to prevent an exodus to Rome over women's ordination to the piiesthood
Anglicans try to stem defections
by Cristina Odone IN WHAT was hailed as a historic meeting, the bishops of the Church of England met this week to discuss the future of their Church in the light of continuing traditionalist opposition to women priests.
In the wake of the two months of "time of reflection ... and listening" prescribed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, at the end of the Synod last November, the 43 members of the House of Bishops discussed options aimed at keeping opponents of women priests within the Church of England.
Although Anglo-Catholics in particular were eager to hear what Cardinal Basil Hume "has to say to us", according to one senior Anglican source, the Catholic hierarchy mantained a resolute silence during the four-day meeting at Manchester University.
The meeting, which one Anglican observer described as 'tense", opened with a statement from the traditionalist group, Forward in Faith, warning that their 3,400 clergy members were ready to withdraw unless the bishops approved their scheme for "alternative episcopal oversight".
The plan, "the only one that can possibly be considered" by the bishops, according to Fr John Broadhurst of Forward in Faith, would allow Anglican individuals and parishes to deal with a bishop of their own choice rather than with their territorial bishop, when the latter's support of women priests was unacceptable to them.
According to Fr Broadhurst, 12 Anglican bishops told him that they supported the "alternative episcopal oversight" plan, and "a number of others are seriously considering it as the way forward". Fr Broadhurst claimed to be "optimistic" that his plan would be accepted by the majority of the 43 members of the House. "I am not despondent," he said.
A second plan being discussed in Manchester is a "network" of dioceses, whereby diocesan bishops known to approve of women priests would "twin" with traditionalist bishops from a neighbouring diocese in the pastoral care of their traditionalist constituents. The "networking" plan, according to the Anglican source, "would probably not be acceptable to many AngloCatholics."
Other plans proposed by traditionalist groups, including those for a uniate Church and a personal prelature, have been ruled out by most Church of England observers.
Bishop Graham Leonard, former bishop of London, and one of the spear-heads of the traditionalist movement opposed to women priests, called this week's meeting "a particularly momentous meeting. I wouldn't dare forecast its outcome at this point I'd rather be reactive," said Bishop Leonard said that he would issue his own views on the way forward for Church of England traditionalists following the Manchester meeting.
"The alternative episcopal oversight plan is the only theologically-sound and pastorally-justifiable alternative" the Archdeacon of Leicester, the Venerable David Silk, told the Catholic Herald.
If the bishops do not accept the plan put forth by Forward in Faith, Fr Broadhurst said, "it will not be the end of the story": traditionalists would then make an appeal to Parliament, seeking to block approval of the legislation allowing for women priests.
He stressed that "we would not be willing to accept a situation which would allow us to die out with dignity."
More than 3000 Anglican clergy are estimated to leave over the issue of women priests.