- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The upcoming Church of England Synod that will decide the future of women bishops will be the most significant for 20 years, its Secretary General said today.
William Fittall told journalists in London today that the next meeting of General Synod, which is due to take place in York in July, was the most significant moment for the Church since the ordination of women priests.
“I don’t think that is an exaggerating. Not since 11 November 1992 has the future of the Church of England turned so sharply on a single vote,” he said.
There was a huge expectation that Synod would pass the legislation, he said, adding that recent votes in Diocesan synods showed a very large majority in favour of the measure.
If the motion passes it will mark the culmination of a process begun 50 years ago, and which almost ground to a halt in November 2012, when the legislation failed because of a lack of support in the House of Laity.
Following that shock rejection the House of Bishops met to amend the legislation so that it met the needs of catholic and conservative evangelical factions within the Synod and the Church.
Voting in favour of women bishops is likely to strain relations between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church.
In an interview with The Tablet this week the Archbishop of Canterbury, who met with Pope Francis on Monday, admitted that it was a “difficulty” in the relationship.
Concessions for opponents of the legislation includes an acknowledgement that some in the Church of England would not be able to receive the ministry of women bishops and a commitment to provide for them pastorally and sacramentally. “Flying bishops” who minister to those who cannot accept women’s ordination will continue to exist, and an ombudsman will be appointed to handle complaints arising from the process of appointing women bishops.
It is this revised form of legislation that will come before Synod for final approval in July.
“I think the Church of England won’t be the same after this vote, whichever way it goes,” Mr Fittall said. “If the legislation is lost … the surprise reaction we saw more widely in November 2012 would be as nothing as we would see at this time, after all the progress made last year. There would be shock and bemusement that the legislation had failed at the final hurdle.”