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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

Steps taken during 2005


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Steps during the 2005-FEB Synod:

The bishops, priests and laity voted to consider the Working Party's report and to revisit the topic at the 2005-JUL General Synod. They would decide at that time whether to start the process of removing legal obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops.


Bishops' letter in advance of the 2005-JUL General Synod:

The five-day General Synod began on 2005-JUL-08 in York, England. In late 2005-JUN, a group of seventeen bishops arranged to have a letter published in the Church of England Newspaper. They recommended the continuation of the Church's policy of excluding women bishops. They expressed concern that if the Church allowed all priests to be considered for consecration as bishops, irrespective of their sex, relations between the Church of England and the rest of the Anglican Communion could be jeopardized. Other provinces may not be able to accept gender equality within the Communion. The Communion is already under extreme stress because of policies by the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada towards equal rights for homosexuals and bisexuals. The bishops wrote:

"There is ample evidence from church history, not least, and most recently, in the Anglican Communion, that actions by individual provinces touching the scriptural and traditional faith and order of the Church, actions that inevitably unchurch those who cannot accept such changes, do not serve the unity which Christ asks of his Church."

Rt. Rev. Tom Wright, one of the seventeen bishops said: "This matter touches profoundly both the order and identity of the Church of England and its place in the Church as a whole."

Christina Rees, Chairperson of Women and the Church, said that the letter was "an insult" to the thousands of women priests currently in the Church of England. She said that most of the church membership accept the concept of female bishops. She feels that further delay would only damage the Church more. She commented: "This has been on our agenda for 30 years. The time is now right. The exasperation most people in the Church feel that this has not happened yet is very high. We have already exhausted the issues." 1

One unidentified "senior source" in the denomination said:

"I am spitting tacks about this letter. What is so disingenuous about it is that we effectively decided to have women bishops when we voted for women priests. This letter will have an enormous impact. It will bring out into the open what many of us feared — that there is a loss of nerve in the house of bishops. Even some bishops who are naturally in favor believe the time is not now right, and this is hugely disappointing for us." 2


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Steps during the 2005-JUL Synod:

According to "Forward in Faith" (FiF), a conservative group opposed to the female ordination as priests and their consecration bishops:

"On 11th July 2005 the General Synod of the Church of England decided to prepare legislation to allow women to become bishops. That legislation could be approved by 2008, with the first woman bishop consecrated in the Church of England not long afterwards."3

In reaction to the Synod's decision:

  • The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham, said that if women were consecrated as bishops that: "A woman bishop wouldn't be a bishop because a bishop is someone whose ministry is acceptable through the ages to all other bishops....Bishops would no longer be what they say they are. I would have to leave." He indicated that if gender discrimination ended, he would consider becoming a Roman Catholic. Bishop Burnham is a "flying bishop" who looks after parishes in the Church of England that have rejected women as priests.
  • The Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, predicted an exodus of clergy unless a separate province of the Church of England in addition to the existing two provinces is created from which women would be barred from becoming bishops and where members who cannot accept gender equality can consider their church home. He is reported as saying: "The introduction of women bishops without proper provision [for opponents to the concept] would be intolerable." 4
  • Forward in Faith (FiF) suggested that:

"When we have women bishops...there will be serious doubt as to whether they actually are bishops in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. (Our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers will be certain that they are not!)."

They suggest that the ordination of a male or female priest by a female bishop would not be valid. A member of the laity will not be able to know whether any of the sacraments celebrated by a priest were valid. FiF continues:

"So, when we have women bishops and you receive Holy Communion or receive absolution or anointing at the hands of a male priest you will no longer be able to be certain that those sacraments or sacramental actions will be valid." 3

On an unrelated matter, the members of Synod voted 293 to 1 against legalizing physician assisted suicide. This appears to be in response to The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill bill was introduced in the House of Lords in 2004.


Recommendations by Forward in Faith:

Some conservatives -- mostly Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics -- have suggested that a third province be created within the Church of England, in addition to the existing two provinces of Canterbury and York. The new province would confine women to the laity: it would have no female priests or bishops. Individual parishes could then switch to the new province and could review their decision every five years. Forward in Faith's pamphlet of 2005-JUL recommends:

"The new province would not be a new Church, but simply a separate part of the Church of England where those who cannot accept the innovation of women priests and bishops would be able to continue to live their lives as loyal members of the Church of England holding fast to the faith our Church has received from the time of the Apostles."

It would, in essence, split the denomination into two parts, as there would be one set of rules in Canterbury and York, and a different set in the new province. For the first time in history, each part of England, the islands, etc. would have two bishops in charge.  8

 


References used:

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

  1. Maria Mackay, "Church of England urged not to Allow Women Bishops," Christianity Today, 2005-JUL-01, at: http://www.christiantoday.com/
  2. Ruth Glendhill & Jonathan Whnne-Jones, "Senior clergy move to block ordination of women bishops," Times Online, 2005-JUL-01, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
  3. "Women Bishops - What will they mean for you," Forward in Faith, 2005-JUL-11, at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/ **
  4. "Clergy warn against women bishops," BBC News, 2005-JUL-10, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  5. Sarah Lyall, "Top Anglicans Vote to Allow Female Bishops," New York Times, 2006-JUL-09, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  6. "Forward in Faith," at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/
  7. Ruth Gledhill, "Church of England votes to ordain women bishops," The Times, 2008-JUL-08, at: http://wwrn.org/
  8. "Women bishops - what will they mean for you?," Forward in Faith, at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/ **

** These are PDF files. You may require software to read them. Software can be obtained free from: 


Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUL-11
Author: Bruce A. Robinson

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