Bishop seeks to heal rift over women

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The Independent Online

The new Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, acknowledged yesterday that his appointment, as a leading opponent of women priests, would "cause concern to many in the Church". But he said his responsibility as bishop would be "to help the diocese be a place where everyone, whatever their views on this issue, knows their ministry is valued and valid."

He said he would ordain all the deacons in the diocese, both men and women, and none of the priests. In this, he will be following the example of his predecessor, the Rt Rev David Hope, another opponent of women priests who was appointed Archbishop of York.

"Women and the Church", a pressure group set up to further the interests of women priests in London, which has the highest number of women priests and the greatest concentration of their opponents, said Bishop Chartres' appointment would lead to "tension and dissent" and might drive women priests out of London.

Other supporters of women, however, pointed out that Bishop Chartres, 48, has a record of appointing women priests to positions of real power and responsibility which is rather better than that of many bishops who will happily ordain women but cannot thereafter find them paying jobs.

Bishop Chartres said he was an agnostic on the question of whether women could be priests: many opponents, such as Pope John Paul II, believe that women cannot be. "I am not, certainly, a fundamentalist on this issue, " the new bishop said. "But I believe the Church of England shares the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons, with the rest of the worldwide church; and this is a debate which needs to go on. I hope that in the diocese of London we will be able to continue the debate with some courtesy and prayerfulness." His wife Caroline, beside him at the press conference, said that "without toeing the party line" she agreed with him on the issue.

Referring to the debate over the future of the churches in the City of London, he said: "Bishops are not members of the Goth and Vandal tendency .The City churches are a beautiful part of the cityscape, and as far as I am concerned will remain so." But he also praised the "extraordinarily valuable survey" produced by a commission under Lord Templeman, which had suggested that most of the City churches should lose their incumbents. The new bishop suggested some of the churches be used to provide livings for intellectual clergy who would reflect on the changes and challenges of the City of London to the benefit of the wider church. "There will be no retreat from the inheritance, but we are going to have to reorganise the church's work," he said.

He said the Church of England would grow in importance in the next millennium. "It is already becoming clear that at the top of the agenda of every human society is going to be the question of how we relate, how we live together peacefully; and the church as a school of relating, where people can experience how it is to live together in the love of Jesus Christ, is very well-placed to make a contribution."