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Consecration of female bishops
in the Australian Anglican Church

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Consecration of female priests as bishops in Australia:

bullet1969: 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.
 
bullet1977: 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
 
bullet2000-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 diocese." 1
 
bullet2001: 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.
 
bullet2001-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.
 
bullet2004-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?" 6

If it had obtained sufficient votes, the measure would then have gone back to the dioceses to be adopted or rejected.
 
bullet2005: "... 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
 
bullet2007-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." 8
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

bullet2007: The General Synod passed resolution 14.3 that:
bullet"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
Australia."
bullet"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
 
bullet2008: Australia's first two women consecrations were of suffragan bishops:
 
bulletThe Rt Rev Kay Goldsworthy of Perth was consecrated on 2008-MAY-22 as Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Perth. 10
bulletThe 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.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Draft legislation for women bishops released," ACNS, Anglican Communion Office, London, 2000-NOV-16.
  2. Ecumenical News International, News Highlights, 1999-OCT-22.
  3. "Australia accept [sic] women bishops 'in principle'," ACNS, Anglican Communion Office, London, 2001-JUL-27
  4. "Anglican female bishop push stymied," Australian Associated Press, 2004-OCT-06, at: http://www.smh.com.au/
  5. David Weber, "Bid to allow women bishops in Anglican Church voted down," Australian Broadcasting Corp.,  http://www.abc.net.au/
  6. Peter Shadbolt, "Anglicans rebel on bishop vote" The Australian, 2004-OCT-7, at: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/
  7. Phillip Aspinall, "Appellate Tribunal Decision ? Women Bishops," 2007-SEP-28, at: http://www.anglican.org.au/ This is a PDF file.
  8. "Appellate Tribunal determination on Women Bishops," Anglican Church of Australia, 2007-SEP-28, at: http://www.anglican.org.au/
  9. "The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia," 2007-OCT-24, at: http://www.anglican.org.au/ This is a PDF file.
  10. Muriel Porter, "Australia?s first woman bishop to be consecrated in Perth," Church Times, 2008-APR-18, at: http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/
  11. Shaun Inguanzo, "From Dandenong to bishop, she's still a Darling," Star News Group, 2008-JUN-05, at: http://www.senews.com.au/

See our news feed on women's issues. It shows 20
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Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-JUN-23
Author: Bruce A. Robinson

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