Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Women bishops pass first hurdle

Church of England synod
The issue of woman bishops has divided the Church

New rules allowing women bishops in the Church of England have passed their first hurdle at the general synod.

The Church's national assembly voted, after a two-hour debate, to send draft legislation allowing women to revision committee stage.

The rules have been described as a compromise between those who support women clergy and traditionalists.

Some clergy say they will join the Catholic Church if they are not excused from serving under women bishops.

The synod heard from traditionalists who wanted greater safeguards from women bishops and pro-female ordination campaigners who believed the proposals did not go far enough.

Leading traditionalist, The Rev Rod Thomas from Plymouth, attacked the plans and urged the synod to throw out the proposals.

What I see before me in the proposed legislation is an episcopacy so damaged and fractured as to be scarcely worthy of the name
Rev Graham James,
He said: "This leaves us very clearly with a feeling that our ministry in the church is simply being tolerated rather than being given the space where our ministry is encouraged to flourish," he said.

And the Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Rev Martyn Jarrett, said there was "no parity" while one group - women bishops - would be protected by law but traditionalists could only rely on a code of practice.

But the motion was also attacked by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, who supports the consecration of women bishops.

He said: "I believe that women should and will be ordained to the episcopate but what I see before me in the proposed legislation is an episcopacy so damaged and fractured as to be scarcely worthy of the name.

"I cannot see any amendments that would render it satisfactory."

The synod was urged by other pro-female ordination campaigners to back sending the legislation for revision in spite of reservations.

Christina Rees, from Barley, Royston, Herts, said: "I tend to agree with the friend of mind who described these proposals as a jigsaw put together with a hammer, some of the pieces don't quite fit properly."

Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, chaplain to Durham University, urged traditionalists opposed to the measure to remember the "sacrifices" made by pro-ordination campaigners.


She said: "Please understand the sacrifices you are asking women campaigners to make in accepting this legislation based on a code of practice and please do be prepared to meet us half way as this draft legislation suggests."

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, who headed the group who drew up the proposals, urged the synod to send the draft legislation to its next stage.

He assured doubters that "everything" was reviewable at revision committee.

And he warned the synod that throwing out the legislation would mean the legislative process would be at an "end" and it would then be up to others to decide what proposals to bring forward on the issue.

He added it would be "tragic" if the Church of England were to "lift up its hands in horror" and stall at the first major hurdle.

He also warned that throwing out the proposals would "certainly mean that the prospect of women bishops would recede by several years".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who supports the ordination of women bishops, said it was unclear whether the current proposals were "good news", either for women or for those who oppose the ordination of women.

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