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A difficult compromise
Women bishops: a debate that divides the Church of England
12 years of legal battles until a major effort was made in recent months to find a compromise on the delicate knot of the ordination of women bishops that would preserve Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals who oppose such ordinations whilst preventing distancing of those who support it. In the end, the General Synod tasked with finding a solution closed on July 10 without having reached an agreement. The General Synod passed a motion to adjourn the Final Approval debate to be reconsidered by the House of Bishops in September. It’s all postponed. The controversial chapters of the draft legislation refer to those parishes who object to the ministry of women bishops. An amendment to the legislation stipulates that such parishes could ask for the ministry of a male bishop who has never ordained women and who opposes the consecration of women as bishops. The supporters of the priestly ordination of women rejected the proposal thus compelling the Church of England to start anew.
A difficult task. The task that that awaits Anglican bishops next September is not easy. In fact, it’s not clear how the legislation providing for the ordination of women bishops could satisfy the different stands. It’s all in a clause, 5-1-c. Those who want women ordination claim that it must be repealed. Those against, such as Anglican Catholics and Evangelicals, threaten to leave unless the amendment is kept. Now the bishops are tasked with finding a midway solution that will make everyone happy. “The General Synod of the ‘Church of England’ - father Robert Byrne, spokesperson for ecumenism of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales told SIR Europe - resembles the activity of a parliament. It is thus obliged to find a solution that will satisfy all the faithful. With the adjournment Anglican bishops have more time to reflect on the question of the ordination of women to episcopacy, which must be formulated in a fair way for everyone. The decision of the ‘Church of England’ to follow this direction remains a great obstacle to ecumenical unity, for which we must continue to work”.
An obstacle to ecumenicsm. Also Anglican primate Rowan Williams is convinced that women episcopacy in the Anglican environment may constitute a further standstill to the ecumenical progress. He said to SIR Europe: “The approval of legislation introducing the priestly ordination of women in the Church of England will be a problem for the Catholic Church. We are aware of this, and we regret it. But we are equally committed to preserving mutual respect and to the quest for unity”. Rowan Williams recalled the times of great ecumenical hope, at the end of the 1960s, when it was felt that the rapprochement of the two Churches was drawing close: “I don’t think those times will return. But it’s also true that the personal relations between the two Churches today are much better than they used to be. The bishops of the two Churches meet regularly. This makes me feel optimistic”, he said.
The debate. The decision regarding the priestly ordination of women, in 1994, caused hundreds of faithful and pastors to distance themselves, and many of them joined the Catholic Church. 3.000 women have been ordained to date, one every three Anglican priests. The next step of women bishops is causing a hot debate between those in favour and those against. Christina Rees, who supports the priestly ordination of women, told SIR: “The clause introduced by the bishops embeds a discriminating understanding of women that we oppose, as we consider men and women equal to the eyes of God”. Reverend Rod Thomas has a different view. “Those who support women bishops won’t be happy until all the expressions that protect us are removed and there will no longer be place for us inside the church. If we are not protected by the law we are doomed to disappear”. Rev Rod Thomas represents the evangelicals who oppose the ordination of women on the basis of their belief that the Bible ascribes to men and women different roles inside the Church. He added: “Ours are among the churches with the highest attendance, congregations of hundreds of thousands of faithful, constituting almost 20% of all faithful and we could decide to leave”. The bishop of Oxford John Pritchard, who guides the second most important diocese of the “Church of England” with 650 pastors, 250 of whom are women, are instead in favour of women bishops. “It is a lack of trust in women to ask for them to be compelled by law to give up the parishes that don’t want them”. The bishop of Blackburn Nicholas Reade belonging to the Anglo-Catholic area of the “Church of England” cherishes the hope to reunite with the Catholic Church and sees women ordination as a new obstacle. “The protection provided for by the bishops with Clause 5-1-c is the least that the Church can do as a guarantee. I really don’t think that our Church, part of a single apostolic, Catholic Church, has the authority to proceed with women episcopacy in a unilateral manner”.