Church granted Royal Assent for female priests: Andrew Brown looks at a compromise that has left discontent on both sides of the debate

THE CHURCH of England yesterday gained Royal Assent for its measure to ordain female priests, and immediately afterwards committed itself to ordaining and promoting men who will not admit that women can be priests.

The Church's General Synod, meeting in London, spent most of the day debating the 'Act of Synod' which will provide a variety of safeguards for opponents of female priests, including three 'flying bishops' who can be guaranteed to have nothing to do with women as priests. Though this compromise was agreed by all but one member of the House of Bishops, it had been criticised by supporters of female priests, who claimed it would condemn them forever to a second-rate ministry and institutionalise division within the Church.

But the first attack on it in the debate came from an opponent of female priests, the Rev Martin Flatman, who last year became the first clergyman to announce that he would leave the Church of England and become a Roman Catholic in protest against the Synod's decision to ordain women.

However, Fr Flatman will not leave until the legislation has gone through all its stages. He remains a member of the General Synod until then. 'If you are going to stay in the Church of England, you must be a part of it,' he told fellow opponents.

'Either you are at one with your bishops or you are not. If the Catholic movement in the Church of England is going to end up in some sort of ghetto, then it is not worth it.

'If the bishops of the Church of England want to be reasonable, why don't they encourage us to become Roman Catholics?' Fr Flatman asked.

However, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev David Hope, spoke for most opponents of female priests still in the Church of England when he threatened to ban female priests from his diocese (as the legislation allows) if the Act were not passed.

But it was clear that the Synod had been largely convinced by the arguments of the Archbishop of York, who proposed the Act.

The most ferocious onslaught came from the Rev Philip Crowe, principal of Salisbury and Wells Theological College, who had proposed an amendment which would demand that all candidates for ordination and promotion admit that women can be priests.

Quoting an article in yesterday's Independent, he said: 'The Act of Synod modifies what women's ordination means: it will not mean what men's ordination means. I do not want us to create so much space that we cease to be a church and become a vacuum.'

All the amendments were rejected, and the legislation is certain of success tomorrow.

By the end of October, 31 priests, six of them retired, had left the Church to become Roman Catholics in protest against the decision to ordain women, according to a survey of 38 of the 44 dioceses, the Synod was told by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Rev Barry Rogerson.

(Photograph omitted)