LONDON – The consecration of women bishops in the Church of England has suffered a setback after it emerged that the revision committee charged with drafting the legislation has failed to complete it in time for February's General Synod.
Speaking at a pre-Synod briefing on Monday, Secretary General of the General Synod William Fittall dismissed criticism that the revision committee had been careless or deliberately slow, saying that there had been no formal deadline set for the legislation.
He said the delay stemmed from the "avalanche" of submissions received but assured that the legislation would be ready in time for debate at the July Synod.
Fittall said it remained unlikely that the final approval stage for the legislation would be reached before 2012 and that the first woman bishop would not be consecrated before 2014.
"I do not think the fact that the legislation is coming in February rather than July changes that," he said.
In February last year, the Synod voted to send draft legislation on the consecration of women bishops to a revision committee. It also charged the committee with drawing up legislation that would include a Code of Practice to make it possible for those who oppose women bishops to remain within the Church.
Fittall said negotiations over the legislation had been "complex" but insisted that the revision committee had "not been idle," with the thirteenth meeting on it taking place this week.
"The Church of England is trying to see whether there is a way forward that recognizes the diversion of views … in terms of arrangements for those with a different conscience," he said.
"The view that the revision committee is deliberately stalling is without foundation. It is genuinely trying to find a way through."
Christina Rees, chair of WATCH (Women and the Church), said she was "deeply disappointed" by the delay in bringing legislation before Synod. She said she had received calls from members of the Church of England expressing their outrage, among them a retired male priest.
She does not think the delay was a deliberate ploy on the part of the revision committee to slow things down but rather a demonstration of extreme caution because of the contentiousness of the issue.
"It is another indicator that the Church is taking its time and being painstaking about this issue. It is regrettable but at least no one can say that the revision committee has not considered this from all angles," she said.
"We know the direction we are heading in and we will one day have legislation for women bishops and all the delays and upsets and cul-de-sacs that the revision committee has found itself in will come right in the end and we will have good legislation that honors the request of Synod."