Traditionalists prepare for schism over female priests

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The Independent Online
Traditionalists in the Church of England are planning their breakaway.

As tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the decision to allow women priests, Louise Jury finds that many clergy and laity believe that a split is now inevitable.

The traditionalist Forward in Faith movement is investigating how it could organise and finance an independent Anglican church. A report to be presented to its council next month will outline the practicalities involved in what would be the most serious schism since the Methodists broke away 200 years ago.

Opponents of women's ordination claim increasing liberalism of the church under George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the inevitability of women bishops - an issue currently on hold - are making their position increasingly untenable.

One Forward in Faith supporter, the Rev John Hawthorne, said they were working towards establishing "alternative arrangements" to the present uneasy situation by the turn of the century.

"Nothing has been decided," he said. "But we're talking about further ways of ensuring that traditionalists still have a church they can go to."

The Rev Geoffrey Kirk, the movement's secretary, said the current compromise, where the traditionalists have their own "flying" bishops appointed to minister to those who objected to women priests, could not work once women became bishops. That is likely by about 2005. The rebels believe they might be entitled to a share in the Church of England's buildings and funds.

Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church (Watch), which supports women priests, said Forward in Faith had been active in spreading its message that it was the authentic Church of England but that was "nonsense".

"The decision [on women] was made after 20 years' proper debate. In practical terms, can you have a church which goes on allowing this dual view towards women that inevitably discriminates against women? They have now said that they do not accept the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the House of Bishops and the Synod. They have got to go."

William Oddie, an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, predicts a split in the Church of England in a book, The Roman Option, which is published tomorrow.

He said it had been inevitable from the moment that they allowed those opposed to women's ordinations to have their own bishops. "They had the means to set up a church within a church. They have ... basically cut off all communication with the rest of the church."