The Church of England is bracing itself for the next stage in its acrimonious battle over the consecration of women bishops. Its governing body, the General Synod, is set to vote on November 20.
There has been ten years of debate on the issue, which has divided opinion within the church – and the Anglican Communion as a whole – as much as the thorny subject of of gay priests. At the moment, member churches within the Communion – there are 44 of them – can decide whether to allow women to become bishops. Many are still vehemently opposed.
The Synod vote is expected to be close, according to an article from the news agency Reuters.
The article cites William Fittall, the Synod’s secretary general, as saying that the proposal will probably get the two-thirds majority it will need.
“The expectation in the Church of England and outside the Church is this is going to go through . . . [but] the arithmetic is tight,” said Fittall.
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and, as such, the titular head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has expressed his support for female bishops – who are to be found in several other countries, including the USA and Australia – but says traditional views should be respected.
It was those traditional views that in 2010 led an entire Anglican parish in England to convert to Catholicism.
St Peter’s in Folkestone, Kent – in the south of England – took up an offer by Pope Benedict XVI to defect to Rome.
That story followed the decision by an English Anglican bishop, John Broadhurst, to convert to Rome. He is strongly opposed to women bishops, and was one of several Anglican bishops to make such an announcement.
The proposed rule changes will still make provision for those parishes that object to senior women clergy for theological reasons, notes the Reuters article.
“The vote comes at a time when the Anglican Church is facing division over the ordination of gay bishops, which has pitted liberal church leaders in the United States and Britain against more conservative figures in places such as Africa,” it adds.
During his almost ten years as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has tried to prevent a major schism within the Anglican Communion over women bishops and gay priests and bishops. He’s due to resign the post at the end of this year.
If the two-thirds majority for the approval of women bishops doesn’t come about on November 20, he won’t have to try to keep order for the next five years, which is the time Fittall reckons it will take for a new motion to be put before the General Synod.