'Flying bishops' plan prompts Church dispute

THE Church of England's diocesan bishops will meet today to decide what provisions they can make for priests who refuse to accept the ordination of women. The signs are that the opponents may get very little and that a damaging row lies ahead.

The main traditionalist demand at the moment is for a system of 'flying bishops', who would cater for priests who could not accept the ministrations of their own diocesan bishop after he had ordained women.

But several bishops told the Independent they would reject that plan. 'The idea of people wandering in and out of the diocese is totally offensive to me,' one said. He concedes that some of his priests might come to an informal arrangement with him and another, traditionalist bishop, but he would not sanction any formal arrangement that gave priests the right to choose their bishop. Yet such an arrangement appears to be the minimum demand of opponents of women's ordination if they are to stay in the Church.

Clergy opposed to the ordination of women want not merely guarantees that they will not have to work with women, but that they will not be forced to co-operate with bishops who disagree with them.

Estimates of how many clergy will leave over the issue range from 50 - the view of a very experienced and cynical retired bishop - to 1,000 or more.

The Archdeacon of Leicester, the Ven David Silk, who was the main speaker against the motion when the General Synod decided to ordain women last November, said yesterday that the bishops would have to choose between logical tidiness and a comprehensive Church.

Flying bishops would be 'the least anomalous way of holding the Church together', he said. 'The real choice that the bishops face is whether they want to lose very few people, and to accept untidiness, generosity, anomaly - in order to hold on to the largest possible number of people.'

A system of flying bishops, argues Archdeacon Silk, would allow time for the various opponents of women priests to decide what they should best do, and to do so with dignity.

Caroline Davis, of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, said: 'The whole business of Alternative Episcopal Oversight (as flying bishops are known) leaves me cold. Yet again, women are being made to feel that if they are touched it will taint other people.'

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