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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 July 2006, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Head to head: Women bishops
The Church of England's ruling body is discussing the divisive issue of whether ordaining women as bishops can be justified theologically.

Here an opponent and a supporter give their views.

OPPONENT: SISTER ANNE WILLIAMS, CHURCH ARMY

One of the main difficulties is that the bishop is the sign of unity within the diocese, and to actually have a woman bishop whose orders cannot be recognised by everyone... that causes great confusion.

Bishops' cross
Sister Anne Williams said she does not recognise women priests

There will be those of us who will not be able to make a loyal declaration to a diocesan who is a woman because we don't recognise her orders.

I do not accept the ordination of women priests was the rightful way for the Church of England to go.

I will work with a woman priest as far as I can, but that cannot be anything sacramental because I do not recognise that she has a priestly function.

I myself am a woman in ministry and I can work with them to a certain extent - and have done - but I cannot recognise that women can have priestly orders.

I look to our Lord when he brought together his 12 disciples at the Last Supper and said: 'Do this in remembrance of me.' He instituted the mass at this time and he did it with his male disciples around him.

It's been said that he couldn't have had women there, but of course he could because he treated women in a very different way to the way they had been treated.

I think that's a very clear sign for me that the priesthood ought to remain a male dominion.

SUPPORTER: ROBERT KEY, MP and ECCLESIASTICAL COMMITTEE MEMBER

We must win the theological argument first and I believe the theological argument is sound.

Robert Key
Robert Key says the theological argument is sound

I think the way that St Paul taught, you read it in the gospels - there is a lot of evidence.

Imagine the shock for St Paul turning up in Ephesus and finding that all the chief priests were women. This was a huge education for him which is why he started rationalising and saying 'keep the basic truth of Christ message, but move it on'.

And then the Church of England has to decide whether it is in the great and grand tradition of the Church since the Reformation - and it is, in my view, very much so.

We really can't go on when more than 50% of the ordinans in the Church are women but can't be bishops.

Sister Anne is so fortunate because she has a wonderful vocation, she does a fantastic job, but she doesn't wish to be a female priest or bishop.

But there is a lot of angst and pain among women with a real vocation for the priesthood and the episcopate - and we've said no, which I believe is quite illogical now.

It's theologically sound, in the tradition of the Church of England, and it is time to move on.

In today's debate it's not really a question of saying is it right or is it wrong, because in principle we've said yes and we've had women priests for a decade.

It's a question of when should we do it and how should we do it.

The message is that the Church carries its message forward - the fundamental truth in different ways to different places at different times. Maybe not by 2010 but by 2020 I would be very surprised if there weren't [women bishops].



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