In paragraph 9, we are asked to co-operate with those with whom we differ, and share as much as we can in mission and ministry within our dioceses. This will require continued engagement – or re-engagement – with the structures of the deanery and diocese.
By calling for co-operation ‘to the maximum possible extent’, the Declaration recognizes that there will be limits to the extent of such co-operation (for example, with regard to the celebration of the sacraments).
We are asked to recognize that theological arguments are advanced in favour of ordaining women as priests and bishops. (However much women’s ordination owes to secular liberalism, that is not its only source). Equally, the Declaration recognizes our position as one of ‘theological conviction’ (not backward conservatism or misogyny).
Paragraph 10 calls for sensitivity to our feelings of vulnerability. It also calls on us to be sensitive to those whose ministry we cannot receive. In doing so, the Declaration again recognizes and accepts that, for theological reasons, not everyone will receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops.
In paragraph 11 the House of Bishops says that there ‘should’ be a diocesan or suffragan bishop who ordains women to the priesthood in every diocese. The House appears not to have noticed the irony involved in calling for this in a section headed ‘reciprocity’ which includes no call for a diocesan or suffragan in each diocese who does not ordain women.
Paragraph 12 allows diocesan vacancy in see committees to request a bishop who will ordain women. The previous ban on their doing so has not prevented the appointment of bishops who ordain women to all but two diocesan sees, so its removal is no great loss.
The paragraph also states that it will be possible for men who do not ordain women to be appointed as diocesan bishops, and also for dioceses to request that. Whether such appointments will occur often – or even at all – seems doubtful (though we can never be sure what the future holds). None the less, it is significant that, twenty years after the first women were ordained to the priesthood, the House of Bishops has affirmed, with the agreement of the General Synod, that unwillingness to ordain women is not a bar to appointment as a diocesan bishop.
The call for a bishop to support female clergy in a diocese whose diocesan does not ordain women priests is the counterpart to the role of our bishops in ministering to our clergy in the overwhelming majority of dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not share our view.
Paragraph 13 makes another important statement: ‘It is important that senior leadership roles within dioceses continue to be filled by people from across the range of traditions’. We might quibble with the word ‘continue’, since in the great majority of dioceses there is no traditional catholic in any leadership position, and some are effectively one-party states.
What is important, is that the Declaration now calls for diversity. If bishops cannot show that they are doing all in their power to achieve such diversity within the leadership of their dioceses, this statement in the Declaration will enable us to raise that as a concern with the Independent Reviewer. Under the Act of Synod there was effectively nothing that we could do.
There are encouraging signs that those responsible, on behalf of the House of Bishops, for policy concerning senior appointments, and the development of clergy who might be suitable for them, are now beginning to consider how they can work towards making such diversity a reality.