- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

LONDON — The Church of England might have to split in two if women become bishops — one with female clergy and one without, an official report has concluded.

An enclave for opponents of female priests could be created to avert a mass exodus when women are consecrated, possibly within five years.

The faction, effectively a church within a church, could have its own archbishop, bishops, parish clergy and training colleges. But it would exclude female clerics.

Proposals for a traditionalist “third province” have been floated before, but this is the first time they have received official recognition.

They are included in a draft report on female bishops by a working party headed by the bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali. The report is to be considered by the House of Bishops this month and could be debated by the General Synod later this year.

The proposals for a third province are certain to provoke a new bout of infighting in the church, which already is reeling from the division over homosexuality.

Although they are among a number of options suggested in the draft report, the proposals are likely to shock many in the church as too extreme.

Liberal supporters of female bishops could denounce them as officially sanctioned schisms, especially as they threaten a new set of divisions in an institution already riven by dissension.

A recent survey suggested that, 10 years after the church first ordained female priests, up to a quarter of the clergy remains implacably opposed to women becoming bishops.

Moreover, a number of senior bishops still are resistant, and the Archbishop of York David Hope has said he would resign if women were consecrated while he is in office.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, privately has made it clear that he is sympathetic to the idea of a third province.

The draft report, which has taken three years to complete, outlines a series of strategies that the church could adopt if, as seems certain, it goes ahead with female bishops.

At one end of the spectrum, it could decide to make no provision for dissenters, although church leaders recognize this would create widespread protest. At the other, it could opt for a third province, which would be opposed fiercely by most of the bishops.

A compromise could be tried by building on the present system of traditionalist “flying bishops,” which was created to minister to dissenters when women were ordained as priests.

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