‘Men-only branch’ plan for Church

The Anglican church could set up a ‘male clergy only’ branch under proposals aimed at ending the row over whether women can be bishops.

The new province, with its own archbishop, is one of several options set out in the Church of England report which was published on Tuesday.

Another option was to continue to allow women as priests but ban them from being ordained as bishops.

Rochester Report

“We need to give the highest priority to deepening the quality of our love for the other members of the body of Christ”

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A decision over how to resolve the row is expected to be taken next summer.

Forward in Faith

A working party set up by the House of Bishops has been looking into the issue for the past three years.

A Church of England spokesman said the issues covered in the report would first be debated by the General Synod in February 2005.

He added: “Following a period of reflection on the report, there should be a decision at the July Synod on whether to embark on the process of removing the legal obstacles to ordaining women as bishops.”

A wide range of options were considered by the working party which was headed by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.

Dr Nazir-Ali said: “During the time the party was at work, it was quite difficult emotionally and psychologically for people of opposing views to hear the other out – but they did.”

He added that if the Synod made a decision in principle in favour of women bishops in July, it could ask for further proposals on legislation.

The various approaches contained in the document, known as the Rochester Report, range from the “men-only” province, to making specific arrangements within the Church for those who cannot conscientiously accept women bishops.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr David Hope, issued a statement welcoming the report.

They said: “We are happy to commend it for prayerful study within the dioceses of the Church of England and to invite other Churches in the Anglican communion and our ecumenical partners to let us have their reflections on it.”

Half of the 10 members of the working party group which compiled the document were women.

The Church ordained its first women priests in 1994, and supporters of women bishops believe it would make little sense to continue to exclude them from the episcopate.

But opponents point to a fundamental belief that Jesus’ choice only of men as his apostles rules out women acting as leaders in the modern-day church.

The report calls for unity and peace within factions of the Church which disagree.

It concludes: “We need to give the highest priority to deepening the quality of our love for the other members of the body of Christ, perhaps especially those with whom we most strongly disagree on issues such as the ordination of women to the episcopate.”

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