The appointment of the first women bishops in the Church of Ireland “cannot be far off”, it has been claimed.
On Tuesday, the issue of women bishops hit the headlines when the Church of England’s General Synod failed to give final approval to landmark legislation which would have paved the way for women to take the top posts.
A spokeswoman for the Church of Ireland said on Wednesday that the English decision does not affect them. She said the Church of Ireland gave approval for women bishops in 1990 when its own General Synod passed legislation to ordain women priests and bishops.
However, no women have ever taken the top position in the Irish church – the reasons for which caused some speculation on Wednesday.
The editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, Canon Ian Ellis, pictured, said: “I sense that, in the Church of Ireland, there is a feeling that the time for a woman bishop to be appointed is very close.
“We have two appointments of bishops coming up shortly and it is just not clear whether or not a woman will be appointed – let alone two women.
“The Church of Ireland does not seem to have the same depth of division over the matter as there is in the Church of England.”
Canon Ellis also said that there were “other factors, outside the Church, that had influenced such matters in the past”.
He said the “old school” network was no longer a factor, that the Orange Order “had declined in influence”, but he went on to “query the Masonic role”.
He said: “I have every respect for members of the Orange Order and the Masonic Order. However, I think members of those Orders should not seek to influence Church affairs through their genuine commitment to one another. One of the problems with the Masonic Order is that, while it is not a secret organisation, it is quite secretive. With the Orange Order, we know more clearly who they are.”
The Church of Ireland responded that it does not keep registers of members’ links with external organisations.
A spokeswoman added: “Bishops are elected by electoral colleges, the members of which are themselves elected by diocesan synods and are convened to ensure representation of both the diocese for which a bishop is required as well as representation from the Province. There is no gender bar to the election of episcopal electors, and both men and women are elected to fill these positions.”
A spokesman for the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland said it “absolutely never seeks to influence the policy of any organisation, religious or secular”.
He said the organisation “does not keep a register of rank of any member in their chosen career or vocation, it would have no purpose”.
The Orange Order declined to make any comment.