LONDON (Reuters) - The Church of England’s governing body confirmed on Monday it will ordain women bishops but also approved measures to accommodate traditionalist opponents.
After six hours of debate over the direction to be taken by the 450-year-old church, the solution hammered out by the synod was a typical Anglican compromise that sought to avoid a mass walkout by opponents of women bishops.
“The options at both extremes have been lost,” a synod official told Reuters. “It is not a rejection of either.”
The synod, meeting in the ancient cathedral city of York, rejected proposals from traditionalists who wanted to set up a team of “super bishops” to cater for parishes who could not accept women priests.
Instead it chose to opt for a national code of practice that would seek to accommodate objectors. But it did not spell out what specific safeguards would be on offer for them.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, already battling to avoid a worldwide Anglican schism over gay clergy, told the synod: “I approach this from the position of someone who is committed to the ordination of women to the episcopate.”
“I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated to the episcopate.”
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.
Traditionalist say that, as Jesus Christ’s apostles were all men, there is no precedent for women bishops.
But their adoption within the Anglican hierarchy still involves a long and complex process.
If the compromise wins full acceptance in further synod meetings and the scheduled timetable is mapped out by 2012, Williams may one day be succeeded by a woman as spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans.
But this was just the first battle to be faced this month by Williams as he struggles to keep warring factions united in the same broad church that is traditionally ruled by consensus.
Next he is to host the Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world.
But the conference faces mass defections by conservatives, mainly from Africa, Asia and South America, who were vehemently opposed to the ordination of openly gay U.S Bishop Gene Robinson and the blessing of same-sex marriages in Canada.
Editing by Keith Weir