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Church of England Rejects Women Bishops

The General Synod of the Church of England rejected a proposal to permit women to serve as bishops. In order to pass, a 2/3 majority vote was required in all three houses: the house of bishops, of clergy, and of laity. The measure passed easily in the first two, and was approved 132-74 in the house of laity, falling just 6 votes shy for 64%. (One wonders how the Supreme Governor of the C of E, Queen Elizabeth, feels about this exclusion of women from the episcopacy. I suspect she is not amused.) Both the outgoing and the incoming Archbishops of Canterbury spoke in favor the measure, along with 72.6% of the synod delegates. Overall, 74% of members of the Church approve women bishops. Strikingly, the house of bishops voted 44-3 in favor (with 2 abstentions.) According to the Guardian, the house of bishops will convene an emergency session to consider ways to rescue the measure.

Arguably, the proposal was flawed. In an attempt to foster passage, a compromise clause was added that would allow parishes who did not wish to be led by a woman bishop to be answerable to a male bishop instead. The Church has ordained women priests since 1994, but traditionalists have been able to basically ignore them, finding more congenial parishes in which to worship, and the "opt-out" provision would allow them to continue to avoid female leadership.The tradionalists' concerns include these:Consecrating (if that is the correct term in that church) women bishops would mean that traditionalists would doubt the validity of the ordination of priests ordained by women bishops, which strikes me as an odd echo of the Donatist controversy. Anglo-Catholics also worry that having women bishops would endanger reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Last I knew--and please do correct me if I'm off-base here--Anglican orders are considered invalid, or at best in a limbo-ish state of doubtful validity, by Rome. So, gosh, thanks for trying to play by Roman rules, but the Vatican doesn't recognize Anglican clergy anyway, male or female. And of course Anglicans who dislike female leadership are always welcome in the Anglican ordinariate, where something like 60 clergy and 900 C of E members have joined up so far. Some opponents of women bishops argue that they want to know that their bishop agrees with them that women are unworthy to lead. However, the vote in the house of bishops today should reveal to them that they cannot be assured of that now. And the other side had issues, too: some supporters of women bishops didn't care for the proposal either, since it seems to make women bishops second-class bishops because of the "opt-out" provision for dissenting parishes, while no male bishops are subject to that provision.

Given the strong support for the measure from church members and all the ordained, it seems possible that today's defeat will lead to reintroduction of new legislation with less allowance for those who oppose women bishops, not more. After all, lay delegates are elected, and these are clearly out of step with the laity they represent. We'll see. And a final thought: some believe that Church unity requires yielding to the voices of the most conservative. In fact, today's vote reveals that Church unity is a trickier beast. Today the minority against women bishops set themselves against most laity, clergy and bishops in their own church, and reinscribed a division within the worldwide Communion. 23 women are presently serving as bishops in the Anglican Communion worldwide, including Episcopal Church (USA) presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The most recently elected is Bishop Ellina Wamukoa of Swaziland. It is a sad day for those of us who rejoice at women's leadership in the Christian churches, but I cannot believe that this is the end of the line for the question of women bishops in the Church of England.

About the Author

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).



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This ought to put a damper on the already slow trickle from the CofE into the Orneryariate. Do you think the UK Catholic bishops lobbyied in the background because the expense of funding married priest, their families and all of the associated costs where a shock to UK Catholics who were used to nominal contributions whenever they decided to "do" a mass?

"One wonders how the Supreme Governor of the C of E, Queen Elizabeth, feels about this exclusion of women from the episcopacy. I suspect she is not amused."Why should you presume that the Queen favors women bishops? Simply because she's a woman? I don't think such presumption is warranted - rumors over the years suggest that the Queen is actually fairly conservative in her religious views, but she is also as much a figurehead in her capacity as "Supreme Governor" as she is in her civil duties. In other words, she keeps her theological opinions to herself - and, as in political matters, it would be deemed inappropriate for her to impose her views, whatever they are, on the government or on the established church.

On a more substantive point, I would also add that the 'compromise' providing for alternate oversight for those opposing women bishops isn't really that novel - a similar scheme is already in effect for parishes that do not accept women priests and do not wish to receive bishops who have ordained women. For more info, see:

I did see that last week the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster tried to put the kabosh on the vote for women bishops ....'s interesting that it was the House of Laity that doomed the vote, not the bishops or the clergy.Video here - :(

I think that Winston Churchill has some wisdom that pertains to this: Its not the beginning of the end, its the end of the beginning.

