Dear Bishop: The Roman Catholic Church is welcome to the Rt Rev Graham Leonard, former Bishop of London, and his bizarre views on women, says a long-time enemy

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Many years ago, when you were my bishop in the Willesden diocese, I remember meeting you at my parish church and thinking how nice you were. During the struggle for women's ordination in the Eighties I found you less friendly. You led an Anglo-Catholic group that was bitterly opposed to women's orders. On our side we were often shocked by the degree of hostility on yours, and also by the language used the language of battle and war. Once you invoked the nightmare of Napoleonic invasion when speaking about us. You saw us as Napoleon (why not Hitler? I remember wondering at the time. I was often tempted to give our opponents journalistic tips, but resisted). But it would have taken a group more saintly than my colleagues and I to resist regarding you as an enemy.

As enemies go, however, you were first class, and I still feel a sort of grudging respect, like the Desert Rats did for Rommel. You did not underestimate us, you knew that we meant what we said, and, almost alone among the bishops who have continued to patronise us up hill and down dale, you seemed to understand that we wanted much more than to see a few women ordained. What we wanted was radical change in the Church's whole attitude to women, not as a secular feminist fad (though I am glad to be a feminist), but to try to heal the ancient Christian split between sexuality and spirituality.

What makes me think that you knew this was what it was all about is your famous remark to Dr Anthony Clare that if you saw a woman at the altar your instinct would be to take her in your arms. It was an apparently naive statement. Male priests are sexual beings, too, and doubtless women and gay men may have fantasised along similar lines. But you touched the heart of the matter: that women have represented sexuality in the church, and you wanted it banned from the altar for the very reason that we wanted it present there.

There was, of course, a darker misogyny behind your apparently loving attitude to women, which was revealed in astonishing clarity when in the Synod you described women priests as an ineradicable virus in the bloodstream of the universal church; this, a year or two after the horror of the Aids virus had begun to make itself known here. We began to recognise that women must either leave the church or change it beyond recognition.

So thank you for that. I do not know what Rome will make of you, nor you of Rome. My suspicion is that, like another monolith that has crumbled in the past few years, the Roman Catholic Church will find out in time that rigidity cannot save it any more than it can save the Church of England; indeed, many of its members know it already. The day of the Christian dinosaurs is over. Now we want something more adaptable and human.

(Photograph omitted)

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