LONDON (Reuters) - The Church of England rejected an attempt by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to accommodate opponents of women bishops, dealing a blow to his authority and increasing the likelihood some traditionalists who favour an all-male clergy will leave the Anglican Communion.
Williams, spiritual head of the world Anglican communion, had tabled an amendment at the church’s General Synod, or parliament, which would have strengthened the legal position of male bishops ministering in dioceses where parishes objected to women bishops.
It would have provided for a so-called nominated bishop, working alongside the female bishop, taking his power from the church rather than the diocesan bishop.
But although the amendment, jointly put forward by Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the church’s second most senior cleric, secured a majority of votes across all three houses of synod, it failed because one, the house of clergy, narrowly voted against.
It is rare for archbishops to propose an amendment, and although there was a good chance it would fail, it still shocked many in the chamber. Calls for calm and for the synod to “hold its nerve” were made as clergy asked for time to seek guidance.
“The archbishops left the door open...I am now gutted,” said one member of the synod, which met in York, northern England.
The archbishops’ loss does not alter the principle of female ordination but it does make further compromise more difficult and increases the prospect of some traditionalists taking up Pope Benedict’s offer made last October which made it easier for disaffected Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism.
It could lead evangelicals to seek guidance elsewhere, taking their growing, often young congregations, with them, as well as their large funds.
The ordination of women, along with homosexual bishops and same-sex marriages, is among the most divisive issues facing the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide.
The CoE began the process of consecrating women bishops five years ago, and other Anglican provinces have them, including the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
APOSTLES ALL MEN
But the CoE has struggled to find a way of keeping traditionalist Anglo Catholics and conservative evangelicals within the same broad church as liberals who are in favour of female bishops.
Conservatives say as Jesus Christ’s apostles were all men, there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops. Liberals say it is insulting not to admit women to positions of power, especially as nearly a third of the CoE’s working priests are female.
The archbishops during the debate had reaffirmed their support of women bishops, but said they were looking for a way to keep the church together.
But some of those in favour of women bishops said they had reacted with “sadness and dismay” at the proposal, saying a system that created two categories of bishop could not work and would lead to inevitable conflict.
“I do not believe this is good news,” Christine Allsopp, archdeacon of Northampton, said.
“I don’t believe this will deliver, and it certainly doesn’t feel good news for women clergy.”
While traditionalists had threatened to leave if their call for further safeguards were not met, some women had likewise suggested they would not be able to work under the archbishops’ proposal.
The synod has about 10 more hours over the next few days to discuss the Revision Committee’s draft legislation which recommends women should be consecrated as bishops on the same basis as men. It proposes a statutory code of practice which would allow traditional parishes to request that a male bishop perform blessings and ordinations to safeguard their interests.
It has a number of hurdles still to get over before England could see its first woman bishop, possibly in 2014.
The synod earlier in the session rejected two amendments which proposed more extreme measures.
Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Ralph Boulton
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