Dr Rowan Williams weakened by debate on women bishops
History suggests that most Church of England worshippers will accept women bishops as readily as they accepted women priests
By Telegraph View
July 12 2010
The General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in York last weekend, reaffirmed its intention to ordain women bishops. That in itself is no surprise. The Synod voted the same way this time last year, though final legislation is still some way off. What was extraordinary about the scenes in Synod on Saturday was the damage done to the authority of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury - self-inflicted damage, for the most part.
It is not the job of this newspaper to advise the Church on whether it should ordain women bishops, though supporters of the move have a relatively easy case to make, given that it already ordains women priests. Likewise, it is not our business to argue for or against safeguards for Anglicans who cannot in good conscience worship in parishes that fall under the jurisdiction of a woman bishop.
What we do note, however, is that in 2009 the General Synod voted against creating a Church within a Church that would have satisfied some traditionalists at the risk of turning women prelates into second-class bishops. As it turned out, however, the 2009 vote was not decisive. Worried by the prospect of an exodus to Rome, the Primates devised yet another, even messier, scheme - the one rejected on Saturday.
Under it, women bishops would agree not to exercise their authority over certain parishes, ceding it to designated male bishops who (unlike most of their male colleagues) would not ordain women. How long this arrangement could have survived is anyone's guess; probably not for very long.
The main problem for Dr Williams is not that his last-minute compromise was rejected; it is that he allowed so much of his authority to be invested in it - and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, did not help, it must be said, by lecturing Synod on the need to support his colleague, drawing attention to Dr Williams's vulnerability.
How can the Archbishop of Canterbury restore his authority? As the continuing saga of Dr Jeffrey John shows, the debate over gay bishops is far from over; but that about women bishops seems to have reached its conclusion. The Pope's Ordinariate provides a structure for Anglo-Catholics who recognise the full authority of Rome.
For them, the weekend's events will clarify matters. Other traditionalists have hard choices to make, and we feel sympathy for them. But history suggests that most Church of England worshippers will accept women bishops as readily as they accepted women priests. They would welcome a little less agonising from Dr Williams and a more self-confident proclamation of the Gospel.
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