Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 12:11 UK

Clergy revolt over women bishops

A bishop's clothing and crucifix
Some clergy members have expressed their opposition to women bishops

Clergy members have written to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to say they will leave the Church of England if women bishops are ordained.

The 1,300 clergy, who include several bishops, also want to have exemption from serving under them.

The letter comes ahead of a series of critical debates on the issue at the Church's ruling synod.

It follows a letter backed by more than 2,000 clergy rejecting special measures for opponents of women bishops.

The church has already agreed in principle to appoint women as bishops, but must now decide whether to provide exemptions to clergy who claim their religious convictions prevent them from accepting the authority of a woman bishop.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says the letter from traditionalist clergy carries a thinly veiled threat to leave the church, unless special measures are put in place.


These include the right to opt out of the oversight of a women bishop and join other parishes under a male bishop.

Canon Beaumont Brandie told the BBC's Today Programme that the church must do something to respect the views of clergy who oppose women bishops.

He said: "Ever since they've had women in any form of sacred ministry, they've always made provision for those of us who couldn't in conscience go along with this development.

"What we've said very clearly in the letter we've addressed, is that if we don't see some provision that offers real ecclesiastical integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead.

"We don't write that in the spirit of throwing down gauntlets, but we want to make our concerns plain at this stage of the debate."

Breakaway group

A rival group, headed by prominent women clergy, have fiercely rejected such measures, saying they were prepared to wait longer for women bishops to avoid what they claimed would be discriminatory laws.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has called for conservative evangelicals to work towards restoring confidence in the Anglican Communion.

He also warned of the dangers of setting up a breakaway church group over such issues as homosexuality.

About 300 bishops - many of them from developing countries - met in Jerusalem last month to discuss the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion, amid fears of a split.

Weren't there a number of women leaders in the early Church?
Edward, Tidsbury

In a statement ahead of a London gathering of the Global Anglican Future conference (Gafcon) movement, Dr Williams said its proposals were "problematic in all sorts of ways".

"It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion," he said.

"If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve."

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