A decision by the highest court of the Anglican Church of Australian clearing the way for women to become bishops has been welcomed by supporters of the measure, but criticised by opponents as being potentially divisive.
"The innovation will inevitably create ongoing difficulties around the church for decades to come," Sydney’s Anglican archbishop, Peter Jensen, said in a statement in which he predicted that some parishes and churches would object to a woman serving as their bishop.
The church’s Appellate Tribunal decided at the end of September by a 4-3 majority that nothing in the denomination’s constitution prevented it from consecrating women as bishops.
"Women can now take their rightful place in leadership in the church and I look forward with great excitement to the day when the first women are consecrated," said Muriel Porter, a Melbourne-based academic, who leads the group of Anglicans who raised the question of women bishops in 2005.
Archbishop Jensen and other opponents of the measure argued that it goes against biblical principles.
The church’s constitution states that only persons at least 30 years old, baptised and already serving as a priest can be consecrated as bishops. The issue in this case was whether the constitution’s definition of "person" excluded women.
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who heads Australia’s Anglican church and the seven-person Appellate Tribunal, said that the debate had been constructive, despite different interpretations. Aspinall also recognised the concerns of some people in his church.
"There will be some in our family who will be unhappy with this ruling and it is now our urgent duty to offer care for those who retain a conscientious objection to women bishops," Aspinall said in a statement accompanying the decision.
The church says it has no immediate plans to appoint women as bishops but its present bishops have agreed to discuss the issue at their national meeting in April 2008.
Among Anglican churches worldwide, the US Episcopal (Anglican) Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, Polynesia and New Zealand have consecrated women as bishops.
Ecumenical News International
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