The Moratoria

I remember feeling very uneasy when the College of Bishops issued its statement earlier this year in which they told us how they intended to comply with the three moratoria being demanded by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

My initial and immediate concern was on realising that two of the bishops now supporting the call not to authorise same sex blessings had themselves at some point in their ministry conducted them. We were told then that: “It is the practice of the individual Bishops neither to give official sanction to such informal blessings, nor to attend them personally.” The more I think about it months later, the more convinced I am that this is unsatisfactory. It did rather fail to acknoweldge that some of them had conducted such blessings and that one of them had been writing on his blog about attending the Civil Partnership of a family member. That seemed to me to be a lack of transparancy, which is why I raised it at General Synod.

However, any remaining faith I might have had that the College of Bishops was acting wisely was blown apart on Saturday when I watched Bishop David trying to defend the first of the moratoria at the first meeeting of the Electoral Synod here in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. (The first moratorium is that the bishops have banned ordinations of persons living in a same gender union from being ordained to the Episcopate). I think Bishop David did his very best with the policy that he had to defend, but ultimately it doesn’t add up. If gay people in partnerships can be ordained as priests then there is no logic to be found in saying that gay people in partnerships can’t be bishops simply because bishops are bishops in the Church of God. People are priests in the Church of God too in our understanding. It is worth noting that our selection policy is that being in such a partnership is not a bar to ordination which is different to that of the Church of England.

How far are those charged with selecting a bishops supposed to enquire? How prurient are they supposed to be? What promises are they supposed to demand of potential candidates?

Why is the episcopate to be denied to gay people on the grounds that the whole church will not accept them, yet women and divorced people are apparently not facing a similar ban when they would themselves be no less acceptable in other lands? Isn’t the church acting outside the boundaries of employment law? Isn’t this a whole new understanding, that bishops must all be acceptable to the whole church? (Historically, you needed three bishops to agree to consecrate someone, not the full episcopal monty).

More importantly for me is the question of whether the first moratorium runs counter to canon law. We have a detailed canon which is very clear about many things. Amongst them it is clear about what can (or more importantly cannot) be asked of people before they can be proposed as candidates or as a conditition of election.

Section 33 of the Canon begins:

No promises, either written or spoken, other than the subscriptions prescribed in Canon 12 shall be required from or given by any person as a condition of proposal as candidate for the bishopric or election as bishop.

(Canon 12 is about subscription to the liturgies and the canons of the church)

I’m not sure why this bit is in Canon 4. I suspect it was a way of ensuring that the Episcopate could not be denied in a blanket ban to any particular theological persuasion or those with particular views on the ordination of women.

Like everyone else who is ordained in the church, the Bishops have made promises themselves, vows even, to uphold the Canon Law of this church.

I’m no canon lawyer, but I can’t see how the first moratorium can be forced upon the church by our bishops. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise.

If the bishops want to change the way in which we elect bishops in the Scottish Episcopal Church then they should come to General Synod with proposals to change Canon 4.


  1. David | Dah•veed says

    Your Canon 12, Sec. 33 sounds to be a moratorium on litmus tests for the episcopacy. The ABC’s moratorium is just that.

    You are a feisty wee Scottish Episcopalian are you not?

    Do not sit down! Do not stop rocking the boat! Do have a care not to fall out!

  2. fr dougal says

    In as far as I understand it, the moratorium has little/no legal force and could probably be successfully challenged in a civil court. The Bishops in adopting it have reached a common mind and policy which it is their perfect right to do. However, we of the plebs sanctae dei should be challenging them. “If it appears to the electorsof this diocese that it is of the Holy Spirit after due process that the Revd Willie McGuffie is the right person to be Bishop of this diocese, do you intend to challenge the collective and prayerful wisdom of this synod just because said person has a civil partnership with Jimmy McSporran?”

  3. Kennedy says

    “…do you intend to challenge the collective and prayerful wisdom of this synod..”

    The problem is that is not how the process works.

    According to Canon 4.10 , after the Preparatory Committee (made up of a selection of Diocesan and Provincial reps, including the Primus and one other Diocesan Bishop) produce a shortlist from the nominations that have been passed to them (from anyone), the College of Bishops have the right to declare any name on the shortlist ‘unacceptable to the College of Bishops’ and that name is removed from the shortlist.

    The reason for a candidate’s unacceptibility is confidential to the College of Bishops. I can’t see anything in the Canon that requires the College of Bishops to inform the Preparatory Committee or, indeed, the potential candidate of the reason for their removal from the draft shortlist.

    However, the appearance of any name on the published list of candidates shall be regarded as evidence that that name is acceptable to the College of Bishops.


  4. pax58 says


  5. Elizabeth says

    Agreed! Canon law, due process, transparency, logic, and the moratoria don’t add up in the slightest. I do hope the College of Bishops has a re-think!


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