Sydney firm on women bishops

More information

Read Archbishop Peter Jensen's opinion column Peace on earth and in the church.

Read Neil Cameron's Indepth column Change by judicial sleight of hand.

Read Bishop Glenn Davies' Insight column What I know about women bishops.

A decision by a NSW diocese to elect a female bishop would clearly "break the unity' of the Anglican Church, says the Bishop of North Sydney, Glenn Davies.

In his column in this month's Archbishop Writes, Archbishop Peter Jensen has confirmed that he cannot participate in the consecration of a woman bishop. Yet Anglican protocol holds that as Metropolitan of NSW, the Archbishop of Sydney consecrates all NSW bishops.

Bishop Davies said, "a break in unity would be clearly manifest in the absence of the Metropolitan' and that "visible fissures of disunity would only increase'.

He added that all of Sydney's assistant bishops will refuse to participate in the consecration of an Australian woman bishop.

In the late 1990s some Sydney parishes invited the Bishop of Dunedin, Penny Jamieson to preach in their churches. At this time Archbishop Goodhew declined to recognise her priestly and episcopal orders. Archbishop Jensen has also confirmed that he would follow this precedent.

However in his column, Dr Jensen makes clear he is concentrating his efforts on negotiating a national protocol to protect those congregations who cannot recognise a woman bishop elected to lead their diocese.

To this end, Dr Jensen and Bishop Michael Hough of Ballarat launched the Association for Apostolic Ministry at a meeting of more than 60 members of General Synod in October.

Bishop Davies said finalising a protocol was critical because, "experience in the USA and Canada, where women bishops have been introduced, is not encouraging for the treatment of minorities".

National protocol

However on the national level a truce looks likely, with indications the Australian Primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall will seek the drafting of a protocol that addresses the concerns of Archbishop Jensen and Bishop Hough.

Indeed Muriel Porter, who has led the push for women bishops for the past decade, says she has "no problem' with the idea of a national protocol.

"A lot of work was done on a national protocol as part of the canon brought to the 2004 General Synod," she said. "That protocol would I believe receive a high level of acceptance, though some dioceses might feel it went too far to protect those who decline the ministry of a woman bishop. A protocol as developed in 2004 would not undermine a woman bishop's ministry or authority."

Within Sydney

Yet supporters of women bishops in Sydney are asking that any national protocol address their concerns as well.

Christine Middleton, president of the Movement for the Ordination of Women Sydney, is hopeful "there will be some consideration of our plight in Sydney'. This group is asking that the Sydney Diocese give women bishops and presbyters (priests) a license that recognises their orders when they come to visit Sydney.

The Rev Chris Albany, rector of St Mark's, South Hurstville, said there was an onus on the Sydney Diocese to agree to "reciprocal' protocols.

"We need a degree of Christian charity on this issue," he said. "The reality is that we are living in a church with diversity. The fact that Sydney wants sensitivity shown to minorities in other dioceses means that it is incumbent on Sydney to say, "We will model it for our minorities'."

However, many in the Sydney Diocese, including the bishops who spoke to SC, make the point that there is a particular responsibility on innovators to care for those impacted by the changes they invoke. That does not apply to the Sydney Diocese in this case.

Lesley Ramsay from Equal but Different has a similar position.

"We haven't moved," she says. "It's the proponents of women bishops who have stepped away from the traditional biblical teaching of the Anglican Church, so it's up to them to care for minorities impacted by their decision."

She believes that any protocol that forced the Sydney Diocese to recognise the orders of visiting women bishops would be unworkable.

"You can't be half pregnant," she explains, "and you cannot organise a diocese on two principles of leadership. The Diocese has made a clear decision for differentiated ministry between men and women. We will defend this stance."

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