LONDON (Reuters) - Church of England members who disagree on whether women bishops should be ordained must find a way to co-exist because neither group “will go away”, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on Tuesday.
Some members may join another church, but many wanted to remain and the Anglican Church must find a way to accommodate them, he added.
Speaking at the General Synod meeting in London, the Church’s spiritual head said traditionalists and liberals recognised they had to tackle the issue.
“We may have imperfect communion, but we unmistakeably want to find a way of holding on to what we have and ‘intensifying’ it,” he said.
Anglicans in Canada, the United States and New Zealand already have women bishops.
One in six of England’s parish priests is a woman and more than a decade after they were first ordained, liberals say it is insulting not to admit them to positions of power.
Traditionalists say that, as Jesus Christ’s apostles were all men, there is no precedent for women bishops.
The archbishop said traditionalists and liberals shared a belief in the scripture, whatever the diversity of interpretation, and should “recognise that the other person or community or tradition is not simply going to go away”.
“They are not just going to be defeated and silenced,” he added. “Some of course may in one sense ‘go away’ to another Christian communion; but even then they will still be there as fellow-Christians, fellow missioners and fellow disciples, and the debate will not be over just because one local jurisdiction has made a decision.
“But many do not want to go away in that sense at all. They want to be part of the same family still. And this means that some dreams of purity and clarity are not going to be realised.”
The archbishop offered hope of accommodation by saying both groups had “to some extent turned their backs on the fantasy of a Church that is ‘pure’ in their own terms, in favour of a Church that is honest about its diversity — even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome”.
It was the job of the synod to consider: “What is the form of legislation best adapted to the good of the Church as a body where the others do not simply go away and become invisible?”
He added: “Not all will agree, I know, but my own hope is that we may yet be able to offer the rest of the Communion some possibilities for coexistence if we could get this right.”
Editing by Peter Griffiths and Paul Casciato