by Ruth Gledhill, Religion correspondent
July 12, 2008
Splits are emerging among Church of England traditionalists as Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals divide over how to respond to women bishops and gay ordination. A Nigerian bishop has broken ranks to fly to Britain to attend next week's Lambeth conference.
More than a dozen other Nigerian bishops have telephoned the organisers privately to say that they wish they could come but dare not disobey their archbishop, who has ordered all his 100 bishops to stay away in protest at the liberalisation of the Western Church.
The Right Rev Cyril Okorocha, the Bishop of Owerri, will defy Dr Peter Akinola, the Nigerian primate, when he arrives at his host parish in Oxshott, Surrey, this weekend. He will be the only Nigerian bishop at the Lambeth conference when it opens on Wednesday.
A source close to the bishop, who used to be on the staff at Lambeth Palace, where he looked after mission, said that he was coming because he believed strongly in the unity of the Anglican Communion. Traditionalists in England are also facing new schism within their ranks, with disagreements from leading bishops over whether to transfer allegiance to Rome or to remain in a Church that ordains women to the episcopate.
Some senior figures in Rome want to grant traditional Anglicans their own apostolic administration or bishop, making them a recognised fellowship within the Roman Catholic Church.
Initial recognition would be granted to a body called the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has parishes all over the world, including England, Ireland and the US. It became a refuge for many of the priests who left the Church of England after women were ordained in 1992. Rome is divided over how to respond.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wants to welcome Anglicans who feel called to convert. Sources in Rome said that the Pope supports such a scheme. But the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity is concerned not to exacerbate Anglican splits further. In England, bishops appointed to shepherd traditionalist congregations are at odds over how to respond.
The Right Rev Andrew Burnham, the "flying" Bishop of Ebbsfleet, who looks after about 100 traditionalist parishes in the Canterbury province, visited the Vatican in April for talks about transferring with many of his parishes to Rome.
This week he condemned the code of practice agreed by General Synod to care for traditionalists as "a ghetto of sexism, where people are allowed to pretend that women are not ordained as bishops and priests". The traditionalist grouping Forward in Faith is urging its members to work for reform from within.
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