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Monday, July 07, 2008

Anglicans await key ruling on women bishops

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 22:15:00 07/07/2008

LONDON -- The Church of England faced a key vote Monday on whether to allow women bishops, with more than 1,000 clergy threatening to quit the Church if its General Synod goes ahead with the move.

A "yes" vote from the Church's ruling body could trigger an irrevocable schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion already embroiled in a divisive row over homosexuality.

Some 1,333 clergy have threatened to leave the Church of England if they are not given legal safeguards to set up a network of parishes that would remain under male leadership.

The General Synod is meeting in York, northern England, the second most important city in the Church after Canterbury.

Members will be asked to back a motion calling for a national code of practice to accommodate parishes which cannot accept women bishops.

John Packer, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, also suggested the creation of three male "super-bishops" to cater for the spiritual needs of followers who do not want pastoral oversight from a woman.

Such a figure would be directly answerable to the archbishop of either Canterbury or York -- the Church of England's two most senior figures.

Packer's ideas come amid calls from a significant number of General Synod members for a delay in pressing ahead with legislation to introduce women bishops.

Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark Cathedral in London, said: "If they are asking for special treatment, which I think we can supply, then they don't need to ask for it to be written in law because that says that we are not trusted to behave decently."

The archbishops of Canterbury and York, the two most senior figures in the church, are understood to favor a compromise that would avoid an exodus of the most conservative wing, The Times newspaper said.

However, they do not want the consecration of women jettisoned altogether due to the difficulties of appeasing both sides, it added.

In his Sunday sermon, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans, said Jesus was with those on both sides of the debate.

The time allocated for the debate on women bishops has been extended to 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) after 14 amendments were received to the original House of Bishops' motion, said a church spokesman.

The Church of England is the officially established Church in the country and the mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has about 77 million followers.

The monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the Church of England's supreme governor and 26 bishops sit in the House of Lords, parliament's unelected upper chamber.

The Church says that 1.7 million people take part in its services each month, with around one million participating every Sunday.

Splits in the worldwide Anglican Communion are not new.

It has been deeply divided since the ordination by the US Episcopal Church of openly gay priest Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

There was also opposition to the ordination of Barbara Harris as the US Church's first female bishop in 1989.

For the conservatives, such practices cast doubt on the interpretation of Christianity's sacred text, the Bible, and the fundamental tenets of faith for followers of Anglicanism.

The English Church broke off from Rome in 1534 under king Henry VIII, over its refusal to grant him a divorce from his first wife.