As someone who still feels rooted in Anglicanism, I take a somewhat different view of all this. 1. The laity has a vote (unlike the laity in the RCC), and the fact that it was only six votes shy of approving the measure means that it will likely pass at some future date. For now, things remain as they are, and perhaps with less rancor than occurs when decisions are made in the top-down fashion as they are in the RCC. Moreover, it should be emphasized that this is a development within the C of E only, not the Anglican communion worldwide. Some churches do accept women bishops, such as ECUSA and Australia. Some do not accept ordination or consecration of women at all (notably, AB Desmond Tutu's daughter, who came to the U.S. to be ordained as an Episcopal priest b/c it's not allowed in South Africa).2. Nobody's going to ever know what QEII thinks about this because the woman is a master at waving politely and keeping her mouth shut. It doesn't matter because she has no more power in the C of E than she does in Parliament.3. This development should not be taken as a sign that Anglicans or members of the C of E think women are "unworthy" to serve as clerics or bishops; it is merely that the path by which women could be considered suitable to serve as bishops is not, at this point, squared with faith, Scripture, and reason, on which Anglicans base decisions. 4. At Lambeth 1988, when the various Anglican churches seemed most up in arms over ordination of women and consecration of bishops, a resolution was passed that essentially said that the various members of the communion should do their best to accept that national churches were, to some degree, autonomous in this area, encouraging: "That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ."5. That said, the Eames Monitoring Group (formerly Commission) takes note of the ordination and consecration (yes, that is the correct word in Anglicanism) of women in the communion worldwide and seeks to provide counsel about how to handle differences in attitudes. It should be noted that the consecration of women bishops in the U.S. was (and, as far as I know) considered "irregular." This is different from being illegal or illicit by RCC standards. "Irregular," as I understand it, is pretty much a weasel-word that means "we wish you'd waited, but let's not bicker and argue about it now." 6. Some Lambeth conferees still protest the attendance of women bishops and refrain from taking part in some aspects of the conference to show their disapproval. This is important to watch (and one of the things the EMG does) as traditionalist churches and progressive churches within the communion become more polarized.

Perhaps I could add, at the risk of having already gone on too long here, that the C of E's vote shows that there is still some middle ground between progressives and traditionalists within the Anglican communion. Again, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. When there is no more middle ground, that's when the communion will rent.Schism will not be a big win for the RCC; as I noted in a previous thread, twice as many traditionalists have realigned with traditionalist missions (such as the one sponsored by the the bishop of Uganda) rather than taking Rome's offer to keep the BCP and become Catholic.

There's an article in the Guardian about all this: I don't know enough Anglican history to know how accurate the writer is. But it makes it pretty clear (as does Jean Raber above) that in the C or E (and indeed the Anglican communion in general) the laity has a voice in ecclesiastical affairs. I can understand opposing the ordination of women, though I don't agree with the stand. What I don't understand is why, having approved of the ordination of women as priests, one can theologically oppose their consecration as bishops, as if there were somehow an ontological difference between the mere priest and the bishop. Is this latter what the traditionalists are arguing?

I love that "weasel word" irregular. So useful. It's what you find particularly circumspect scripture scholars using to describe the behavior of Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba, and Ruth, when speculating on why they turn up in Matthew's opening genealogy.

NIcholas, bishops can make more priests, and so if you think a bishop is illegitimate, you may think that the priests she ordains are, as well (ergo the Donatist-esque flavour of the situation that Lisa mentioned).

As reporterd Monday, the Vatican has expelled Rev. Roy Bourgeois, MM, in a canionicallly very questionable process,from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and apparently said his excommunication, latae senteniae, is in effect for havng participated in an ordination a few years ago (though he has not, as far as I know, participated in another ceremony during this time) and not recanted his views.With all of this attention, I can only hope for the blowback in these Churches and some clergy and laity who can say "enough" to these forces that that continue to support exclusion. The Anglican Communion and case is particularly intricate becasue of the varied churches and the allowance of women clergy, but not universally bishops-- boy, that takes some theologizing!

"I can understand opposing the ordination of women, though I dont agree with the stand. What I dont understand is why, having approved of the ordination of women as priests, one can theologically oppose their consecration as bishops, as if there were somehow an ontological difference between the mere priest and the bishop. Is this latter what the traditionalists are arguing?"I don't think there is a theological reason not to, but a traditional one. And for traditionalist Anglicans in the C of E, the thinking runs something like, "bad enough to have women priests, but at least parishes can reject them and pretend they don't exist; you can't do that if your bishop is a woman." Plus, as Abe notes, women bishops can make more priests, and I know many traditionalist Episcopalians who blame women priests and bishops for "ordaining the queers" (direct quote from an Episcopal parishioner back in the 1980s).Perhaps the priest-yes, bishop-no rule in the C of E isn't too different, practically speaking, from the two-track system in the Orthodox communions, where priests can be married, but bishops are chosen from the ranks of celibates. There's no theological reason I can find for this practice, but choosing celibate priests for the episcopate is simply now accepted practice and there doesn't seem to be much interest in reversing that tradition.My analogy falls apart in an important way because there IS a historical precedent for married bishops in the Orthodox tradition, and there has never been any historical precedent for women priests or bishops in Anglican, Orthodox or Catholic traditions (though I understand there is some dispute over the existence of female deacons in the early church).

