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Dr. Rowan Williams to challenge infighting over gays and women bishops

Dr. Rowan Williams to challenge infighting over gays and women bishops

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Times Online
February 9, 2010

Dr Rowan Williams is to challenge Church infighting

The Archbishop of Canterbury will fight threats of disintegration in the Church of England with what is expected to be a forceful intervention at the General Synod today.

Dr Rowan Williams is determined to challenge the increasingly bitter infighting sparked by disagreements over women bishops in England and gay ordinations in the US.

In one of the most important presidential addresses of his seven-year archiepiscopacy, described by one insider as a "brilliant piece of work", the Archbishop is expected to salvage hope from the despair felt by many Anglicans over pressure brought by the liberal, evangelical and Catholic wings of the established Church.

Anglican leaders are increasingly concerned at the way that the Church's tussles over women and gays is hindering its mission to proclaim the gospel to the nation. The synod was told yesterday that the Church of England was suffering a "testosterone deficit" caused by a "seriously out-of- line" gender balance. The synod heard anecdotal evidence suggesting that women are playing an increasingly important role in the Church, and when it comes to attendance bishops should be actively pursuing missions directed at men.

Dr Williams's address comes after a decision to proceed with the ordination of women bishops with no significant concessions to traditionalists.

He is also expected to address a contentious debate tomorrow about a motion to recognise the new conservative evangelical Anglican Church in North America, which was created by traditionalists who have been deposed or broken away in the dispute over gay ordination in the US.

Lorna Ashworth, a lay synod member from the Diocese of Chichester, is calling for the Church of England to afford the new church recognition within the Anglican Communion. This would be no more than symbolic but it would add weight to any formal request from the new church to become an extra province within the Anglican Communion.

Bishops have put up an alternative motion designed to wreck Ms Ashworth's motion by stalling it for the foreseeable future.

Dr Williams's speech will come as the Church faces losing thousands of laity and clergy from conservative and Catholic traditions over the issue of women bishops. When the synod agreed two years ago to proceed with the legislation to consecrate women, Dr Williams was among the bishops who voted against a simple measure and wanted concessions to keep Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals on board. Traditionalists hoped for similar arrangements to when women were ordained priests in 1994, and the synod set up a system of "flying bishops" to care for traditionalists. But under the proposals announced yesterday after months of debate, the Church has been unable to find a way to make provision for traditionalists without turning women bishops into "second-class" consecrations.

The conservative evangelical group Reform warned that as a result the Church of England would suffer a drastic cut in men seeking ordination. In an open letter from 50 Anglican clergy, Reform said that in the past ten years it had sent more than 180 men into the Church of England priesthood and also contributed £20 million to church coffers. Issuing an implicit threat of withdrawal of funds, the group warned that it would finance the training of new ordinands outside the Church of England should women bishops go ahead without measures to mollify opponents.

The evangelical wing is one of the few parts of the Church of England that is growing, and is also the wealthiest and tends to have the youngest congregations.

The Synod's Catholic Group said that it was "deeply disappointed and dismayed" by the statement made to Synod by the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch, chairman of the revision committee that has been trying to find a way forward.

Spokesman Martin Dales, of the York diocese, said: "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." He warned that this is what will now happen. "If the committee refuses to provide an alternative source of episcopal oversight for those who cannot accept the jurisdiction and sacramental ministry of a woman bishop, and General Synod follows the same course, then those who hold to the traditional teaching of the Church must either leave or sacrifice their consciences.

"We cannot believe that is just or right - not only with respect to those who have reservations about the ordination of women, but for the sake of the mission and unity of the whole of the Church of England."

He said that Anglican Catholics on the synod would fight the legislation when it comes back to synod in July. "Across the country there are thousands of people who could leave over this, a lot of them irregular worshippers, particularly in rural areas, who just feel they have not been listened to." He predicted that hundreds of priests would leave.

Traditionalists on the Catholic wing of the Church of England oppose women bishops because they argue that Jesus had no female disciples and that the apostolic succession of bishops should therefore be male. On the evangelical wing, they oppose women bishops and priests because St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the woman should not be head of the man.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch, told the synod that attempts to find a way of creating a safe space for traditionalists had failed. These would have provided a church within a church, or what have been called "super flying bishops" to replace the flying bishops that are in place at present to look after opponents of women priests.

Instead, the existing three flying bishop posts are to be abolished and not replaced. Instead, any women consecrated bishops will be asked to "delegate" authority to another bishop, such as a suffragan, to carry out confirmations and other episcopal duties in parishes that refuse to accept her ministry.

The historic decision, to be ratified by the synod in July, paves the way for women bishops to be consecrated as soon as 2012, once all parliamentary hurdles have been cleared. Canon Jane Hedges at Westminster Abbey and Canon Lucy Winkett at St Paul's are among the favourites to be ordained as the first women bishops in the Church of England.

Supporters of women voiced relief at the decision because it means that even where opponents opt for the ministry of the bishop delegated to look after them, there will be no alternative hierarchical structure of oversight that could make it appear as though the mother church of the Anglican Communion was being half-hearted about women bishops, or in any way doubting the integrity of their orders.

It will bring England in line with Canada, New Zealand and the US. Even Scotland and Ireland have voted to have women bishops already and although a woman was shortlisted in Scotland last month, none has yet been consecrated.

One effect will be to increase the number of Anglicans taking up Pope Benedict XVI's offer to join the new Anglican Ordinariate. Catholics have criticised the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, for saying in an interview last week that those Anglicans who respond to Pope Benedict's invitation to join the Catholic Church under the provisions of the new Apostolic Constitution, would not be "proper Catholics".

The Church has been trying to do the impossible and square a circle over the issue, by going ahead with women bishops while creating some form of statutory provision for traditionalists. The revision committee was forced to postpone its plans to address the issue at this week's meeting after more than 300 submissions were received by the group drafting the legislation.

Christina Rees of Watch, which supports women bishops, said: "The measure will have aspects of delegation and I welcome that. They have broken through the sound barrier of trying to find something that would work for everyone. they have looked at a huge array of different options. Now they are back on the track that synod asked them to go down last year which is fairly simple legislation which will allow women bishops and which will have certain arrangements for those who are opposed.

"We have gone as far as we can go without making a nonsense of the substantive issue, which is that we have said yes to women bishops. But I would be sorry to see anyone leave the church over women's ordination. Being able to open the episcopate to women is a call for rejoicing." The synod will later this week also debate a motion criticising the BBC for cutting back on religious programming.

The controversy over women bishops came as church members voice growing concern at the Church of England's "testosterone deficit" due to the feminisation of its demography. Canon Simon Bessant of the Sheffield diocese told the Synod: "There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the view that the gender balance in Church of England congregations is getting seriously out of line." The Bishop of Bristol, the Right Rev Michael Hill admitted this raised questions over structure and leadership but these were "best left" to the Bishop of Manchester's revision committee on women bishops. He added: "I believe every bishop is concerned to build a well-balanced church, and mission among men and younger people is on everyone's agenda."


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