Bishop attacks plan for women priests: Alternative proposal offers chance to opt out

THE Bishop of London, the Right Rev David Hope, yesterday denounced the proposed legislation allowing women priests into the Church of England as 'unrealistic and unworkable'. He then presented his blueprint for enabling supporters and opponents of women priests to co-exist within the Church.

Dr Hope has refused to take advantage of safeguards offered by the legislation being considered by Parliament, which would have allowed him to declare his diocese a 'no-go area'.

Instead, the Bishop, who will not ordain or license women, proposes that one of his four area bishops should ordain women all over London on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury - not, as would be usual, as a commissary of the Bishop of London. Parishes that cannot accept a bishop who believes in women priests should transfer themselves to the care of the Bishop of Fulham, who has no territorial responsibilities.

The crucial point is that the Bishop of Fulham will have the right to appoint successors to the priests who come within his care. This is seen by some opponents of women's ordination as safeguarding their right to remain in the church forever, if they choose; and by some supporters as a concession that the Church cannot make if it is to remain coherent.

Dr Hope denied yesterday that these arrangements amounted to setting up a church within a church. 'I characterise it more by way of co-operation,' he said. 'We hope that under God we may provide a pattern for the rest of the Church of England. This scheme is based on a different fundamental principle to the legislation before Parliament.'

Fr John Broadhurst, chairman of Forward in Faith, the leading organisation opposed to women's ordination, said: 'This significant statement will only become a real way forward if it is reflected and adopted as a pattern in the House of Bishops' June report and extended across the nation. If it is simply a temporary solution for London it is useless for us.'

The House of Bishops is due to meet in June in Manchester to discuss ways to implement the legislation. Some bishops feel too much is being conceded to the opponents of women's ordination, and they would be unwilling to have the London plan apply to the whole country.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Rev John Baker, said in a sermon on Wednesday that the Church of England should no longer ordain nor consecrate as bishops men who believed that women could not be priests.

Dr Baker said yesterday: 'You can accommodate any amount of doubt, difficulty, dissension and anxiety, but once you get to the position of clergy who say that other clergy among their fellowship are not really priests at all, you have two separate churches, like Rome and the Anglicans.'

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