New Guinea joins Scots in axis against women priests: As female ordinands of the Church of England measure up in their new role, doubts grow elsewhere in the Anglican Communion

THE Scottish Episcopal Church could be the next province of the Anglican Communion to vote against women priests, following the rejection of female ordination by the Church in Wales last week.

It is one of several lesser-known branches of Anglicanism which may stand out against the hitherto unstoppable tide carrying women towards the altar; others include the Churches in Papua New Guinea and the West Indies.

The Scottish Church, however, although small (it has a mere 60,000 members), would be by far the most significant in any refusal to join with the views of its cousins of Canterbury.

The Welsh result has deepened the schism between those for and against women priests in Scotland, with the 'anti' camp being given new heart for the key vote, which will take place at the Scottish General Synod in Edinburgh in the third week of June. The result is now considered balanced on a knife-edge.

To win, supporters of women priests in the Scottish Anglican community need a two-thirds majority of all three of the Church's governing Houses - Bishops, Clergy and Laity.

Success in the first two is assured, but not in the House of Laity. During the first debate on ordination, in June last year, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted overwhelmingly to ordain women, but the House of Laity was split exactly two-thirds in favour and one-third against.

Recent elections for the House of Laity have heightened the uncertainty, ensuring that the result is too close to predict.

Eric Lindsay, Rector of Kilmacolm and Bridge of Weir in Renfrewshire and the leading opponent of women's ordination, said: 'The Welsh vote has alarmed the protagonists and heartened people like me who are opposed to it.

'Their vote will influence both sides and it makes them realise that it's not just a fait accompli.'

Richard Holloway, Primus (head) of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Bishop of Edinburgh, was also unsure about the outcome of June's General Synod. He said: 'It might have stiffened the resolve of those who will vote against it - a difference may be made to those who wobble. For those who are determined it will make no difference because you can't stiffen concrete any more.

'My instict says it will pass, but I have no way of knowing what the outcome will be.'

Even if the three Houses pass the legislation there will be a six- month cooling-off period before any ordinations take place.

The split in the Scottish Church is reflected across the whole Anglican Communion. Thirteen provinces of the Anglican Church, encompassing more than 50 per cent of the Communion, already ordain women priests. From Australia to West Africa, women are allowed to give Holy Communion.

Eighteen provinces do not ordain women but seven are involved in the necessary preliminary proceedings leading up to passing the necessary legislation.

The prevailing cultural conditions determine to a large degree the acceptance of women priests.

Bevan Meredith, Primate of Papua New Guinea, said: 'There are matriarchial societies here but it's a very Old Testament situation where you can have women leaders, but not women priests. It's talked about a lot but we just feel against it - we have discussed it at five synods now.'

In the West Indies the debate leading up to a vote on the ordination of women priests is also too close to forecast, and the Welsh vote may further stiffen the resolve of those who are opposed to women priests.

At the end of this year a committee set up by the West Indian General Synod is due to report. After the report is published, the General Synod will have a chance to vote on the issue.

Orland Lindsay, Archbishop of the West Indies, said: 'I wouldn't like to prejudge the outcome.'

Japan is also debating the issue. A special commission was set up four years ago to gather evidence and debate women's ordination. The commission is expected to report in May.

Christopher Ichiro Kikawada, Primate and Diocesan Bishop of Osaka, said: 'Our General Synod will discuss it in May. We don't know what the result will be - it's very difficult to say which way the vote will go.'

The Anglican commmunities in other Far Eastern countries are also debating the issue. Korea is expected to vote for women's ordination in two or three years' time. Already, of the three Korean dioceses, one is for and two are against.

Even in the province of the Indian Ocean, where they have been discussing it for more than five years, the issue has still not been resolved. French Kitchener Chang-Him, Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of the Seychelles, is wary of the potential divisions the issue can cause.

He said: 'This is dividing the Anglican Communion and this causes a lot of grief. We all want to remain part of the Anglican Communion.'

At present, more than 2,000 women are ordained as priests in the Anglican Communion, and when the Church of England finishes the current round of ordinations the figure will be closer to 3,000.

(Photograph omitted)

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