroned. But already he must feel the honeymoon period he expected at the beginning of his time in office has come to end. His predecessor, Archbishop Rowan Williams, leaves Lambeth Palace next month not so much with a bang but with a whimper after the damp squib that was this week’s vote on women bishops in the General Synod of the Church of England.
Undoubtedly, the Church of England will recover from what is nothing less than a public relations disaster. Monday night’s vote goes against the leadership of the Church of England, and against all that has been said in parishes and dioceses throughout England. In all, 42 of the 44 dioceses had already approved the measure; the bishops provided excellent leadership throughout the debate and they were virtually unanimous in their support for the legislation. The clergy too were supportive almost to the same degree.
But it must not be forgotten that the House of Laity also voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops. The measure only failed to reach the required two-thirds majority by the slimmest of margins – six votes or 1.03 per cent. Those who initially opposed the proposal on the grounds that too many concessions had been made to the opponents in an unholy alliance of extreme evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics may now feel they have been proved right, that the structures of the General Synod need a complete overhaul, and that the guarantees to parishes that refuse the ministry of women priests should be rescinded.
The Church of England now faces a Sisyphean task as it tries to roll back this disaster and tries not only to recover its credibility but its right to speak with moral authority to the nation as the Established Church. Meanwhile, all eyes in the Anglican Communion may now turn to the Church of Ireland to see if a woman is elected as a bishop for one of the two dioceses that are vacant.