Female priest says the Church is like 'abusive husband'


A female priest has compared the Church of England to an abusive husband following controversial last-minute changes to plans allowing women to be bishops.

The Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, interim principal of Durham University's Ustinov College, branded the Church an "abusive institution" and questioned whether women should stay or flee.

She wrote in a blog post: "The question for women priests today is: do we stay with this abusive institution?

"Do we stay, hoping it will get better? Do we stay, because we feel called by God to be in this marriage? Do we stay, thinking we can continue to try to change it from the inside?

"Or do we flee to the nearest refuge (let's ignore the fact for now that they rarely exist) - leaving home, family, community, and our dreams behind?"

In another passage, she reportedly referred to the recent case of a man who gouged out his wife's eyes.

The posting was later withdrawn.

Dr Threlfall-Holmes, a member of the General Synod and also a historian, has been outspoken about women's ordination in previous blog posts.

She wrote on Monday: "One of the reasons women's ordination is important is because women's current exclusion from the church hierarchy justifies and entrenches sexist attitudes which have very serious consequences for women around the world.

"Rape, sexual abuse, violence against women and women's political and economic subjugation are repeatedly justified on the basis that it is 'natural' and 'God-given' that women should be below men on some divine hierarchy."

Sally Barnes, from Women and the Church (Watch), said the group fully backed Dr Threlfall-Holmes.

"She's a valued and able member of Watch and we support her wholeheartedly," she said.

"I think what she says, it sounds extreme but it isn't because this debate about the acceptability of women as bishops has gone on for so long and the underlying inference is there's something unacceptable and faulty about women because of the language of protection they use.

"We've put up with it and we've gone along with it with generosity to try and keep the small number of people against women bishops in the Church.

"What Miranda is saying, and what others have also said, is women in the Church are being treated in an abusive way and it contributes to the way some people view women in society and reinforces that negative view."

Men and women, both lay and ordained, had expressed anger over the latest proposed changes to legislation paving the way for women bishops, she said.

The amendments, agreed at a meeting of the House of Bishops, clarify the position of male bishops appointed to minister to objectors and ensure that these bishops also share the same views on women's ordination as those parishes that object.

The changes have been made after a decade of torturous wrangling over how to introduce women bishops within the Church of England while making adequate provision for traditionalists.

The amendments came after 42 out of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England voted to back legislation introducing women bishops.

Meanwhile, the House of Bishops was this week presented with a petition signed by 2,200 Anglican women who oppose women bishops.

The General Synod declined to comment on Dr Threlfall-Holmes's blog post, saying it was her own personal viewpoint.

A spokesman for the Synod also could not comment on suggestions that the chaplain, who was ordained a priest in 2004 and is in her late 30s, was tipped as a future bishop.