Australian Synod warms to decision on women

31 October 2007

by Muriel Porter Australia Correspondent

THE Australian General Synod has welcomed the “clarity” the recent decision of the Appellate Tribunal had brought to the issue of women bishops (News, 12 October).

The Tribunal’s decision that women bishops were possible under the constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia without further legislation was announced shortly before the General Synod began.

The motion, moved at the General Synod by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, survived attempts to amend it to remove both the note of welcome and the reference to clarity. Speakers to the amendments argued that the Tribunal’s decision was “illusory” and “clouded by very serious questions”. The speakers, principally from the diocese of Sydney, said that the Tribunal’s decision by three to four was close, and that it was possible a future decision might reverse it.

This possibility was strongly countered by the President of the Tribunal, Mr Justice Peter Young, who intervened in the debate to say that, while constitutionally possible, a reversal was “extremely unlikely”.

In a surprise move, Dr Freier’s motion was seconded by an assistant bishop from the diocese, the Bishop of North Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies. Dr Davies said that, while he did not welcome the decision and remained opposed to women as priests and bishops, he wanted to see the Church move ahead. “We have been standing before a misty mountain, wondering about the way forward,” he said. “Now the mist has risen.”

The motion also asked the Standing Committee to monitor developments, including the provision made for those who declined to receive the ministry of women bishops, and to report to the next session of the General Synod, which is likely to be held in 2010. Possible protocols will be discussed at the meeting of the Australian bishops in April next year; it is unlikely that any women bishops will be consecrated before then.

On the last day of the Synod, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, announced the formation of an organisation to represent those who declined the ministry of women bishops. The Association for the Apostolic Ministry will be co-chaired by himself and the Bishop of Ballarat, the Rt Revd Michael Hough, who is from the Catholic tradition.

Meanwhile, the General Synod supported ACC Resolution 13.31, which requests member Churches to work towards the goal of equal representation of women in decision-making at all levels. It asked the Standing Committee to apply equal representation in its appointments to commissions and working groups wherever legislatively and practically possible.

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