Why did the HoB take a decision about the eligibility of clergy in CPs becoming bishops?

I’ve received emails from both the Bishop of Sodor and Man and from William Fittall and I’m grateful to both of them for replying. They help to complete parts of the picture but still leave questions unanswered.

Robert Paterson says he would have no hesitation about making the document produced by his working party public, but it is no longer their document, nor the paper written to accompany it which Archbishop Rowan asked to be circulated to the House.  If the House were to agree to their being made public he would have no objection whatever.

From this, we learn that a document and an accompanying paper were written. We also learn that Bishop Robert is happy for the document and paper to be made public.

The Sodor and Man group was superseded by the work of the House Standing Committee after the May House of Bishops meeting and his group had no further part in the work after May.

William Fittall confirms that the Sodor and Man group completed its work in May. The House had a first discussion in May and committed itself to returning to the subject in December.

For the discussion in December, he says, the House had a number of additional papers including an interim report from the Pilling group. He says that the report submitted by +Robert’s group in May and the subsequent papers were confidential to the House.

So from this we learn that additional papers were written, but not who wrote them or what their subject matter was.

The House of Bishops’ statement of July 2011 left open the prospect that the work of +Robert’s group would cover more aspects of the 2005 statement than are touched on in the decision reached by the House in December. The group did take evidence and reflect on a range of issues. But, as the summary of conclusions makes clear, the House decided that now was not the time for a further pastoral statement pending the conclusion of the Pilling work.

William says he is not clear where my confusion lies. Confusion lies in understanding why this element of the Sodor and Man group’s work was selected for a decision now, and why the summary of decisions taken at the House of Bishops meeting in December was so difficult to interpret. The Thinking Anglicans Comments thread and Christina Beardsley’s blog both show that people were confused.

Changing Attitude specifically asked the Sodor and Man group to deal with our question as to whether the same rules on civil partnerships applicable to clergy applied also to Readers. We have been asking this question for 3 years and were promised by Bishop Robert that they would indeed address this.

I don’t understand why the House of Bishops decided to make a decision about the eligibility of clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops when every other aspect of the work of the Sodor and Man group has been subsumed in the Pilling group which won’t report until December.

It is a decision guaranteed to be unpopular with the Global South/GAFCON/FoCA networks. There was no urgent need, was there, to make a decision about this specific issue? Or was there legal advice that required a decision now, or a pastoral or pragmatic need. Is there a priest in a civil partnership who the House of Bishops want to ensure could now be eligible for the episcopate. The Church of England is in other respects showing little real urgency in making progress towards a radical review of church teaching about homosexuality.

In the absence of answers to these questions, speculation about the content of documents and the reason for taking this particular decision will continue.


  1. says

    This is fascinating stuff Colin whichever side of the debate one is. In my recent blog post on this subject I pondered whether the recent Conservative responses were triggered by inside knowledge of a change in policy based on alteration of the legal advice given at the time of Southwark. Perhaps that is the pertinent question to ask the House of Bishops, whether they still hold to the entirety of that legal advice.

    • Changing Attitude says

      Thanks Peter. Curiosity about the reasons for the announcement remains strong! How do you ask the House of Bishops a question, though? Inevitably it is going to be answered by a member of staff at Church House, unless asked at General Synod, for which we have to wait until July. Yours is a good question.

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