Anglican Archbishop Warns against Schism Move to Accept Women Priests Shakes Many, but Proponents Insist Change Was Essential
Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that a schism in the Church of England may be triggered by last week's decision to let women be ordained to the priesthood.
As a minority of clergy and laity angered by a move overturning 450 years of tradition met to plan future strategy, Archbishop George Carey said he would do everything possible to persuade them to stay in the church's mainstream. He argued that the historic vote by his church's ruling synod was "the will of God" and should be accepted.
Dr. Carey's pleas were directed mainly at some 1,000 of the Church of England's 10,000 priests who told an opinion poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation that they would desert the Church of England if the ordination of women went ahead as planned. One in 5 Anglican churchgoers told the same survey that they would not accept women as priests.
The archbishop, who spoke in favor of women priests during the synod debate, said after the vote: "Please don't go elsewhere. Stay with us. Let's work together."
He told the synod: "We must draw on all our available talent if we are to be a credible church engaged in a mission to an increasingly confused and lost world. We are in danger of not being heard if women are exercising leadership in every area of society's life save the ordained priesthood."
But high-profile Anglicans in the British government declined Carey's pleas and said they would either leave the church completely or join congregations that refused to be ministered to by women priests.
After the vote, Social Security Minister Ann Widdecombe said she was leaving the Church of England after 27 years because "the wounds caused by the decision will not heal."
John Selwyn Gummer, secretary of state for agriculture and a leading Anglican layman, commented: "I have always said that if the Church of England decided to ordain women, it would become a sect, and I could not be a member of a sect." And Patrick Cormack, a senior Conservative members of Parliament who is vice president of the English Clergy Association, said it was "impossible for women to become priests."
The Church of England is established in Britain's unwritten constitution. The Queen is described as "head of the church and defender of the faith."
In the synod debate, opponents of women priests fell into two main categories: those who believe there is no scriptural basis for ordaining women as priests, and others unhappy with how the legislation was drafted.
But for some 1,300 women Anglican deacons, the decision by all three houses of the synod - representing bishops, clergy, and laity - was cause for rejoicing.
Deaconess Maggie Durran, who serves in a London parish, said the vote gave hope to the church. …