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A Church That Loves Women Priests—And Bishops, Too


Greg Daly - published on 11/18/14

England's Anglicans expect their first female prelate by Christmas.

“Christ would never ask us to do something immoral,” said Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night, when asked whether it was immoral that the Church does not ordain women as priests.

Explaining that “the tradition of the Church is that we have always ordained men, and that the priesthood reflects the incarnation of Christ, who, in his humanity, is a man,” the cardinal stated that the Church’s position is “a matter of vocation and what God has given to us.”

“If I were founding a church,” he said, “I’d love to have to have women priests, but Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.”

Less than a day later, across the Atlantic, the Church of England’s general synod voted to enter into church law the necessary legislation to enable women to become bishops of England’s established church. The English decision follows similar changes in the Anglican churches of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Pat Storey, Church of Ireland bishop of Meath and Kildare, is the first woman bishop in that country—one of 29 such bishops in the global Anglican Communion. With five English vacancies for junior bishops — termed “suffragans” — as well as four dioceses needing bishops, England could have its first female Anglican bishops before the end of the year.

Father Ed Tomlinson, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, describes this move as demonstrating “a radically different understanding of holy orders from that of historic and normative Christianity.” The former Anglican clergyman points out that while the media are bound to urge that the Catholic Church follow suit, “Rome is not against women bishops due to its beliefs about women but because of its beliefs about bishops.”

Monday’s vote, in Church House, Westminster, on Amending Canon 33 has been a long time coming, the Church of England having first ordained women as deacons in 1987 and as priests in 1994. The general synod voted in 2005 to remove the legal obstacles to women becoming bishops, but in 2012 the synod’s House of Laity rejected the necessary legislation by just six votes. This July, however, the synod gave the legislation the two-thirds support it required, with Parliament’s ecclesiastical committee likewise supporting the change in October, such that the law’s clearing of the final hurdle was almost a formality.

The road to this point has not been smooth. England’s Anglican community has not been short of those who felt that by ordaining women, whether to the priesthood or the episcopate, the Church of England was breaking from the teaching of Christ, the tradition of the Church, and the broader Christian family.

On Monday, though, barely 30 of the 480 or so at the synod raised their hands to oppose the motion, which needed but a simple majority to pass. In July, though, there had been serious opposition. Susie Leafe, director of the conservative evangelical group Reform, told the BBC that she was “very disappointed” by the decision, arguing that there was “at least a quarter of the Church for whom this package does not provide for their theological convictions.” Prebendary David Houlding, a member of synod’s Catholic Group, expressed concerns in July about how the change could affect Anglican relations with the Catholic Church.

Echoing Houlding’s fears, Birmingham’s Archbishop Bernard Longley, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ Department for Dialogue and Unity, responded to July’s substantive decision by restating the Church’s commitment to dialogue with the Anglican Communion and the Church of England in particular. Emphasizing that “the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion,” Archbishop Longley said that this requires “full communion in the episcopal office.” As such, he lamented how the Church of England’s decision “sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us.”

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