Parishes to pay off opponents of women priests

CHURCH of England parishioners, already rebellious over demands that they pay a greater share of clergy salaries, will soon be faced with unexpected bills for paying off opponents of women priests.

A leaked briefing paper from the Church Commissioners, who face a bill of up to pounds 30,000 for every priest who leaves over the issue, says that the costs must be passed 'directly and immediately down to the dioceses and parishes' by reducing still further the subsidy paid to clergy salaries.

'We have always made it clear that the costs (of compensating those who leave) will give rise to additional cuts, because we have no spare money to absorb any of the costs,' it stated.

Ninety-four priests have already formally announced that they will apply for the compensation available - at any time over the next 10 years - to any male priest who signs a declaration that he is leaving the Church because it has ordained women.

The Church Commissioners are working on the assumption that between 150 and 200 will go in total. But opponents of women priests are claiming that anything up to a thousand will go.

Two large groups of clergy opposed to women priests are mounting campaigns of non-payment to central funds. Reform, a conservative evangelical group which claims 300 members, is holding a meeting in Swanwick, Derbyshire, next week, timed to coincide with the General Synod's meeting in London, where it will discuss a co- ordinated campaign to withhold parish funds from the central authorities of the Church of England.

The largely Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith group, which claims 4,500 members, is also attempting a sort of financial 'declaration of independence' from the Church of England. It has been provided with two bishops, paid by the Church Commissioners, one of whom announced on his appointment that he would not even attend a service where a woman priest gave Communion; and the other, that he would not commend to the care of a woman priest anyone close to death.

All lay people who sympathise with this style of Christianity are being urged to give money only to like-minded parishes or to Forward in Faith itself.

The General Synod is due to hold a special one-day meeting in London tomorrow to give give final, formal approval to the women priests legislation. However, today a London priest will seek a High Court injunction to prevent the Synod from voting on the matter.

The Rev Paul Williamson, vicar of Hanworth in west London, has already attempted to have the Archbishops of Canterbury and York arraigned for high treason as part of his campaign against women priests. If his injunction fails, he will try to mount another court action to have the assets of the whole of the Church of England divided between supporters and opponents of women priests.