Women divide over ordination

Published September 1, 1998

The Lambeth Conference approved a controversial resolution that bishops should not be compelled to ordain or license women.

The resolution was hammered out during meetings between female and traditionalist bishops, and supported on the floor by a cross section of female, traditionalist and liberal male bishops. It was opposed by some bishops from the U. S.

The resolution says “there is and should be no compulsion on any bishop in matters concerning ordination or licensing,” a concession to traditionalist bishops who say they are conscientiously opposed to ordination or deployment of women in their dioceses.

Bishop Victoria Matthews, a member of the group that drafted an amendment, said, “At this Lambeth Conference I have been received with a gracious and generous spirit … and as one of the first generation of women bishops, I ask that we keep this same spirit of graciousness and generosity as we continue the process of open reception (of female clergy.)”

Suffragan bishop Barbara Harris of Massachusetts, the first woman consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion, voiced opposition to the third clause, saying, “While the language seems gracious it contravenes the canons of the Episcopal Church USA, and the discipline of the church in the provinces of Canada and New Zealand.

Bishop Harris said the “canon concerning ordination of women in my own province was made mandatory last year at our general convention. The bishop may indeed be conscientiously opposed to the ordination of women but cannot impose his or her conscience on a diocese.”

Prior to the plenary Bishop Matthews said, “I have no idea the number of years the process of reception of women clergy will take. The church grows into fullness of being by prayer and waiting on the spirit. I would hope that it would be a matter of time before all three orders of women clergy are accepted, but I could be wrong. The possibility of a reversal is there.”

The bishops approved the resolution by an 80 per cent majority.

Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York said the resolution “doesn’t mean anything in terms of our own polity.” She said local policies take precedence.


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