Issue of women bishops threatens Church again

If anyone wanted a glimpse of the difficulty in keeping the Church of England together, they needed only to look at Dr Rowan Williams the last time the General Synod voted on women bishops: after hours of fractious debate inside York University's Central Hall in summer 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury had his head in his hands.

Synod members had just passed a resolution affirming the church's commitment to consecrating women bishops. Dr Williams had begged the church's legislative assembly to consider some sort of compromise for the minority coalition of Anglo-Catholics, conservatives, evangelicals and scriptural traditionalists who oppose female leadership. But there was overwhelming support for women breaking the church's last glass ceiling.

Tomorrow the General Synod meets once more to discuss women bishops in what will be its most important debate since women were first allowed into the priesthood 16 years ago. The issue threatens to tear the Church of England apart, with both conservatives and liberals threatening to walk away if their demands are not met. Dr Williams has once again appealed for a compromise. Along with Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, he has tabled an amendment to ask any future woman bishop to abrogate some responsibilities to a man to cater for parishes opposed to women bishops.

But the Archbishops' hopes to find a middle way may have been dashed by the recent humiliation of Dr Jeffrey John, who is living in an openly gay but celibate civil partnership. Earlier this week, it was leaked that Dr John, the Dean of St Albans, was being considered for the post of Bishop of Southwark, a London diocese that is strongly supportive of gay clergy. But his name has been taken off the shortlist in a way similar to his removal from the running to be Bishop of Reading in 2003.

Reformists are outraged and accuse Dr Williams, a previously liberal theologian, of being in thrall to the Church's conservative minority. The Rev Colin Coward, the director of Changing Attitude, which campaigns for greater inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy, says liberals will now go into this weekend's Synod in even less of a mood for compromise.

"We were already seething about the issue and now we're absolutely furious," he said. "Many of those in my circle just cannot understand why the Archbishop of Canterbury is so tolerant towards the conservatives when they exhibit such un-Christian tendencies."

He added: "I think the chances of the Archbishops' compromise amendment being adopted have been hugely damaged by the events of the past week. If it is thrown out, it will be a remarkable snub."

Much now rests on how Dr Williams holds his own over the coming four days. "The Jeffrey John debacle is certainly going to have an effect on Synod, but what kind of effect is difficult to tell," said one Synod member in favour of women bishops, who asked not to be named. "Everything is very much up in the air."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine