Church group reported for 'sex bias': Blow to hopes of deal on female priests

AN ANGLICAN charity opposed to women priests has been reported to the Charity Commissioners for breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, it was revealed yesterday. This is the latest blow to hopes that the Church of England will be able to balance supporters and opponents of female priests after the Church's General Synod voted last November to ordain women.

The Additional Curates' Society, a traditionalist body that subsidises parishes which need extra staff, wrote to all the parishes it funds in January explaining that since it could not recognise female curates as priests, any parish which employed one, or supported their employment, would have its money withdrawn.

The proposed legislation for female priests exempts the Church of England from the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act, which would otherwise make impossible the 'safeguards' for opponents of female priests. Under a compromise reached by the bishops of the Church of England in Manchester in January, it is hoped to produce a scheme in which priests opposed to women's ordination can continue their lives much as usual under the care of like-minded bishops, even if these must come from outside the diocese. However, the intervention of the Charity Commissioners and secular laws against sex discrimination threatens to upset this balance, even if the bishops can agree to it.

The news comes after mounting speculation that the Roman Catholic church is preparing to receive several hundred Anglican priests who cannot accept female colleagues. The Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales meet next week to discuss terms that might be offered to these men.

Optimistic opponents of female priests have claimed that as many as 1,000 of the Church of England's 10,000 priests could leave when the General Synod's legislation has passed through Parliament to become law, though these claims have in recent weeks been scaled down.

Priests who leave the Church will be eligible for some compensation from the Church Commissioners. If a large number leave, some will probably be offered redundant churches in rural areas. But they will not be offered the churches of their choice. Nor are any congregations expected to defect en bloc. Some Roman Catholic dogmas, especially papal infallibility, are repugnant to most Anglicans.

The issue that seems to be driving most clergy out is a more subtle one: they think the General Synod alone cannot change the nature of a priesthood it inherited from before the splits with Rome and the Orthodox Church.

Sara Maitland, a feminist and supporter of female priests, who none the less has joined the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the General Synod's vote, said: 'Papal infallibility may be ridiculous, but it is a lot less ridiculous than the infallibility of the General Synod.'

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