Church in Wales to vote on women bishops

Opinions within the Church in Wales vary

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A yes-no vote to allow female bishops in the Church in Wales is to be held.

Bishops within the Church are for the idea and had also sought changes to be made to its constitution for priests who do not want to be led by a woman.

But that was rejected by the governing body despite claims that if the vote goes through later it could cause "great disunity" within the church.

In England, the issue is due to be discussed again in November. Ireland and Scotland both allow female bishops.

Despite female bishops being allowed in Northern Ireland and Scotland, none have been elected yet.

In Wales and England previous attempts have been thrown out because of internal disagreements.

Analysis

Today's vote will be watched with particular care in the Church of England - which is riven with disagreement about women bishops, especially about what concessions should be given to traditionalists unwilling to serve under them.

If the Church in Wales decides to create women bishops it will increase the pressure on its English counterpart - leaving it as the only one of the four Anglican churches in the UK not to have taken that step.

But almost as significant will be how the legislation is passed. If the Welsh governing body decides to accept women bishops with immediate effect, confining exemptions for traditionalists only to a code of practice devised by bishops, it will reinforce momentum in the Church of England synod towards a similar conclusion.

A decision in Lampeter to make the creation of women bishops contingent on a second piece of legislation enshrining provisions for traditionalists in the law, would renew the determination of traditionalists in England to win an equivalent concession.

But in July, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, said there were "good signs" that the ordination of women bishops would be approved by the Church of England after its ruling general synod voted to restart work on the issue, with the aim of final approval in 2015.

On Thursday the Church in Wales' governing body will vote for a second time on the ordination of women bishops after the proposal was defeated in 2008.

The bill is going before the 144 members of the church's governing body during a meeting at Lampeter, Ceredigion.

TWO SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT

In two 60-second sermons broadcast on BBC Radio Wales, two members of clergy gave opposing views to the argument on allowing women bishops.

Canon Jenny Wigley from Radyr, Cardiff, says Thursday's vote is not a question of competence but theology, and she references early teachings which said there were no differences between people.

She said: "It's Christ-like people that the church chooses as bishops and I hope and pray that the Church in Wales gives an unqualified and unreserved yes to the Christ-like qualities of our women priests alongside our men."

While retired Father Alan Rabjohn, a traditionalist and chairman of Credo Cymru (Forward in Faith Wales), says: "If we have doubts about whether a woman can be a bishop we cannot be in communion with her, take oaths of obedience from her and take any of her sacramental actions.

"We can and have lived with a mixed economy of women priests. Women bishops is a whole different story."

The group includes 51 clerical representatives and over 80 non-clerical representatives.

The Church's six bishops put forward proposals which say that even if the bill is backed, women bishops would still not be allowed until provision had been agreed for those opposed - involving a second bill some time in the future.

However supporters of women bishops successfully tabled their own amendment today which does not require the church to change its constitution and could be adopted after a year.

The Church in Wales tweeted: "This means the following vote (and debate) will be a yes/no vote, for or against women to be consecrated as bishops."

If the vote fails it could be another five years before such a change is considered again.

But Father Ben Andrews, from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, said it would still be "difficult if not impossible for us to stay" if women bishops were allowed.

"The bishop's role is to hold the diocese together, and for those of us who in good conscience cannot accept the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop means we cannot be in communion with that bishop," he said.

"We are told we have an honoured place within the church but that place is going to be difficult if not impossible for us to stay and remain.

"There may come a time when it is impossible for me to function as a priest in the Church in Wales."

Wales, like England, allows women to be deacons and priests but not bishops.

A vote on ordination in Wales was lost in 2008 by just three votes.

But the issue resurfaced last year when the Bench of Bishops in Wales drew up a discussion paper confirming their unanimous support for women bishops.

'No theological sense'

WHAT COULD HAPPEN?

• The amendment passes which means women could be consecrated bishops in the Church in Wales after a year

• The amendment fails and the bill is passed as it stands which means the Church in Wales would in principle be in favour of the ordination of women as bishops. A second bill would then be brought at a later date with provisions, written into the constitution, for those who are not in favour - and then women could be ordained bishops

• Both the amendment and the bill fail meaning it will probably be another five years before it can be put forward again

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: "Since we ordain women as deacons and priests it makes no theological sense not to ordain them as bishops since we believe in the three-fold order of ministry.

"That is why I and my fellow bishops will be asking members of the governing body to vote in favour of the bill."

The Venerable Peggy Jackson, Archdeacon of Llandaff, Cardiff, and Canon Jenny Wigley, from Radyr parish, have proposed an amendment seeking to do away with the need for a second bill, therefore allowing women bishops to be introduced more quickly.

They want a one-stage vote with a provision for the bishops to write a code of practice to provide for those against the proposals.

In a previous interview, Canon Wigley told BBC Wales she had been "disappointed for years" that women had not yet been ordained.

"The truth is the church needs to make sense to the rest of the world and the rest of the world thinks we are bonkers to say there only some things that women can do," she said.

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