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Church of England May Allow Women Bishops despite Threats of Split

Article excerpt

The Church of England is facing the threat of a major split and years of turmoil over a vote by the church's General Synod to allow the consecration of women as Anglican bishops.

The vote on July 7 authorized the formation of a group to draft a code to be put to a Synod vote next year. A ballot of dioceses in England will be required before a further vote by the General Synod in 2012 at the earliest.

Opening the path toward allowing women bishops was criticized as having negative effects on ecumenical relations, according to statements from the Vatican and from the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some European Lutherans praised the step.

Women priests have been ordained in the Church of England since 1994.

Elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, ten provinces allow women bishops, but only four--the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and Anglican churches in Canada, Australia and New Zealand--currently have women serving as bishops.

At the Synod meeting last month, bishops voted 28 to 12 to move forward on the issue of female bishops; the clergy voted 124-44 and the laity 111-68 in favor.

The debate prompted the church's No. 2 official, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, to lambaste the church for wasting time on internal politics while ignoring the problems of the world outside.

"Jesus Christ is in the streets weeping," Sentamu fumed in a separate speech before the vote. "Did you see the newspaper that said the church is navel-gazing while our children are being slaughtered and killed?"

Meanwhile, in a letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, more than 1,300 clergy, including 11 bishops, threatened to leave the Church of England if women are permitted to become bishops. The letter's signatories said they have begun "thinking very hard about the way ahead" and that "we will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home."

The embattled archbishop insisted that he has no intention of limiting the authority of women within the church, saying, "I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends, as it were, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated. …