Improved Discipline in the Church of England?
Church aims to put clergy in the dock with modern heresy trials
By Ruth GledhillBishops are thought to be sympathetic to new measures
CLERGY who deny the Virgin Birth or the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ will be tried as heretics under a new measure voted on yesterday at the General Synod of the Church of England. The measure could also be used to try clergy who preach liberal doctrines on homosexuality from the pulpit.
More than 150 lay synod members met separately at the synod at Church House, in Westminster, Central London, yesterday to discuss ways of bringing unbelieving clergy to book. The synod’s house of laity voted by 121-35 for heretic clergy to go on trial. An earlier attempt to put clergy on trial for breaches of doctrine was defeated narrowly at the synod last July.
Although the laity have no power as a house to push the measure through on their own, they are understood to have the support of the bishops.
Margaret Brown, an Anglican Catholic traditionalist from the Chichester diocese, put a motion before the laity making it possible to try clergy on doctrine grounds alone. Clergy suspected of error would be reported by parishioners to their bishops, who would investigate them and, if action was deemed necessary, would bring them to trial before a tribunal of bishops, theologians and laity, chaired by a legally qualified person.
Ultimately, a heretic clergyman or woman could be removed from office — in effect defrocked. But a bishop could also dismiss a complaint as malicious or frivolous. The bishops are understood to be sympathetic to the call from the laity, and heresy trials are expected to come back before the synod in 2006.
The timing is significant because this year the present five-year synod, which operates along parliamentary lines, draws to a close and a new synod will be elected. ... The new synod was likely to be more evangelical and conservative than the present one, reflecting the Church’s swing to the right over sexual and other issues. The new synod — even in the house of clergy — is thought more likely to accept heresy trials for doctrinal error than the present synod was last July. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was among those who supported the measure when it was defeated in the house of clergy by four votes.