The Church of England has reached an historic agreement on the consecration of women bishops.
After years of struggle to avoid schism, bishops have agreed a formula that enshrines the principle of equality for male and female bishops while appeasing opponents of women’s ordination. The first women bishops could take their place in the Church of England within three years.
The deal, published in a new report yesterday, provides for a class of “complementary” traditionalist bishop for parishes that refuse to accept a woman diocesan bishop. Such “flying” bishops would have to abide by the authority of the woman bishop, according to the accompanying code of practice.
Supporters of women’s ordination welcomed the agreement to recognise male and female bishops as equal but many are unhappy about the guarantee of a place for parishes “unable” to accept the ministry of women bishops.
Traditionalists drew comfort from the report’s provision for the continuation of the Anglo-Catholic male-only priesthood in the Church of England. However, many remain bitterly opposed to the principle of women bishops. There is expected to be fierce fighting over the detail when the Church’s General Synod discusses the proposed legislation and code of practice in February.
The Church faces a potentially disastrous series of court battles. Because the code of practice will not be legally binding, a militantly liberal diocesan bishop could refuse to delegate his or her authority to a traditionalist as petitioned by an Anglo-Catholic parish. The parish will then be entitled to seek a judicial review, leading to costly legislation and damaging publicity.
The dilemma over women bishops is exponentially greater than that over women priests and has threatened to be more schismatic even than the debates over gays. Christina Rees, of Women and the Church, said that she was “very pleased” with the published draft measure, but the group warned that the very existence of complementary bishops could undermine the authority of women.
The Rev Rod Thomas, the chairman of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said: “The outlook is very sad. We now have the prospect of much wrangling in the General Synod.”
I love the use of the fear of Roman Catholic reaction. Since the Catholic Church has declared that all Anglican ordinations are invalid, it doesn't matter who we have as bishops, either, now does it?
This decision merely opens the way for female bishops. Since there aren't any in the pipeline, yet, it will probably be years before a woman is actually selected.