34. At ordination and on taking up any office in the Church of England priests and deacons are required under Canon C 14 to swear or affirm that they will “pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of C and his successors in all things lawful and honest.” Bishops are similarly required to take an oath of due obedience to the archbishop of the province. Clergy and bishops also take an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and make the Declaration of Assent.
35. These Oaths and the Declaration are important because they each involve recognition that a person does not exercise ministry in isolation or on their own authority but within a framework of relationship with others and within the tradition of faith as the Church of England has received it. The House acknowledges that the taking of the oath to the diocesan bishop or the oath of due obedience to the archbishop may, in future, raise issues for those who, for theological reasons, remain committed to a male episcopate and priesthood.
36. Nevertheless, the House believes that all ministers of the Church of England will be able, in good conscience, to take the oath. Doing so adds nothing legally to the duty of canonical obedience, which already exists in law. Rather, it is a recognition of the pattern of relationships which underpins the exercise of ministry by those who make and receive the oath. It follows from the guiding principles set out in paragraph 5 above, and the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition which they acknowledge, that the giving and receiving of the oath does not entail acting contrary to theological conviction.
This issue is a challenging one for Conservative Evangelicals, for whom owing obedience to women in positions of authority (‘headship’) is difficult.
For Catholics, by contrast, the issue is one of order, not jurisdiction. If jurisdiction had been a problem for us, female archdeacons and female diocesan chancellors (both offices that confer ordinary jurisdiction) would have been problematic.
Therefore, however strange or uncomfortable it may feel, it should be possible to acknowledge the duty of obedience to women who hold the office of diocesan bishop (noting that this does not include obedience to commands that the law does not empower a bishop to give). We note, too, that the canonical oath requires clergy to refer to the diocesan bishop as ‘the Lord Bishop’, regardless of his or her sex – a reminder that the role of bishop is inherently masculine (the canonical definition of a diocesan bishop as a ‘Father in God’ remains unamended).
What we cannot receive – directly or indirectly – is the episcopal and priestly ministry of women, and the House of Bishops’ Declaration makes full provision for our position.