Supporters of women’s ordination have cheered a decision by the highest court of the Anglican Church of Australia clearing the way for women to become bishops, but opponents criticized the measure as being potentially divisive.
“The innovation will inevitably create ongoing difficulties around the church for decades to come,” said the diocese of Sydney’s archbishop, Peter Jensen.
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 a group of Anglicans who raised the question of women bishops in 2005.
Opponents of the measure argued that it goes against biblical principles.
The church’s constitution states that only persons at least 30 years old, baptized 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 the Australian church, said that the debate had been constructive, despite different interpretations. “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,” said the archbishop in a statement accompanying the decision.
Among Anglican churches worldwide, the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, Polynesia and New Zealand have consecrated women as bishops.