14 July 2008

An Anglican crisis?

The Irish Times carries the following editorial comment this morning:

Women bishops

The General Synod of the Church of England, after a marathon seven-hour debate in York last week, agreed to press ahead with the ordination of woman as bishops. The move was met with mixed reaction, both within the Church of England and throughout the wider ecumenical community, with warnings about dire consequences from traditionalists and conservatives within the Church of England and expressions of regret from the Vatican. But the Church of England has taken longer to reach this decision than many of its partner churches in the Anglican Communion: although the Church of Ireland has yet to elect and consecrate a woman as bishop, the principle has long been accepted; and there are woman bishops in many other autonomous, self-governing member churches of the Anglican Communion, from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and the United States.

The guarantees provided in the past to the opponents of women priests have only deepened divisions. This time round, the General Synod has refused to provide formal guarantees for clergy who are opposed to the idea of a woman as bishop. However, legislation is a lengthy process and it may yet be the year 2015 before a woman becomes a bishop in England.

Few of the 700 bishops of the Anglican Communion gathering in Canterbury this week for the Lambeth Conference will be fretting over last week’s decision. They are more likely to be worried about the ever-deepening conflicts and divisions within Anglicanism, stirred by the consecration of a gay bishop in the US, same-sex unions in Canada, and the recent mass gatherings of conservative bishops and lobbyists in both Jerusalem and London where division was the order of the day. These reactionaries, who are threatening schism and separation, are a fragile coalition of some conservative evangelicals who have openly attacked Archbishop Alan Harper’s recent conciliatory speech and want a much narrower church and, on the other hand, Anglo-Catholic traditionalists looking over their shoulders at Rome.

The Vatican’s Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity said the decision in York raises a further obstacle to reconciliation between Anglicans and Rome. But that missive fails to recognise that the Church of England is only one among 40 or so member churches of the Anglican Communion, that woman priests and bishops have become an acceptable reality for Anglicans, Lutherans and many others, and that an increasing number of Catholics yearn for the day when they too can debate the possibility of having woman as priests and even as bishops.

No comments: