Anglican debate rages on women’s ordination

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A Belfast-born Church of England cleric has penned an interesting letter to The Times newspaper on the disputed issue of women bishops in the church.

The Venerable Norman Russell said the vote against the draft women bishops’ measure in the Church of England house of laity should not have come as a surprise.

He said: “In key votes in Synod over several years, the House of Laity, many of whose members are keen to honour the breadth of the Church of England, has consistently resisted giving a two-thirds majority to proposals which would not give traditional Anglo-Catholic and conservative evangelical clergy and congregations a secure future in the Church of England.

“Many of those who voted against these particular proposals are, like myself, in favour of women bishops, but not at any price.

“The minimum provision necessary was proposed by the two archbishops at the York synod in 2010. They were supported by a majority of the whole synod, but the vote was lost by five votes in the House of Clergy.”

The Venerable Norman Russell, who graduated from Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University, is archdeacon of Berkshire and prolocutor of the lower house of the province of Canterbury and alternating chairman of the House of Clergy.

He is a close associate of the former dean of St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.

In this week’s Church of England vote on women bishops, bishop and clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour, but the measure fell in the House of Laity (grassroots members) after it failed to receive the required two-thirds majority.

The decision has thrown the church into disarray, with both outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury the Rev Dr Rowan Williams and Archbishop-designate the Rev Justin Welby both dismayed by the setback.

Under current church rules, the issue of women bishops cannot be revisited or decided upon for up to five years.

n The Church of Ireland, meanwhile, appears to have a more relaxed view on women’s ordination than the Church of England, although a female cleric has yet to transcend the CoI House of Bishops.

Back in 1990, the Church of Ireland gave approval for women bishops when the General Synod passed legislation to ordain women priests and bishops.

Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette and church rector in Newcastle, Co Down, believes the time for the appointment of a woman bishop in his church is very close.

“The Church of Ireland does not seem to have the same depth of division over the matter of women clergy as is the case in the Church of England,” said Canon Ellis.

With the bishop of Meath and Kildare the Rev Dr Richard Clarke taking up the post of all-Ireland Primate and the bishop of Kimore, Elphin and Ardagh the Rev Kenneth Clarke stepping down on December 31 to take a up a senior mission post, there will be two vacancies in the House of Bishops.

The appointment of a female cleric to one of these bishoprics is possible and would not be affected by the controversy over Anglican women bishops in England and Wales.