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Church of England votes to ordain women bishops

08 July 2008

The Church of England decided last night to consecrate women bishops, with minimum concessions to opponents and despite the threat of a mass exodus of traditionalist clergy.

After one of the most contentious debates faced by the ChurchŪs General Synod, its members voted to allow the consecration of women bishops but rejected compromise proposals for new žsuper bishopsÓ, who would have catered for the objectors.
The decisions, after more than six hours of debate, led to extraordinary scenes at the University of York, with one bishop in tears as he spoke of being žashamedÓ of the Church of England.
The Rt Rev Stephen Venner, Bishop of Dover, who is in favour of women bishops, said that the failure to agree to create žsuper bishopsÓ meant that every opportunity to allow objectors to žflourishÓ within the Church had been turned down.
On the proposal to bring forward legislation to consecrate women bishops, the synod bishops voted by 28 to 12 for the motion, the clergy by 124 to 44 and laity by 111 to 68. There were seven abstentions across all three houses. Legislation will be drawn up, coming back to the synod in February next year, and then go to dioceses for approval. A final vote will require a majority of two thirds from bishops, clergy and laity.
A statutory national code of practice will also be drawn up for those žwho as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priestsÓ.
The decision led to members warning of the prospect of traditionalists seeking supervision from conservative archbishops in overseas provinces, as conservatives have in the US, after the dispute over gay ordination.
Catholic and evangelical bishops are also understood to have held secret talks in Rome to discuss how to proceed with unity talks once women are ordained, and what, if any, kind of recognition might be granted to Anglo-Catholics by Rome.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who urged generous provision for opponents, sat with his head in his hands as a proposal for žsuper bishopsÓ for objectors to women bishops was defeated. The super bishops would have been an upgraded version of the žflying bishopsÓ appointed to care for opponents of women priests.
The synod rejected the plan even though it had the backing of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Under the new proposals to consecrate women, flying bishops will also disappear and parishes will no longer be able to opt into their care instead of that of their diocesan bishop.
Dr Williams told synod members he would be unhappy to see a žsystematic marginalisationÓ of Anglo-Catholics, whom he described as a žnecessary abrasionÓ.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, afterwards condemned the synodŪs move as žprofoundly short-sightedÓ and žmean spirited.Ó
Christina Rees, of the pro-women lobby Women and the Church, welcomed the move to consecrate women with a voluntary code of practice for handling objections as the žlesser of two evilsÓ.
She said: žIt is the result we have been building up to for the last few years. It is very good for the Church, very good for women, very good for the Established Church, good for the whole nation.Ó
Traditionalists must now decide whether to accept women bishops, to leave and seek refuge in the Roman Catholic church, or stay and attempt to fight it at the final hurdle.
The former Archdeacon of York, the Ven George Austin, a leading traditionalist who was watching the debate, walked out almost in tears before the end. He said he will stay in the Church, but only because he is retired. žIf I had been a serving priest, I couldnŪt have stayed,Ó he said.
Father David Houlding, a leading Anglo-Catholic, said: žIt is getting worse. It is going downhill very badly. žThere is a pincer movement and we are being squeezed out.Ó
But during the debate there was minimal support for traditionalists while long applause was given to strong speeches in favour of straightforward legislation to consecrate women with only a code of practice to safeguard opponentsŪ concerns.
Traditionalists were aware that they were unlikely to get backing from the synod for a separate diocese or province. They pinned their hopes instead on the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Right Rev John Packer, who proposed plans for žsuper bishopsÓ.
The bishops were divided equally on the proposal, with 21 for and 21 against, and one abstention. A majority of the laity backed it w*ith 98 for and 87 against but the clergy voted it down by 92 to 84.
The Rt Rev Venner said: žWe have talked for hours about wanting to give an honourable place for those who disagreed. We have turned down almost every opportunity for those opposed to flourish.Ó
Milestones to the mitre
1975 General Synod says žthere are no fundamental objections to ordination of women to priesthoodÓ
1984 Decides to ordain women deacons
1992 Gives final approval. Royal Assent granted and Act of Synod passed to create žflying bishopsÓ for opponents
1994 First women priest ordained
2000 Archdeacon of Tonbridge, Judith Rose, brings motion to synod calling for debate on women bishops
2005 After two working party reports, synod agrees to žset in train the process for removing the legal obstaclesÓ
2006 Synod agrees women bishops žwould be consonant with the faith of the ChurchÓ and sets up legislative working group under the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch
July 2008 Synod votes for women bishops and draws up code of practice for traditionalists
2015 Probable earliest time for potential consecration of first woman bishop

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, TIMESONLINE

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