Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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A Bill to end the Church's discrimination against women


26 November 2012
In the 1980s I felt as though I belonged to two dying organisations – the Labour Party and the Anglican Church.

The belief that Labour was in permanent decline was swiftly countered, firstly by John Smith’s and then Tony Blair’s leadership.

This week’s vote to keep rules preventing women from becoming bishops has done nothing to refute and much to encourage the view that the dear old Church of England is still in terminal decline.

What could have been going on in the mind of the Church of England’s Synod when it made a decision not to go forward with women bishops?

What kind of message was that sending out to particularly half of the human race?

The vote on using fully women’s talents took place just after the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church this time was lucky to have Justin Welby as a candidate. The talent amongst the bishops was clearly at such a low ebb that the Royal Commission chose a bishop who had hardly got his bishop’s cassock on. And yet the Synod convinced itself that this drastic weakening of the gene pool for future leadership candidates should continue and not be rebuilt by women.

Back in the early 1970s Parliament agreed to exempt the Anglican Church from the Sex Discrimination Act. The rules applying to everybody else that jobs should be accessible equally to men and women were not applied to the Anglican Church, or other religious denominations, at that time.

Since then the Synod made the decision that there were no theological objections to women being ordained.  That for me was the crucial hurdle. 

In the Church’s perspective there is no superior position than being a priest. Other people may have additional duties, like archdeacons or bishops, but the key consideration is entrance to the priesthood.

I thought it was therefore natural that, once Synod accepted there was no theological objection to women priests, it would follow in good time that those posts carrying additional responsibility would also be open to women.

Last Wednesday’s vote proved otherwise.

That is why I have now presented a Bill to Parliament which will cancel the exemption the Anglican Church has to continue discriminating against women when it comes to selecting people for leadership positions.

The Bill is narrowly drawn. It does not cover, for example, the Roman Catholic priesthood because, as yet, there is no evidence showing an overwhelming wish of the Catholic laity to have women priests. 

That was not the case with the Church of England. Every measure that Parliament accepts as legislation has to go out to each of the forty four Diocese. In forty two, the bishop, the clergy and the laity agreed to the Women Bishops’ Measure with huge majorities.

Those majorities, backed up by polling evidence showing overwhelming support, was not reflected in the Synod vote. And it is for this reason that I have introduced my Bill.

Parliament, for once, will be a better representative of the Church’s views than its own parliament is on this issue.

 


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