"The Anglican Communion and case is particularly intricate becasue of the varied churches and the allowance of women clergy, but not universally bishops boy, that takes some theologizing!"The Anglican communion does not universally allow women priests.

Prime Minister David Cameron:Im very clear the time is right for women bishops; it was right many years ago, he told Parliament on Wednesday. They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the program. But you do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work while giving them a sharp prod. "Sharp prod" -- all the way to the "Tower?"

The wider church is coming to accept women's ordination to the presbyterate and episcopate. Just a matter of time as folks think about the issue, read about it, etc. Just a matter of time.

Lisa: You wrote: "Consecrating (if that is the correct term in that church) women bishops would mean that traditionalists would doubt the validity of the ordination of priests ordained by women bishops, which strikes me as an odd echo of the Donatist controversy."I don't think that the comparison with Donatism is apt. The Donatists argued that unholy bishops could not celebrate valid sacraments. The contemporary C of E members who would question the validity of ordinations performed by female bishops would argue, not from the unholiness of such bishops, but from their not having been validly ordained as bishops, the reason for which had nothing to do with the holiness of the ones who ordained them It isn't the same thing.

Hi Joe,No one's commenting on the holiness or unholiness of women bishops, to be sure, I agree with you there. The echo I hear isn't about holiness but spiritual authority to validly preside at sacraments. The Donatists rejected the traditores' spiritual authority because the traditores caved under Roman pressure. The traditionalists in the C of E reject the spiritual authority of women because they are women. (And to say that they were not validly consecrated bishops, as some of the trads say, merely repeats the issue, I think--women as women lack the capacity to exercise valid and recognized ecclesial authority, hence cannot be ordained, be consecrated or ordain.) The two cases are different in that one chose to be a traditore or not, (though admittedly the pressure was intense,) but in the traditionalist argument one is unworthy to lead simply by reason of being born female. My understanding about ECUSA ordination of women is that the matter was one of liceity, not validity as it is in the RCC, but I'm not sure if that's Anglican Communion-wide, so may not play a part in this question.I want to add a nuance, before some troll accuses me of equating being bishop with some kind of power grab. Bishops DO exercise ecclesial service which takes the form of leadership and teaching. This role is better framed as "service to and for" their people rather than "power over," I think. Yet it is leadership and authority. I add this also because there's some discomfort in Anglican circles about speaking of women bishops as a matter of "equal power," which seems inapt for a gospel-flavored model of leadership. (Unless one thinks in a more Latinate way of power as "ability to do stuff," which might be a helpful lens here.) BTW, loved your VII lecture here in Berkeley! Thanks!

Last post on here, but re-reading what Lisa wrote, this caught my attention: "It is a sad day for those of us who rejoice at womens leadership in the Christian churches ..."I always seem to blunder into these conversations, offering "my life as an Anglican" info without thinking about why a committed Catholic, even one who favored women's ordination in the RCC, would care about this issue.

I don't know if I count as committed ;) but I care what happens in the Anglican Communion - I have Anglican/Episcopal friends and we're all part of one Christian family, plus I care about the issue in particular because I'm a woman, I guess.

The few laypeople who voted against the ordination of women in the Anglican Synod probably did the new archbishop of Canterbury a favor. Discontent is often from comparison. Now, at least, when he visits conservative Africa (especially Nigeria), where more than half of all Anglicans live, he won't have to feel so apologetic about Anglican women serving as bishops in the UK.

And here's Sarah Coakley with a theological/traditional argument. quote: "So what we have created in the past twenty years is a theological anomaly which has insidiously been made to seem normal: a whole cadre of priests - a third of our priesthood now - who are supposedly intrinsically disabled from exercising the charisms of spiritual unity and authority historically associated with the episcopate. It is here that the main theological scandal still lies: the implicit creation and normalization of second-class priesthood. The terrible danger is that this may now be extended into second-class episcopacy....Such a coherent "theology of women bishops," if there is to be such, must be therefore be a renewed and distinctly Anglican theology of the episcopate in toto, and not a capitulation to a second-order "female" form of the office, or to any other political compromise which hides an actual theological contradiction, or - again - to some negotiated pragmatic stand-off which continues to distract our gaze from the already-undermined position of women clergy in our church.Twenty years ago our Church voted to ordain women. We have arrived at the point when all the indications are that the current theological anomaly of priests who cannot by definition be bishops has become an unacceptable skandalon to the Church's life. "

Of course, those opposing women bishops within Anglicanism are not doing so simply to try to agree with the Roman Catholic Church. There also is the question of fidelity to Scripture. And also the question of Eastern Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodoxy will never accept female clergy, so those pushing for female clergy are, in effect, indicating that they have no desire to achieve ecclesial communion with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Well put in the Daily Mail cartoon: (Go to the Nov. 22 cartoon--I can't figure out how to get to the exact image.) It does seem that there's a generational shift here as well. Boomers, now in their 50's, might head to the ramparts to right an injustice, but younger folks just vote with their feet. Why fight when you can just walk away?

