YORK, England (Reuters) - The Church of England looks set to delay its final vote on the consecration of women as bishops following a campaign to scupper it by supporters angry at a last-minute concession to traditionalists.
Positions have become so entrenched at the church’s General Synod, or parliament, in York, northern England, that an adjournment seems the most likely outcome during Monday’s debate, resulting in the amendment being sent back to the House of Bishops to think again.
But there is no guarantee the bishops will be able to come back with an answer that satisfies both supporters and opponents, leaving both sides still at loggerheads - after more than 10 years of debate - when the draft legislation is due to return in November.
“What they could possibly do is find another form of words which is more acceptable to both sides, but that is the goal, the great prize, which we have been looking at for years,” Bishop of Beverley Martyn Jarrett, a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic, told Reuters.
“Yes, if someone actually can come up with that formula I would be the first to applaud - once they’ve brought me around.”
Along with the question of same-sex marriages, the consecration of women as bishops is among the most divisive issues facing the world’s 77 million Anglicans.
Many observers had expected the Church of England, the Anglican mother church, to follow other churches in the Communion in allowing women bishops, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
All but two of the Church of England’s 44 dioceses, or administrative regions, had recently backed the measure.
Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, had said at synod on Friday that he “longed to see women bishops in the Church of England”, while providing sufficient provision for those who cannot accept the oversight of women bishops.
But an attempt by the bishops to keep traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals within the broad church backfired spectacularly.
The amendment would guarantee that any dissenting parish would be able to choose a male with “consistent theological convictions”, going further than what was previously on the table.
Before the amendment, future women bishops would be obliged under a code of practice yet to be written to find a suitable alternative male bishop.
Critics said the amendment would enshrine discrimination against women in law and implied women can only make second-class bishops.
More than 5,000 lay and ordained men and women signed a petition organised by the campaign group WATCH (Women and the Church) asking bishops to withdraw the amendment.
If they fail, some have threatened to vote against the measure, 20 years after synod said “yes” to women priests.
“This amendment gives permanent support to a theology of ‘taint’ and a theology of male headship,” wrote one in the petition.
The amendment was intended to reassure traditionalists who want to preserve the male apostolic line, which means not accepting a woman bishop who has ordained a male or indeed a male bishop who has ordained a woman.
The Reverend Prebendary David Houlding, a leading member of the Catholic Group on the General Synod, said if the amendment was removed and the measure went through, the church could face a “real crisis”.
“Because there is absolutely nothing to protect those who want to stay in the church,” he said.
The amendment was also aimed at keeping on board conservative evangelicals, who make up a growing, youthful and wealthy part of the church, and who believe in Biblical teachings about male headship.
Susie Leafe, a conservative evangelical who collected more than 2,200 signatures from Anglican women calling for more provision, insisted safeguards for traditionalists were needed.
If the amendment is removed and the vote goes through, she said: “I imagine that within a couple of generations there won’t be a conservative evangelical witness in the Church of England. People are leaving already.” (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)