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LONDON – The Church of England’s governing body, seeking to bridge stubborn differences over allowing women to become bishops, was expected to vote Wednesday on a compromise that would let traditionalist parishes be overseen by men.
Though bitterly torn over homosexuality, the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion has lived with differences about women as priests and bishops. Within the Church of England, there are sharp differences over women, though past votes indicate that a larger number within the church support female bishops.
The proposal due for a vote by the governing General Synod is designed to allow parishes that reject women’s ministry to be overseen by male bishops.
Church of England officials say it is unlikely that any woman would be consecrated as a bishop before 2014. The church has ordained women as priests since 1994, and nearly half the priests in training now are women.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, told synod delegates on Tuesday that differences over the role of women in the church would not go away, and that both sides would have to accept compromise.
“All of us – and I do emphatically mean liberals as well as traditionalists – have a bit of us that is in love with purity, that wants to find in the other a perfect echo of ourselves and to be able to present to the world outside a united face,” Williams said.
“Traditionalist opponents of women in the episcopate (the office of bishop) have long since acknowledged that it is likely to come and that they must find ways of living with the results; and those who passionately believe it to be right and good for the church’s health have acknowledged that opponents are not going to disappear,” Williams added.
“Both have to some extent turned their backs on the fantasy of a church that is ‘pure’ in their own terms, in favor of a church that is honest about its diversity, even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome.”
Fourteen Anglican churches around the world have authorized women to serve as bishops, though only four have gone ahead to elect one. The Episcopal Church in the United States was the first to have a woman as bishop, in 1989, followed by Anglican bodies in New Zealand, Canada and Cuba. The U.S. Episcopal Church is now led by a woman, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
The Roman Catholic Church, which admits only men to the priesthood, has warned the Church of England against authorizing female bishops.
“Such a decision signifies a breaking away from the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the churches since the first millennium, and therefore is a further obstacle for the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England,” said a statement in July by Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Associated Press – February 11, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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