@Thorin, Here's the CTSA statement, approved overwhelmingly by that body of Catholic scholars, on the biblical question you raise. (This is about ordination, not consecration, but Coakley, who I linked to above, considers the two inextricable.) The vote was 216 yes, 22 no, and 10 abstained. CTSA vote notwithstanding, it's a careful and respectful engagement with magisterial teaching.(I'd have to add, though half in jest,that scripture also says that bishops should be "the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach..." (1 Tim. 3:2.) All of our celibate bishops fail to be in accord with a clear scriptural command to be married. And if you'd like to say--I would agree--that this is a culturally-bound norm that the tradition moved beyond to affirm the possibility of celibate bishops, I'd say that the same argument fits the question of women bishops, mutatis mutandis.) And I have to say I know nothing at all about the issues around of the role of women in Eastern Orthodoxy, so can't comment on that.

Thanks, Crystal, for the NT Wright. His point about progress is, of course, well taken. But I'm not convinced by his point is about Junia and Phoebe. He thinks they're pseudo-clergy, but why does he think so? Not like him not to give reasons.

Hi Ann,I saw this past story about Junia here ... Mark Goodacre, a prof of NT studies at Duke, had a past podcast about her here ... It does seem like NT Wright's article was short. He wrote more about women bishops a few years ago here ...

Thanks, Crystal. From what I've read "Junia" clearly was a female name. So the burden of proof is on the other side to show that the name must have been misspelled or otherwise been corrupted. And if there had been no Mary Magdalen and no Phoebe, then the case would be stronger for a male "Junias". But that there were at least three definitely shows that women were not strangers to power in the early Church. What would be strange would be if it were claimed that there were *many* women leaders. At the time women's functions were (fairly or unfairly) mainly in the home, so one would not expect them to assume leadership because most of them would not have had the needed skills and experience to lead. But there have always been exceptional women, and so it's not surprising that a few of them were tapped to lead in the early Church..

Some of the more powerful early English women saints, particularly abbesses, were depicted carrying croziers. Is this emblem more common in Anglo-Saxon iconography? I don't know, but I've often thought it would make an interesting research question.Certainly, the influence of women in the early English church was notable. The English women saints Bede writes about were energetic, self-directed visionaries. (In political circles, many women seemed equally energetic and self-directed; one of them led an army against her husband at Taunton for reasons one longs to have explained in full.)Did the legacy of so much female influence on the early English church have anything to do with the acceptance of women clergy and bishops, if not in the C of E, then in some of its sister churches? That might be a stretch, but certainly in England the celebration of these women saints is still alive and well at the local level. I enjoyed a short correspondence with the folks at St. Werburgh Catholic Church in Chester, where the city has an annual festival in her honor, and in which Catholics and Anglicans alike participate. She's still trying to hold the Church together, it seems.

Jean --I think your right about the exceptional English women leaders. Just read a little bio of Queen Matilda the Good. She was so able that when her husband Henry I had to be away on the Continent for months and even for more than a year at a time, he left her as Regent. She was known as particularly generous to the poor, and she helped to keep the peace between state and church. When she died the people wanted her declared a saint. Amazing person. It's a wonder she's not better known. Her life would make a great movie :-), of course, there was the exceptionally powerful and able English monarch Elizabeth I. The very fact that not all English monarchs have to be male says something about the English culture.

Some commentary on early church leaders who were women:

Ms. Fullam,Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church's teaching that the Church cannot ordain women, and, invoking his authority as the successor to Peter, unequivocally stated that "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." That the CTSA would ignore clear papal teaching on this matter is nothing short of scandalous. As for the Eastern Orthodox view of this matter, it was well stated by Archbishop Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church, in his address to the Anglicans a few years ago: Hilarion's entire address is well worth reading, but his conclusion, like John Paul II's, is crystal clear: "I can say with certainty that the introduction of the female episcopate excludes even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the apostolic continuity of the Anglican hierarchy."

Thorin --It isn't true that all papal teachings are true. Or do you have some reason to think that all popes are always right? Doesn't that turn the popes into idols?

Interesting that now Parliament is threatening to enforce the making of women bishops. Many of those who would be upset by this church/state possibility seemed ok enough with things like having voting bishops in the house of lords.

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