Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Two integrities

If I was unhappy with the proposals to enable women to be appointed as Bishops in the Church of England (which I am not), I’d take a particular interest in the formation of the Ecclesiastical Committee of the new Parliament, and I’d then be doing a lot of work with those who are appointed to it.

Any Measure passed by the General Synod has to be approved by Parliament before it can receive the Royal Assent. There is normally a brief debate in both Houses of Parliament to nod the Measure through; Parliament may not amend the Measure, but it retains the right not to approve it at all. Because of this, there is a preliminary stage at which a Committee of fourteen members drawn from both Houses of Parliament considers whether or not it is ‘expedient’ to put the Measure before Parliament at all.

Before the Measure to allow women to be ordained as priests was presented to Parliament, the Ecclesiastical Committee of the time made it clear that it would not regard it as expedient to present the Measure unless there were safeguards in place for those who could not accept it. The payments which were made to clergy who left the Church of England when women were ordained priest and the whole ‘flying Bishop’ provision for parishes which did not wish to deal with Bishops who ordained women followed from this. The language of ‘two integrities’ in the Church of England over this issue stems from this balance of Measure and related safeguards.

Now, the shape of the Measure which has just emerged from the General Synod does not make nor relate to any provision about payments to clergy who may leave and it dismantles the whole ‘flying Bishops’ provision. I’d have thought that the very least any well primed new Ecclesiastical Committee would want to know is how the General Synod justifies removing precisely the provisions without which the earlier Committee wouldn’t have let the previous Measure through; it might even feel that Parliament has been the subject of a confidence trick in this regard.

I’d have thought it quite possible that the message the Committee could then send would be legally binding safeguards for ‘the other integrity’ would have to be built into any new Measure before it would be regarded as expedient - which is exactly what the Archbishops proposed to the Synod, what a majority of the whole Synod supported, and what motions from many Diocesan Synod over the next few months may very well request.

The weeping ash at the entrance to St Michael’s churchyard has featured here before; this picture of it was taken yesterday.

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