January 16, 2006

Anglicans could have woman spiritual head: report

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - A Church of England report paved the way
on Monday for a female Archbishop of Canterbury but said that
having a woman as spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans was
still a long way off.

As a first step, women bishops could be ordained by the
year 2012, it added, but not before an elaborate compromise is
worked out to placate opponents.

The issue of whether women should be allowed to break
through the so-called "stained glass ceiling" to take senior
jobs in the church has provoked heated debate.

It has been running alongside the other current major
Anglican controversy: the ordination of gay priests.

Two years of deepening differences among the world's 77
million Anglicans were sparked by the ordination of gay
American bishop Gene Robinson and the blessing of same sex
marriages in Canada.

Presenting the report on women bishops, Christopher Hill,
Bishop of Guildford, in Surrey, said: "There is no course of
action, including the status quo, that is free of pain and

The report proposed that a special team of male bishops be
set up to administer to the needs of parishes who refuse to
recognize women bishops.

"We believe the Church of England should have enough rooms
-- with interconnecting doors -- in our traditionally inclusive
household of faith," Hill said of the report, now up for
discussion by the Church's General Synod next month.

Asked for a possible timetable on when the first women
bishops could be ordained, Hill told reporters: "2012 is
possible but I am not going to make a commitment."

That would put the Church of England in line with Anglicans
in Canada, the United States and New Zealand who already have
women bishops.

The report said the most sensible way forward in England
would be to open all episcopal offices to women.

But choosing a woman as spiritual leader of the world's
Anglicans would require special consideration by the British
government-appointed commission that picks a new Archbishop.

"If the day comes when a woman is installed on the throne
of St Augustine, (Canterbury) it would indeed be a notable day
in church history," the report said.

But Hill, noting that there were only nine vacancies for
the top job in the whole of the 20th century, said of a woman
becoming Archbishop of Canterbury: "I suspect that may be a
very long way off."

A decade after the Church of England ordained its first
women priests, liberals say it is insulting not to let them
hold positions of power. One in six of England's parish priests
is a woman.

But traditionalists argue that as Jesus Christ's apostles
were all men, there is no precedent for in the Bible for women