'Flying bishop' changes tack on women clergy

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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

One of the "flying bishops" appointed by the Church of England to minister to the opponents of women priests said yesterday that he believed the decision to ordain women could be reversed.

Speaking on Special Assignment on BBC Radio 5, Bishop Edwin Barnes, the Bishop of Richborough, said: "Women are not capable of being priests.

"As I go around I find groups of clergy and laity who are going to try and persuade the Church of England that what it did when it ordained women was precipitate and probably wrong."

Fr John Broadhurst, the chairman of Forward in Faith, which organises all the opponents of women priests within the Church of England, compared Bishop Barnes to General de Gaulle. "This is a declaration of war," he said. "France surrendered to Germany in 1940, but de Gaulle said he would not surrender, and he won."

Asked whether it was not a little excessive to compare women priests to the forces of Nazi Germany, Fr Broadhurst replied:"I feel I am living in occupied territory."

In the three years since the Church of England's General Synod decided by a two-thirds majority to ordain women, around 250 opponents have left; and around 1,500 women have been ordained priest.

According to Forward in Faith, 825 parishes have signed legal declarations banning women; the legislation which allows women to become priests explicitly prohibits them from becoming bishops, and no woman has yet been given any really senior post.

Fr Geoffrey Kirk, another leader of Forward in Faith, greeted Bishop Barnes's remarks with incredulity: "He can't really mean that he thinks it's reversible, can he? What the Bishop has sensed is that there are a number of bishops who voted in favour who now wish they hadn't. But I don't see that what he says is true, or possible, in a church which takes sacraments seriously."

Nevertheless, Fr Broadhurst was confident that the bishop's cause would eventually be successful: "If the bishop was looking for a reversal in his own lifetime, I think he is manifestly wrong; but, given that the ordination of women is wrong, either the Church of England will eventually reverse it, or it will die out."

But Christina Rees, one of the Synod's members of the Movement for the ordination of Women, said: "It's all absolutely ridiculous. The Synod voted in favour by a large majority, and I find it extraordinary that someone could deny it was led by the holy Spirit."