THE CHURCH OF England is likely next month to approve the ordination of women in principle but to decide that in practice there are insuperable objections to ordaining any woman to the priesthood.
On Thursday, July 3, the General Synod of the Church of England is expected to endorse the view "that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood."
As background to this debate are the results of the sounding of opinion in the Church's 43 dioceses following the Synod debate two years ago. And, while 30 dioceses approved the principle, ably 15 went on to approve the practice.
It has been argued that the extent of support within the Church of England for reform has been obscured by the mechanics of sounding diocesan opinion.
For a diocesan synod to be recorded as ill favour Means the approval of the diocesan bishop and of a majority among both clergy and laity. Hence narrow majorities against reform in a handful of dioceses could obscure widespread approval for thc idea of women clergy.
But the constitution of synodical government in the Church of England is such that if Anglicans in this country wish to ordain women to the priesthood, they will have first to obtain the approval of a majority of the 43 diocesan synods, In this situation the Synod will in July have before it a motion stating that "it would not be right to remove the legal and other barriers to the ordination of women" in view of "significant division of opinion reflected in the diocesan voting."
But it will always remain open for the Synod to vote this motion down and ask its standing committee to prepare a measure — the synodical equivalent of a Parliamentary Bill — to make women priests legal. And it is quite possible for the Synod to refuse to commit itself beyond the statement of principle.
Major arguments expected to be deployed against any practical change by the Church of England include the divisive effect women priests could be feared to have among English Anglicans and the disruptive effects such a move could have on ecumenical relations, particularly with Rome and with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, at a time when Anglican-Catholic relations are becoming vastly more cordial.
1 he argument here will he that women priests are something Rome will never tolerate, and that therefore for Canterbury to approve their ordination is to raise an additional and unnecessary barrier to reunion.
The question was raised for the Anglican Communion as a whole by the action of the Bishop of Hong Kong in ordaining two women priests in November, 1971. (A deaconess was ordained to the priesthood in the same diocese in 1944, during the emergency conditions created by the war.) Following this all the Churches of the Anglican Communion were asked for their views on the subject.
Another disputed question to come up at the Anglican General Synod will be exorcism, though it does not actually figure on the agenda for the five-day meeting at Church House, Westminster, from June 30 to July 4.
Meanwhile the Bishop of Oxford, the Kt Rev Kenneth Woollcombe, has stated in his diocesan magazine that the bishops of the Church of England have had the matter of exorcism under review for the past year and "have not been as complacent or quiescent as some articles and letters in the Press have alleged."
He warned against "freelance" attempts at exorcism without taking "the elementary and sensible precautions" the Church of England has insisted on since 1603. He said: "It is not in the least surprising to me that the Charismatic Movement, which has helped so many people to express their devotion to Our Lord with renewed vigour. has also stirred up the dark forces of evil latent in the dpths of human personality.