Page last updated at 14:09 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Anglican dissidents put back decision on Vatican offer

Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham
Bishop Burnham says he is "not taking bookings" after July

A leading opponent of women bishops in the Church of England says he has put back a decision on converting to Rome after a vote on the issue was delayed.

Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, said he had "not taken bookings" after the General Synod vote next month.

But after the Synod vote was put off to July, Bishop Burnham said he was now "not taking bookings" after then.

He and other opponents of women bishops are concerned that the Synod will not grant their leaders enough autonomy.

The disagreement centres on the powers of those bishops - like Andrew Burnham - who are appointed to minister to parishes which oppose women priests.

Those like Bishop Burnham do not want such powers to be granted at the discretion of the local diocesan bishop - who may in future be a woman.

Joining Rome

But supporters of women priests and bishops mean this would make a woman bishop a "second-class" bishop because she would not have the same control over her diocese that a male bishop would.

There have been predictions that a breach will lead to opponents of women priests from the catholic wing of the C of E leaving the Church to join the Roman Catholics.

I think... the response to the Apostolic Constitution... should be considered on its own terms, and not in reaction to a Synodical debate
Andrew Burnham
Bishop of Ebbsfleet

Last November, the Vatican published the text of an "Apostolic Constitution" setting out arrangements for groups of Anglicans who are discontented at developments in the Anglican Communion worldwide to form special groupings - "ordinariates" within the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Burnham, and the Bishop of Richborough, Keith Newton, who is also appointed to look after parishes opposing women in the priesthood, warmly welcomed the Pope's move.

They said they had designated 22 February as "an appropriate day for priests and people to make an initial decision as to whether they wish to respond positively to and explore further the initiative of the Apostolic Constitution".

This would have been after the Church of England's General Synod, meeting in London on 8-12 February, debated the question of women bishops.

But this week it was revealed that the Synod would not now debate women bishops until its session in York on 9-13 July.


Bishop Burnham told the BBC News website after the delay was announced that he and his colleagues viewed 22 February "as a day of discernment and prayer, and not a day of decision".

On the timing of the Synod debate, he said: "We were comfortable that 22nd February was later than the planned debate and are now uncomfortable that the Synod debate is not happening until July.

"I think, however, the response to the Apostolic Constitution... should be considered on its own terms, and not in reaction to a Synodical debate.

"My own position is that, having previously not 'taken bookings' after 22nd February - lest I give the impression that we should make do with whatever the Synod chooses to prescribe - so I am not, for now, taking bookings after the July Synod.

"What happens thereafter is something which I myself shall be taking to the Lord in prayer on 22nd February."

None appointed

Last week Canon Dr Alison Peden failed in her attempt to become the first female bishop of a major Church in the UK.

She had been on a shortlist of three for the role of bishop of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Church in Wales voted against the ordination of female bishops in April 2008. They are permitted by the Church of Ireland, although none has been appointed.

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