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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 15:08 GMT
Women bishops stir Church's fears
By Alex Kirby
BBC News

Women priests being ordained
The decision to ordain women priests was a controversial one
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, must be thinking ruefully now that holy problems never come in ones.

Two weeks after the worldwide Anglican Communion was convulsed over the place of gay and lesbian clergy, another row has broken out over the role of women.

The Church of England, the original Anglican church, must now grasp the nettle over appointing women bishops.

To some of the faithful it is logically the next step: to others it will sound the traditional church's death knell.

The dispute over homosexual clergy embroils the entire Anglican church, with around 70 million members, while the issue of women bishops concerns only the much smaller English mother church. But it is already being fought just as bitterly.

Women have been eligible for ordination as priests in England for 10 years, and logically there is no reason why they should not become bishops, the church's spiritual leaders and managerial elite.

There shouldn't be any fuss about whether they are men or women, but just whether they are good bishops or not
Christina Rees, Women and the Church

In logic and in justice, many churchgoers say, the Church of England should follow the example of many other Anglican churches elsewhere and shatter the glass ceiling.

But that is to ignore the festering sore left by the bitterness of the 1994 decision to ordain women priests.

The church prizes unity almost more than anything, and to keep it united its governing body, the general synod, decided 10 years ago to bend over backwards to keep the traditionalists on board.

It set up a parallel system which allowed any parish objecting to women priests to refuse to have anything to do with its local bishop.

Instead, the parishes were cared for by one of three so-called "flying bishops" - fellow traditionalists who shared their belief that the ordained ministry was strictly a men-only affair.

That system persists to this day, and it means that significant parts of the Church of England are more or less no-go areas for women clergy, who now account for about 20% of the ordained ministry.

Woman clergy-free zone

So the synod's decision to ordain women remains compromised by its maintenance of a system that tells them to stay out of where they are unwelcome.

The argument over bishops could be resolved along similar lines, with traditionalists barricading women priests and bishops out of their parishes, retaining their own all-male episcopate, but still calling themselves members of the Church of England.

This is how the planned third province would work - not a geographical area like the existing provinces of Canterbury and York, but a woman clergy-free zone across the country.

The theology of who is right and wrong is for Anglicans alone to decide, if anyone can.

What seems impossible to maintain much longer is the peculiarly Anglican pretence that people holding flatly contradictory beliefs can stay in the same church. Something's got to give.


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