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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 19:24 GMT
Flying bishop backs 'third province'
Right Rev Andrew Burnham
The bishop covers 120 parishes in 13 diocese
The Church of England is considering plans to allow a "male clergy only" branch to resolve the row about whether women can be consecrated as bishops.

When the first women priests were ordained 10 years ago, three traditionalist "flying bishops" were established for those parishes which would not accept a female clergy.

They carry out confirmations, baptisms and ordinations in traditional parishes on behalf of the local bishop.

The diocesan bishops retain authority over their areas, but agree that flying bishops can offer "extended pastoral care" on their behalf.

The new proposal would take this further, establishing a new, parallel, branch which could have its own archbishop, bishops and training colleges but no female clergy.

One of the flying bishops is the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham, who thinks the proposal could be the best solution all round.

There would continue to be huge areas of common interest and co-operation, all we would be doing is removing the border skirmishes
Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham
"I think it's a way forward that includes everybody," he told BBC News.

"I think all the other solutions are either extremely sexist, like saying to women priests: 'You can help out dear, but you can't be in charge' or saying to all traditional parishes; 'I'm sorry but you can't carry on like this, you will have to knuckle under with us or leave."

Bishop Burnham spends four days a week on the road, covering 120 parishes from Stoke on Trent, to Lands End, to the Welsh border and the edge of Sheffield.

He says the system has worked well, but has left some grey areas, such as legal responsibilities for filling parish vacancies, and occasional conflicts of interest.

He believes a "third province" would help correct them and would work in everyone's interests, as well as freeing the church of the divisive battle over women priests and bishops.

"There would continue to be huge areas of common interest and co-operation, all we would be doing is removing the border skirmishes," he said.

"We would have in place something that was a bit more separate, with not so many grey areas.

"The challenge would be how to avoid being a 'Mickey Mouse church' - but I think we are a long way off that."

Women priests: The first 10 years
10 Mar 04 |  Bristol/Somerset
Primate praises 'flying bishops'
03 Mar 04 |  North Yorkshire

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