2010. május 12., szerda

There will be women bishops in the Church of England

Women bishops, for real

Andrew Brown's Blog
The Guardian
12 May 2010


The Church of England has spent decades in a state of calculated ambiguity about women. Now that ends

It's now official, though you may have missed it in all the election excitements: there will be women bishops in the Church of England. The attempt to legislate some kind of compromise has been officially abandoned and by 2014 or later there will be women bishops and with them the end of a 20 year experiment during which there simultaneously were, and were not women priests. This was more like Zen than Christianity.

Did anyone really believe that the church might at some stage decide that women priests were a passing fancy and decide to ordain no more? Yet that has been the official position ever since the last-minute negotiations after the General Synod shocked everyone by voting decisively in favour of women in 1992. "Shocking" was exactly the word. I was in the circular press gallery then, and I remember a physical pulse of surprise like a jolt of electricity running round the room when it turned out that the crucial two voters had changed their minds since the previous vote three months before.

Since no one had really expected this, the measure as it went through was an uneasy compromise. There was a large and determined clergy faction which announced that it was not prepared to share the church with women; it was to protect their sensibilities that a system was then hurriedly lashed up, with flying bishops and a chance for parishes to opt out of women's ministry. Now it has ended, we can start to estimate what twenty years of it achieved. The opposition to women priests among lay people has almost entirely been removed by experience. Among the clergy it has diminished, but not disappeared. The Anglo-Catholics will have to decide once and for all whether they want to be Anglicans and several hundred at least are clearly going to take Pope Benedict's offer and park themselves in the Roman Catholic church, about as welcome there as the evacuees in Evelyn Waugh's comedy of the phoney war, Put Out More Flags.

The conservative evangelicals in Reform have had a much better run in the last years. But they cannot muster a minority sufficient to block these changes, and it's hard to see how they could cut themselves further off from the church in retaliation than they already have.

But I think the interval between the the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops, however illogical, was not waste and certainly not unimportant. During that time, the great majority of merely conservative opinion shifted in favour of women priest, as a result of experience. Those conservatives who had opposed it were forced to ask themselves if they thought that they ought to be members of the church of England, and so bound by its decisions, and most of them decided that they ought to be. The clergy who might have gone in 1994, will most of them stay now, and keep their pensions. That may not be the best thing for the Church considered as an institution, but it is certainly the most Christian way. Despite the best efforts of all its deliberative mechanisms, the Church of England may have stumbled onto the right path.

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