Church Of England To Allow Female Bishops

The Church of England's governing body has agreed to allow women to become bishops. However, members want to work out some way to accommodate those who object to the practice.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Church of England has voted in favor of ordaining women as bishops. The church's General Synod, which is its governing body, decided it would end the tradition of male-only bishops. Traditionalists are strongly opposed to this move. And joining us now to talk about the decision is NPR's London correspondent Rob Gifford. Good morning.

ROB GIFFORD: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about this decision and how it came about.

GIFFORD: Well, the debate has been going on for some time. Fourteen years ago, the Church of England decided that it would ordain women as ministers within the church, and reformers have been pushing since that time to take it up a step to allow women bishops.

The debate last night in the northern city of York was rather emotional, as these debates sometimes are. The traditionalists have been pushing to have concessions put in place if this were to go through, which it did, to allow super-bishops, they were calling them, for the diocese who did not want to accept the leadership of a female bishop. And those concessions were not given to the traditionalists.

The super-bishop proposal was overruled, and so, in fact, what has happened is there have only been minimal concessions put in place for those who oppose women bishops, and this has really upset the traditionalists. One bishop said it was very mean-spirited of the reformers to not allow greater concessions for those who had very real objections to women becoming bishops.

MONTAGNE: We've been hearing for some time about a possible breakup of the Anglican church over a different issue, that of homosexuality. Is this related? And if it is, is a split likely?

GIFFORD: It is related, although this issue about women bishops is specifically for the Church of England in England. The Anglican Communion, the broader international communion in the United States, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all of those local Anglican churches have already approved women bishops, but the Church of England hadn't.

The issue of homosexuality is a much broader international issue that has included all of the Anglican Communion, and many people feel that it is actually a more controversial issue because it's dealing with issues of sexual morality, and it's a much more emotive issue.

Some people say they can accept women bishops. They cannot accept the ordination of openly gay, non-celibate bishops like the bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.

So it's all part of the same cracks that are appearing in the Anglican Communion, but it's affecting the church in different ways.

MONTAGNE: Now, all of this comes, Rob, just weeks before the big 10-year gathering of Anglicans. It's known as the Lambeth Conference. How is that conference likely to be affected?

GIFFORD: Well, it's already been affected by the issue of homosexuality. Some traditionalist bishops have said that they are staying away from the conference. And certainly, this new schism within the church is not going to help, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, tries to hold the Anglican Communion together.

One bishop said yesterday it was really a bad time to have this debate yesterday, just before the Lambeth Conference. But it's happened, and it's added a further schism to the Church of England and to the Anglican Communion, and I think this year's Lambeth Conference is going to be a very difficult one, indeed, for the Archbishop of Canterbury. As more and more cracks appear, he's going to find it more and more difficult, really, to hold this whole Anglican worldwide communion together.

MONTAGNE: Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, indeed, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Rob Gifford, speaking from London, where the leaders of the Anglican church have voted to ordain women bishops.

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