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CHURCH OF ENGLAND: Women priests costs Church half a billion dollars

CHURCH OF ENGLAND: Women priests costs Church half a billion dollars in

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent


The ordination of women priests will cost the Church of England more
than 326 million pounds ($596 million) in payouts to clergy who have
left in protest, according to official figures.

The size of the final bill will dismay many in the Church, which is
facing severe financial difficulties and the prospect of dioceses being
made bankrupt.

The figures will also refuel the heated debate on whether the Church
should allow the consecration of women as bishops, a reform which could
trigger another exodus of clergy.

The millions of pounds have been paid out as part of a scheme agreed in
1992 as a conciliatory gesture to the hundreds of traditionalist clergy
who threatened to split the Church over women priests.

Under the scheme, clergy who resigned for reasons of conscience before
the cut-off date for lodging claims, which falls later this month, would
receive hardship payments to help them after they left their jobs.

Many of them became Roman Catholic or Orthodox priests, but a number
have since returned to the Church of England.

The Church Commissioners said that, up until the end of 2003, 430 clergy
had resigned and applied for the payments, and a further nine have
resigned so far this year. Forward in Faith, the traditionalist umbrella
group, said that it did not expect a last-minute exodus before the
official final date, Feb 21.

The Church Commissioners said that the estimate for the total cost up to
the end of 2014, when it expects the scheme to have run its course, was
now approximately 326 million pounds ($596 million).

In 2002 the commissioners predicted that the final total would not
exceed 323 million pounds ($591 million) for 400 departing clergy, so
the new figure will disappoint bishops who are being forced to axe
clergy posts.

Stephen Parkinson, the director of Forward in Faith, said the true
number of clergy who have resigned is nearer 600, but many did not
qualify for the compensation package so were not officially registered.

"This shows that the Church has lost hugely both financially and in
terms of talent over women priests," he said. "No one has calculated how
many lay people left, taking their wallets with them."

Christina Rees, the chair of Watch, a group campaigning for women
bishops, said: "Most people who support women clergy are shocked and
horrified by the amounts paid out."

A service to mark the tenth anniversary of the ordination of women was
held in St Paul's Cathedral and a series of other events are to be held
around the country later this year.


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