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Australia appoints first woman Anglican bishop

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia’s Anglican church appointed its first woman bishop on Friday, but moved to avoid further tension with church conservatives by allowing parishes to opt out if they do not like a woman being in charge.

The appointment of Perth-based Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy, 51, as an assistant bishop comes 16 years after Australia’s Anglicans ordained the first women into the priesthood.

Anglican women bishops currently serve in New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

“In terms of women in the Australian church, this is a day that has been long anticipated and one we have been waiting for, hoping for, praying for and working towards,” Goldsworthy told Australian television on Friday.

“There will be women all around the country, and men, who will be celebrating.”

Goldsworthy will be consecrated as bishop on May 22, in a move likely to further anger conservatives, including the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, who has been an outspoken critic of the ordination of women and gay priests.

When the Anglican church cleared the last legal hurdle for women bishops last September, Jensen expressed his disappointment and said the move would create difficulties for the church for decades.

But Anglican bishops met earlier this week and agreed to a new protocol on women bishops, which allow individual parishes to opt out and with a male bishop to be offered to oversee that parish.

Goldsworthy, who is married with twin boys, was one of Australia’s first women priests and was ordained in 1992.

She said she did not expect her appointment would create a new rift within Australia’s Anglican church, saying critics would accept the new rules.

“I expect that they will feel that this is not what they want. But we’re clear about the principles that they hold,” she said.

“I’ve travelled a path where there’s always been someone or some group that doesn’t agree or doesn’t want to receive your ministry, so I won’t feel slighted,” she later told Australian Associated Press.

The Anglican church is the second largest in Australia, with about 4 million of Australia’s 21 million people, behind the Catholic church with about 5 million followers.

Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by David Fox