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Australia elects first woman diocesan

22 November 2013

THE rural northern NSW diocese of Grafton has elected the first woman diocesan bishop in Australia. The Revd Dr Sarah Macneil (right) will be consecrated in Grafton Cathedral on 1 March. She will be the country's fifth woman bishop; the other four are assistants in the dioceses of Perth, Melbourne, Canberra & Goulburn, and Brisbane.

Normally the chief consecrator of a diocesan bishop would be the Metropolitan of NSW, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, but because of Sydney diocese's stance against the ordination of women as priests and bishops, Dr Davies has asked the Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn, the Rt Revd Stuart Robinson, to take his place.

Nevertheless, Dr Davies said that he welcomed Dr Macneil as a bishop in the province of NSW, and said: "Although I am not able to consecrate her, I wish her well."

In 2008, when she was an archdeacon in Canberra & Goulburn diocese, Dr Macneil was a candidate in the diocese's episcopal election at which Bishop Robinson was elected; she was the first woman candidate in a diocesan election. The next year, she became Dean of Adelaide, but resigned two years later, saying she could "no longer work with integrity at diocesan level" (News, 17 June 2011). At the time, her decision was interpreted as meaning that she could no longer work with the Archbishop of Adelaide, Dr Jeffrey Driver.

The former Bishop of Grafton, the Rt Revd Keith Slater, resigned in May after an audit revealed that he had not referred some sexual-abuse allegations to the diocese's Professional Standards Director. Those matters are due to be investigated in public hearings of the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this week.

Dr Macneil told a radio programme that the timing of the appointment was not designed as a distraction from the inquiry.

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