General Synod: Church of England exodus feared unless women bishops plans changed
Conservative clergy have warned of a mass exodus from the Church of England and a sharp drop in its income unless divisive plans for the introduction of women bishops are changed.
By Martin Beckford
February 8, 2010
On the first day of the gathering of the Church's governing body, the General Synod, Anglo-Catholics claimed that "large numbers" would leave for Rome if their demands for concessions are not met.
Meanwhile 50 serving priests belonging to Reform, the evangelical group, signed an open letter saying that the situation could force them to cut off funding for dioceses and spend their money on training new vicars outside the Church instead. The established church, which introduced women to the priesthood in 1994, is committed to ordaining female bishops as well but the process has been held up by the entrenched positions of both supporters and opponents of the historic move.
Liberals argue that women should be introduced to the episcopate on the same basis and with the same powers as men, otherwise an unfair two-tier system will develop.
However conservatives claim they were assured back when women priests were introduced that provisions would be made for them, similar to the "flying bishops" that currently cater for parishes that cannot accept the oversight of female vicars, when the next step was taken.
They want either an entirely new "men-only" province that could cover the whole of England, or extra junior bishops in dioceses who had not ordained women bishops and who would be answerable only to an Archbishop.
The Church's revision committee, which is drawing up the legislation, was due to report back this week but the debate has been postponed until July as it struggles with the conflicting proposals.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, gave a status update to Synod members in London on Monday, in which he suggested that the radical proposals desired by traditionalists are no longer being considered.
He said: "After more than six months' work we had rejected all the options which would have involved conferring some measure of jurisdiction on someone other than the diocesan bishop. The legislation that the Revision Committee sends back to the Synod will, therefore, be on the basis that any arrangements that are made for parishes with conscientious difficulties about women's ordination will be by way of delegation from the diocesan bishops. That much is already clear."
The Catholic group in Synod said it was "deeply disappointed and dismayed" by the bishop's statement.
"We believe that the vast majority of ordinary members of the Church of England would not want to see the consecration of women to the episcopate as the trigger for the exclusion from the church of a large number of faithful Anglicans. We have to say that if the legislation were to be passed in its present form, that is precisely what would happen."
The Rev Rod Thomas, the Chairman of the Reform group, wrote in an open letter: "For those of us ordained since 1992, our understanding, in good faith, was that proper legal provision would be made for those who did not agree that women should have the overall leadership of a church. It seems to us a matter of simple integrity that Synod should now keep its word to us in this and not force us down a road none of us wish to tread."
Reform's clergy say they have contributed more than £22million to the Church's coffers over the past decade and helped more than 180 young men into ordained ministry.
But they warn that if women bishops are introduced without safeguards for their consciences, they will no longer be able to give to dioceses. Instead, they will spend their money on training new clergy for ministries "outside the formal structures of the Church of England", and on new charitable trusts to pay for "future ministries, when the need arises".
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