Church of England synod to decide on women bishops

Wed, Feb 8, 2012, 00:00

THE CHURCH of England General Synod is to decide today if it can go ahead with plans to appoint women bishops. This followed last-minute disagreements over a compromise that would allow objecting Anglicans to be ministered to by a man.

The issue has divided the Church of England for decades, despite the appointment of women in the Anglican Church. Some now fear it could lead to an exodus of traditional churchgoers to the Catholic Church. Dozens of clergy and hundreds of parishioners have already quit in protest, while significantly larger numbers are expected to go unless they get a guarantee they will not have to deal with a woman bishop.

Under the compromise to be put forward today, a male bishop would be appointed to have a “flying” role – co-ordinate jurisdiction, as it is called – in a diocese where a parish votes against having a female appointee.

If accepted, the compromise would significantly weaken the authority of a woman bishop. because her male counterpart would have a “co-ordinate” role rather than the one envisaged by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, where he would have operated under “delegated” powers from the woman bishop.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Right Rev Peter Price, said a rejection of the compromise would leave the Church of England facing “a substantial period of shock” as there was no Plan B.

The compromise pleases no one. Canon Chris Sugden of the orthodox group Anglican Mainstream said: “They produced a code for two bishops to work together, neither of whom believes in principle in what they are called to do – one to receive delegation from a person they might not regard in episcopal orders, the other to give delegation to which they in principle object.”

Other conservatives opposing a greater role for women have said they are facing “the unsavoury dilemma” of either supporting something that “will lead to disunity and division”, or another five years of debate.

Meanwhile, supporters of women bishops, including the lobby group Women and the Church, have threatened to vote against the legislation in July, as it would create second-class bishops.

If it is accepted today, the legislation will go to a vote of the general synod in York in July and then for parliamentary approval by Westminster.