Iris Murdoch fights 'flying bishops' plan

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The philosopher and novelist, Dame Iris Murdoch, has urged the Church of England to reject compromise with the opponents of women priests.

She is one of nearly 500 signatories to an advertisement in the Church Times urging the General Synod to oppose a proposed 'Act of Synod' which entrenches the right of opponents not to believe that women can be priests and promises to supply them with like-minded bishops.

Other signatories include the Rev Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, and Bishop Peter Selby, once Bishop of Kingston. Dr Selby, and the Dean of Winchester, the Most Rev Trevor Beeson, are the most senior signatories. All present members of the House of Bishops have united behind the proposed Act, though several are cynical in private about its prospects.

After women are ordained priests in the spring of next year, about 1,000 of the Church's 10,000 clergy will probably refuse to accept the decision.

Few will become Roman Catholics; only about 150 priests are expected to leave the Church of England.

Most opponents who find that their diocesan bishop is in favour of women priests will transfer their allegiance to specially consecrated suffragan bishops who will officially be known as 'Provincial Episcopal Visitors'and popularly as 'flying bishops'.

The Church Times advertisement was produced by two of the more radical members of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, Mrs Margaret Orr Deas, and Monica Furlong, the novelist. They had appealed for 2,000 signatures and blamed the lower number on intimidation by their opponents.