The Church of England’s proposals for complementary male bishops have stirred up concerns among supporters as well as opponents of women bishops.
Draft legislation, published Monday, outlined plans for a “national code of practice” under which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York could appoint complementary male bishops to offer pastoral care and perform functions for parishes opposed to the ministry of women.
Campaign group WATCH (Women and the Church) welcomed provisions in the legislation paving the way for women to become bishops but expressed concern over arrangements restricting the rights of bishops who are women.
The group’s chair, Christina Rees, particularly expressed strong opposition to the provision of male-only suffragan sees from which the complementary bishops would be appointed.
WATCH, she added, was “dismayed” that there was still no equality of opportunity for women in the Church episcopate.
“This report needs to be seen in the context of a General Synod which has for the past few years stated its desire to open the episcopate to women, and in the wider context of a Church which wonders why this is taking so long,” she said.
“WATCH will be making submissions to the Revision Committee about the contents of the Code of Practice, some of which we find unacceptable, but for now, we take heart that at last we have the draft measure which makes it possible for women to be bishops.”
WATCH said it was pleased that the draft legislation upholds the authority of diocesan bishops and that the delegation of certain functions to another bishop is not automatic. If a diocesan bishop did refuse to transfer power, parishes seeking alternative pastoral care would be left to challenge the decision with a judicial review.
Rod Thomas, spokesman for the evangelical Anglican group Reform, voiced concern for a future beset by legal wrangles.
"Unless bishops, in the future, are always going to respond to requests from petitioning parishes we're in danger of coming up with a set of proposals that will lead to these issues being tackled in the high court. The church is creating scope for a highly injurious number of court cases,” he said, according to The Guardian.
He added: "There is also the theological concern that although a woman is made a bishop, she is made one in a way that is contrary to the teachings in the Bible."
The draft measure will be put before the Church of England’s General Synod in London in February.