Page 10, 10th November 1978

10th November 1978
Page 10
Page 10, 10th November 1978 — Anglican judgment day

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Anglican judgment day

Some of the faces around Church House, Westminister on Wednesday morning had that semi expectant, semi haunted look which said clearly that the Day of Judgment had arrived.

By the end of the day, many must have felt a little cheated. For it had become clear that as far as the ordination of women in the Church of England is concerned, judgment is not a single event but an "on-going process".

No doubt it should have been obvious all along that no single vote, however important, would solve the women priests problem at a stroke. But this had been obscured by the somewhat apocalyptic statements made by the chief protagonists on both sides throughout the run-up to the debate.

In concrete terms little has in fact changed from the position on Wednesday morning and it will be some time before the effects of the decision become real. Because of this it is worth summarising the problems that faced both sides as the debate began.

Even if the vote went their way those in favour of women's ordination faced a long legislative process before a woman could be ordained. During it the decision could be reversed at one of a number of stages.

First the resolution would have to be converted into a legislative measure. That would have to be passed by Synod and would then be passed on to all the 43 dioce ses for their approval. If it won majority support it would return to the Synod where this time it would need a two thirds majority in each of the three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. Finally it would have to go to Parlaiment for approval.

But that is not all. They would still have to work hard to prevent the "hard line" Anglo Catholics of Ecclesia from carrying out their threat to resign from the priesthood, thus widening the split in the Church. There would also be much diplomatic work to be done to persuade the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that the move was not a deliberate slap in the face or a rejection of ecumenical progress.

Meanwhile those against women priests had to face the fact that rejection of further progress towards women's ordination, while a victory in the short term, would not persuade the idea's supporters to call off their campaign. If anything it could lead to an even more vociferous and militant battle.

They would also have to prepare an adequate answer to those other participants in the ecumenical debate — the Methodists and the other Free churches who have women ministers and who have shown signs of growing tired of talk of "jeopardising moves towards the Catholics and Orthodox."

Thirdly, they would need to devise an acceptable approach to those women already ordained in other provinces of the Anglican communion such as the United States. Would they be allowed to function as priests if they visited Britain or not, for example?

In short, Wednesday's historic decision, far from being the Last Judgment, was more like another preliminary hearing. The court is now adjourned until the next round, whenever that will be.

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