The Church of England's move to accept women bishops further roiled an already troubled Anglican communion Tuesday, infuriating conservatives and complicating efforts to promote unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church of England's ruling body on Monday night voted to back women becoming bishops without giving traditionalist supporters of male-only bishops the concessions they had sought.
The Right Rev. Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham and conservative leader, said the General Synod's decision was muddled, just like one reached at a meeting of bishops in May.
"We should have pulled that debate then and there. It was the wrong time," Wright said.
Monday's decision also caused consternation at the Vatican.
It's "a further obstacle for the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
More than a dozen of the 38 national Anglican churches worldwide have authorized women to serve as bishops, but only four have appointed or elected a woman to the job.
The Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the U.S., is led by a woman, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Disagreement on the role of women has for years been quietly tolerated within the worldwide Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member family of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
But the long-standing divisions over how Anglicans should interpret the Bible erupted in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Conservative Anglicans from Africa and some north American and British churches are outraged at what they consider a "false gospel" that has led churches in the U.S. Canada and elsewhere to accept gay relationships.
The Anglican Communion is under intense pressure in the buildup to this month's Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of all Anglican bishops. Some traditionalist Anglican bishops are boycotting the meeting, which opens July 16, because bishops who consecrated Robinson were invited.
The communion is the third-largest grouping of churches in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
In the Church of England, both sides conceded that the tradition of male-only bishops would be changed. The lengthy debate Monday centered on what accommodation would be given to dissenters.
Hundreds of traditionalists have threatened to leave the British church if sufficient safeguards were not put into place for those who objected.
Advocates of women in the episcopate argue that any concessions would make women second-class bishops.
Monday night's vote authorizes a group to draft a code, which will be put to a vote by the General Synod in February. Further revisions requiring a vote could happen in 2010.
Then a majority of dioceses in England would have to agree to having women as bishops, which would lead to a further vote by the General Synod in 2011 or 2012.
The synod rejected forming a third Church of England archdiocese led by men and voted down another proposal for male "super bishops" who would assume oversight of parishes that reject female priests or bishops.
The Archbishop of York John Sentamu said the Church of England was wasting time on internal politics and ignoring the problems of the world outside.
"So I am praying very hard the Holy Spirit of God will breathe a fresh spirit of understanding into the Church," he said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he did not want to limit the authority women bishops had within the church.
"I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated," Rowan Williams said Monday.
Church of England officials say it is unlikely that any woman would be consecrated as a bishop before 2014. The church has ordained women as priests since 1994, but hasn't allowed them to become bishops.
Wow. Women bishops are "'a further obstacle for the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England?'"
Ouch. That one stings. But women clergy is certainly not the only thing standing in the way of unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and if we were to hold our breaths until real, open, dialogue were to take place between our two churches, we'd all have turned blue and lost consciousness by now, much to my very real sorrow. But it has been my sad experience that "ecumenism" to the Papal Curia means, "Admit you were wrong and do it MY way."
I think this decision was already inevitable in 1994. But welcome news, nonetheless.