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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 November 2006, 09:01 GMT
Church 'in need of women priests'
Two women priests
The Church of England first ordained women as priests in 1994
The Church of England would struggle in the future without women priests, researchers claim.

English Church Census figures show that half of priests ordained in recent years were women. There were 1,262 serving women priests in 2002.

University of Manchester researchers say that, without women priests, pulpits would become "depopulated".

The findings follow the Archbishop of Canterbury's suggestion that they had failed to transform the church.

Rowan Williams, in an interview with the Catholic Herald newspaper earlier this month, said he did not think women priests - first ordained in 1994 - had "transformed or renewed the Church in spectacular ways" nor had they "corrupted or ruined it".

Women are not yet allowed to become bishops and they are far more likely to be 'second class' clergy
David Voas
University of Manchester

The University of Manchester's David Voas said: "Close to a quarter of male parish priests are 60 or older and their average age is 54.

"Without women, the pulpits would become as depopulated as the pews in the years to come."

It was not surprising women clergy seemed not to have made an impact because the Church was "far from being an equal opportunity employer", he added.

"Women are not yet allowed to become bishops and they are far more likely to be 'second class' clergy.

"Most of the men who became priests in 2005 went into paid 'stipendiary' ministry, while most of the women are in voluntary posts."

Archbishop's apology

Other denominations were also more likely to favour male ministers over their female counterparts, he said.

The census found there were no women at all in churches which had congregations of 330 or more on a typical Sunday.

"Well over half of women ministers in all denominations serve in rural areas with very few found in the flagship city centre churches," Mr Voas said.

"The larger the church, the more likely it is that a man will be put in charge."

Dr Williams has apologised for how he phrased his recent comments about women priests.

The archbishop of Canterbury told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme, that he had not expressed himself very clearly.



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