Church of England split on women bishops
By Meera Selva
LONDON — The Church of England’s ruling body has voted its support for women to become bishops without giving traditionalist supporters of male-only priesthood the concessions they had sought.
One bishop broke down in tears at the meeting of senior British church leaders Monday in York, northern England, as he described his distress at the church’s lack of willingness to accommodate traditionalists who have threatened to leave if they felt they were not adequately protected.
"I feel ashamed," said the Right Rev. Stephen Venner, Bishop of Dover, who is in favor of women bishops. "We have talked for hours about wanting to give an honorable place to those who disagree. We have been given opportunities for both views to flourish. We have turned down every, almost realistic opportunity for those who are opposed, to flourish."
Both sides conceded that tradition of male-only bishops would be changed, and the lengthy debate centered on what accommodation would be given to dissenters. This was not billed as a final decision; church legislation to implement the change is to be debated next year.
More than a dozen other Anglican churches around the world have authorized women to serve as bishops. The Episcopal church, the Anglican body in the U.S., is led by a woman, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
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 had argued that any concessions would effectively make women second-class bishops.
The synod — composed of bishops, clergy and laity — rejected a traditionalist proposal for new "super bishops" who would cater to objectors. Some traditionalists believe church leaders should be men, as were Jesus and the 12 apostles.
Instead, the General Synod voted for a code of practice to deal with the sensitivities of traditionalists.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, 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," he said.
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.
The women’s ordination vote also complicates Anglican relations with the Roman Catholic Church, which does not ordain women. Leaders of the two traditions have been meeting regularly in an effort to find unity.
The Vatican on Tuesday condemned the Church of England’s support for women to become bishops, saying the decision is an obstacle to reconciliation and will have repercussions on dialogue.
The decision is a "further obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England," said a statement by Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Kasper expressed "regret" at a move that breaks with tradition.
"For the future, this decision will have consequences for dialogue, which so far had been fruitful," said the statement.
The Anglicans split from Rome more than four centuries ago when King Henry VIII bolted in 1534 over the pope’s refusal to grant him an annulment.
But as difficult as the issue is, the differing views of the Bible and homosexuality have been more divisive to the overall communion, a 77 million-member family of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. It is the third-largest grouping of churches in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and has always held together different views.
Already, Williams, the Anglican spiritual head, is under intense pressure in the buildup to this month’s Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of all Anglican bishops, over the homosexuality issue. Some traditionalist Anglican bishops are boycotting the meeting, which opens July 16.
At a meeting in Jerusalem in late June of conservative Anglicans from Africa and some north American and British churches, participants expressed outrage at what they consider a "false gospel" that has led churches in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere to accept gay relationships.
Long-standing divisions over how Anglicans should interpret the Bible erupted in 2003 when the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church comprises only a tiny part of the world’s Anglicans. But the wealthy U.S. denomination covers about one-third of the communion’s budget.
Within the Episcopal Church, most parishioners either accept gay relationships or don’t want to split up over homosexuality. However, a small minority of Episcopal traditionalists are fed up with church leaders.