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Gummer says women priests pose a threat

IN A wide-ranging attack on the Church of England, John Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Church of England's General Synod, yesterday claimed that the ordination of women priests would stop opponents becoming bishops.

In an article in the Spectator, the weekly political magazine, Mr Gummer wrote that, if the Synod were to permit the ordination of women in November, 'bishops would, of course, still be allowed to deny the Virgin Birth, explain away the Miracles, or have doubts about the Resurrection.

'However, any reservations about the ordination of women would exclude them from the episcopacy forever. A man could be a a bishop, although he denies the beliefs the Church has taught everywhere, but banned if he doubts one belief the Church has never taught anywhere.'

Mr Gummer's claim that the proposed law would prevent opponents of women's ordination from becoming bishops is disputed by one of its main architects, Professor David McClean, chairman of the Synod's House of Laity. He said: 'He's wrong: There's nothing to stop the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev David Hope, from being the next Archbishop of Canterbury. What Gummer is saying is mischievous and untrue.'

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Jim Thompson, said: 'It's not true now that opponents of women priests are not made bishops and I don't think it will be true then.

'The only requirement of a bishop is that he is willing to be a bishop to all his people.

'Recent consecrations have shown the Church is not behaving as Mr Gummer says it will.'

Dr Thompson, a supporter of women's ordination who decided to start talking more on the subject after a vote in the House of Laity last week, suggested that the legislation may fail in November for want of a two-thirds majority.

He said: 'The opponents keep on talking about the costs of going ahead and the divisions that are going ahead and ignoring the loss, the haemorrhaging that is taking place because people cannot understand our delays in this matter. We spend all our time concentrating on the minority.

'It is time we stood up for the silent majority.'

However, a spokesman for the traditionalist Bishop of London, the Rt Rev David Hope, said that the bishop was not convinced the legislation would not exclude opponents of women priests from the Bench of Bishops.

Mr Gummer went on to accuse the Church of 'using Tesco-speak translations (of the Bible). At the very time when the Government is reintroducing Shakespeare in our schools, the Church of England continues to use the language of Jeffrey Archer.'

But his link between support for the ordination of women and doctrinal laxity infuriated some evangelicals. The Rev Pete Broadbent, vicar of Trinity St Michael's, Harrow, north-west London, said that 'a large majority of evangelicals who would call themselves orthodox support the ordination of women'.

'His article is a load of rubbish, if you ask me.'