Church rebels seek to fund split over women priests

OPPONENTS of women priests are trying to organise financial independence from the Church of England while they wait to hear what terms they will be offered by the House of Bishops or the Roman Catholic Church.

About 100 members of the General Synod left its deliberations yesterday to attend a meeting organised by Forward in Faith, a group which contains almost all the opponents of women priests.

The group is threatening to withdraw parish quotas from bishops who disagree with them. In a paper sent to diocesan representatives it suggests that they investigate the possibility of transferring parish assets to a trust fund without informing the diocese. 'We are not suggesting for the time being that payments be withheld,' says the instruction.

It proposes, instead, holding monthly payments in an interest- bearing account and creaming off the interest before sending the capital to the diocese at year-end, or funnelling the payments through Forward in Faith.

The group is urging parishes to declare that they will not recognise the orders of any women ordained as priests, and prepare to lobby MPs to ensure larger financial compensation for those priests who leave the Church of England in protest against women priests.

It is still unclear, even to members of Forward in Faith, whether this is to collect a dowry to bring to Rome with them or to fortify a parallel church within the Church of England.

Fr John Broadhurst, the chairman of Forward in Faith, told the meeting: 'There must be some form of parallel jurisdiction as the only means to enable those opposed to this new ministry to continue to operate in some sense within the Church of England.'

Fr Broadhurst was supported by the Rev Tony Higton. 'Those of us who are not givers cannot continue to subsidise that which is contrary to scripture,' he said. 'I think we could see the collapse of the present system and this could be seen as redemptive judgement on the part of the Lord himself.'

Told of these demands and financial plans, two diocesan bishops in favour of women's ordination replied that no compromise was possible and the disaffected would have to go.

The General Synod last night agreed there was an urgent need to reduce the demand for abortion and that the number of abortions carried out since the Abortion Act in 1967 was 'unacceptably high for a procedure which should not be undertaken lightly'. But it rejected a motion urging the imposition of a time limit at 18 weeks after an impassioned speech from a doctor describing the terrible malformations of the first child she delivered.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP, said last night that he would be presenting a Bill to disestablish the Church of England to the House of Commons next month, in an attempt to stimulate debate on the issue. The Bill has no chance of becoming law.