Consecration of female bishops
in the Australian Anglican Church
Consecration of female priests as bishops in Australia:
1969: The General Synod created a Doctrine Commission
to study whether women should be eligible for ordination to the three-fold
order of ministry: deacon, priest and bishop.
1977: The Doctrine Commission's majority report found no
theological barrier to women's ordination, having looked at the issue from
the standpoints of Scripture, tradition, church history, and contemporary
society. The General Synod of 1977 passed a resolution stating that
there was no theological barrier to the admission of women to the
three-fold order of ministry
2000-NOV-16: The Australian Anglican Church issued draft
legislation covering the consecration of women as bishops. "A striking
feature of these proposals is that they will offer a mechanism to provide
alternative episcopal ministry to clergy and parishes unable in conscience
to accept the ministry of a woman bishop appointed or elected to their
2001: By this date, more than 10% of the Anglican priests in
Australia were women. They held many positions included senior clergy,
archdeacons, canons, area deans, and examining chaplains.
2001-JUL-23 The General Synod accepted, in principle, a bill to allow female
consecrations. The vote was 135 to 95. 2 The bill states, in part:
"In any diocese in which a woman is appointed as bishop, the bishop of the
diocese must ensure that appropriate episcopal pastoral oversight
and ministry is provided for persons whose conscience precludes them from
accepting the ministry of a bishop who is a woman ... No member of clergy
or lay member of this church shall suffer any discrimination or prejudice
because he or she in conscience accepts female bishops, priests or deacons
or does not so accept them."
At a local level, parishes would be able to vote to have a bishop from
another region or diocese minister to them, if they cannot tolerate having
have episcopal ministry by a female bishop. 3 This is a
"special bill" and thus must achieve a 2/3rds majority at the final
vote during the next General Synod in 2004.
2004-OCT-6: At the General Synod in 2004 an "overwhelming"
majority of bishops (17 of 23) voted in favor of female consecration.
However the House of Clergy voted only 63 to 43 in favor. The
House of Laity voted only 67 to 39 in favor. The latter two groups
gave 59% and 63% approval. A 2/3rds majority vote from all three houses is
required for passage. 4
The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen was relieved. He said it was a
matter of the authority of the Bible.
"There is something that God's teaching us, and we can work at it together
and come to a good result....One of the things about this debate was that
we had a petition from 1,300 Anglican women against the idea of women
bishops.....Some people will just be astonished [at the Synod's decision].
Egalitarianism, the idea that men and women are identical has taken a
strong root in our society, and people will talk about glass ceilings and
the rest, but what we're discovering also is that as feminism has lost its
way a bit, people are beginning to remember that men and women are not
only equal but we are different, and that difference shows up in different
roles within family life." 5
Some bishops are allegedly poised to consecrate a woman bishop in spite of
the ban. The Anglican Bishop of Canberra, Goulburn George Browning, said
there was a strong possibility there would be a woman bishop consecrated
by the next General Synod [in 2007]. He said:
"About 80-90 per cent of people in our diocese want it and about 60 per
cent of people at synod want it, so it's not as if we're moving with a
fringe element....Unlike some of the dioceses that are opposed to women,
our diocese is growing and that is because we are focused on our mission
and we have some very able women pursuing that."
Canon Colleen O'Reilly said:
"There are bishops in certain places that are ready to ordain women. I
think it's marvelous the house of bishops voted in favor of women, because
they are the group that are [sic] being asked to share their role. It
seems we can't do it through the synod -- the bar is too high -- so we
will have to do it another way."
The Bishop of Gippsland, Jeffrey Driver, is concerned about the unity of
the church. He said: "I would prefer this to be done through the
national church so we can hold the church together, but this is such a
deeply held issue; there is pressure for someone to act."
The Bishop of Bunbury, David McCall, was once strongly opposed to female
bishops. He has since changed his position, saying: "I asked myself, if
the priesthood is to be exclusively male, is it truly a reflection of the
image of God because both men and women were created in the image of God?"
If it had obtained sufficient votes, the measure would then have gone back
to the dioceses to be adopted or rejected.
2005: "... a group of twenty-five members of General Synod
asked the Appellate Tribunal whether the Constitution contains anything
that would prevent the consecration of a woman as a bishop, or the
installation of a woman so consecrated as a bishop in a diocese." 7 The Appellate Tribunal
is the highest legal authority in the Anglican Church of Australia
2007-SEP-28: The Appellate Tribunal narrowly ruled (4 to
3) that there is nothing in the Church's Constitution that would prevent
the consecration of a woman priest as a diocesan bishop in some dioceses.
However, this would be possible only in those dioceses that had adopted
the Law of the Church of England Clarification Canon 1992. Not all
dioceses have done this.
The Most Rev'd Dr Phillip Aspinall, the Archbishop of Brisbane and the
Primate of the
Anglican Church of Australia said the ruling is a significant day in
the life of the Anglican Church of Australia. He said:
"This means that whenever there are vacancies in dioceses that have
adopted the 1992 canon, and whose own diocesan law permits it, a woman can
become a diocesan bishop. ... The Anglican family across Australia is a
diverse group and we are mature enough to engage in robust debate on many
issues. ... There will be some in our family who will be unhappy with this
ruling and it is now our urgent duty to offer care for those who retain a
conscientious objection to women bishops."
The battle to allow the consecration of female bishops thus became a local
conflict in those individual dioceses that had not adopted Canon 1992.
However, a snag developed over consecration of female priests as assistant
bishops. Most of the latter are elected and confirmed under provisions of
the Assistant Bishops' Canon 1966 which appears to require
candidates to be male.
The bishops decided to take no action on the Appellate Tribunal's
ruling until after their annual meeting on 2008-APR. 10
2007: The General Synod passed resolution 14.3 that:
"Notes the decision of the Appellate Tribunal and welcomes the
clarity it brings to the question of the eligibility of women for
admission to the order of bishop in the Anglican Church of
"Requests the Standing Committee to monitor developments in
relation to women bishops including provisions made for those
who decline to receive the ministry of a woman bishop and report
to the next session of General Synod." 9
2008: Australia's first two women consecrations were of suffragan bishops:
The Rt Rev Kay Goldsworthy of Perth was consecrated on 2008-MAY-22 as
Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Perth. 10
The Rt Rev Barbara Darling of Melbourne was consecrated on 2008-MAY-31
in the Diocese of Victoria. 11
A suffragan bishop is a bishop who is subordinate to a metropolitan
bishop or a diocesan bishop.