CAMPAIGNERS who are opposed to women bishops warned of financial chaos and a mass walk-out, if rumours prove to be true that the Church of England House of Bishops voted last week to consecrate women bishops without making acceptable provision for those who object.
Margaret Brown, the chairman of the Third Province Movement, said on Wednesday that the Bishops appeared to be ready to break the promise made by the General Synod that objectors would have “an honoured place” in the Church. It would be unchristian to leave them out in the cold, she said.
“There are 900 parishes, of various shades of churchmanship, who are opposed to women in the episcopate, and they are a force to be reckoned with. There could be very serious consequences if the reports turn out to be true,” Mrs Brown said. There would be “vast legal costs”, as parishes struggled with questions about property while seeking to leave the Church of England.
Mrs Brown warned that “a lot of wealthy parishes could cut off their money supply.” “Something quite considerable” was needed to stave off the crisis.
A spokesman for Forward in Faith said that it did not comment on speculation based on leaks.
News of a possible decision by the Bishops not to offer legal provision for the objectors was reported in The Sunday Telegraph this week. It said the move had been opposed by a “substantial minority”, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury had argued that, although creating jurisdictions with male bishops only would further divide the Church, it would honour promises made to traditionalists.
On Tuesday, however, a Church of England spokesman refused to confirm whether the Bishops wanted a simple “code of conduct” for objectors, in order to keep the legislation to a minimum, and had rejected the idea of a third province. He also declined to comment on whether they wanted to end the right of parishes to opt out of the ministry of women priests.
“The House of Bishops had a full discussion of the Manchester report [News, 2 May], and agreed that the options in the report should be debated by the Synod in July. The House agreed a motion to act as a starting point for the Synod debate. The wording of this will be issued with the other Synod papers next month,” the spokesman said.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York would set out in a covering note “the considerations [the House of Bishops] believes that the Synod will need to weigh in coming to a decision”.
Two online petitions, one for male clergy, set up by The Deans of Bristol, Durham, Manchester, Southwark and St Edmundsbury, and the other for laity, set up by leading lay members of General Synod and others, have been set up to support legislation for women bishops that does not give legal protection to objectors. They had collected 361 and 302 signatures respectively by Wednesday. Two further petitions were set up by Anglican Mainstream Chelmsford to oppose this form of legislation.