LONDON — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leading cleric in the Worldwide Anglican Communion, is trying to persuade members of the Church of England’s upcoming General Synod to support the ordination of women as Anglican bishops.
In an article published in the Anglican newspaper The Church Times, Archbishop Williams said the church legislation “will shape the future of the Church of England for generations.” He contended that a vote against the proposal “risks committing us to a period of continued and perhaps intensified internal conflict with no clearly guaranteed outcome.”
The archbishop is trying to push through the measure at the General Synod in November. The synod is the last gathering of Anglican leaders before Archbishop Williams leaves office in December 2012, after 10 years as the leading clergyman of the Church of England.
The failure of the legislation would mean it cannot be revisited until the next general synod in 10 years. Barbara Harris was ordained the first Anglican woman bishop in 1989. The church has ordained women priests since 1944. Seven provinces in the Worldwide Anglican Communion prohibit women’s ordination to any position of ministry.
Archbishop Williams said the ordination of women as priests but not bishops creates an “anomaly” that introduces “unclarity” into Anglican theology, which he said accepts only “the priesthood of Jesus Christ.” He said it is “inconsistent to exclude in principle a baptized person from the possibility of ordained ministry.”
The archbishop denied that the effort is a concession to “secular egalitarianism,” but he said the Anglican Church must admit that “without secular feminism we might never have seen the urgency of this or the inconsistency of our previous position.”
One major controversy in the Anglican legislation is whether it offers adequate protections to Anglicans with theological objections to women bishops. Some proponents of women bishops view the accommodations as discriminatory.
The group Women and the Church, a major proponent of ordaining women bishops, has said its members are divided over the issue and is not taking a position, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
The legislation risks further alienating traditionalists, many of whom have already left for other churches because of objections to leading Anglicans’ theological and moral differences with historic Christianity.
Pope Benedict XVI has created a new Church structure called an ordinariate for converts from Anglicanism who wish to join the Church while retaining many of their customs and liturgical practices.
In a 2008 article in The Tablet, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said any hope the Church had in recognizing Anglican holy orders was dashed by the consecration of women bishops.
Cardinal Kasper said that hope of “full, visible communion” had receded and dialogue was compromised now that 16 provinces, including the Church of England, had voted for legislation for women bishops.
“The Catholic Church must now take account of the reality that the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is ... increasingly the stance of the Communion,” said the cardinal.
Archbishop Williams’ push for women bishops will be one of his last major actions as archbishop of Canterbury.
His replacement will be nominated through the British Crown Nominations Commissions, which will submit a preferred candidate and a second acceptable candidate to the British prime minister. The prime minister will then advise Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, on the appointment of the archbishop’s successor.