Theologically speaking there ought to be a change of policy so that women can be admitted to the priesthood according to Bishop Hugh Montefiore, Anglican Bishop of Birmingham.
In "Yes to Women"* published this week, Bishop Montefiore argues that the ministries of such women priests as Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett, both priests in the Anglican Church in Hong Kong are "living witnesses to God's spirit poured out on women admitted to the priesthood. They too should silence opposition".
The publication of the book, a collection of articles by leading Anglican churchmen, comes shortly before the opening of the Lambeth Conference which will discuss the ordination of women.
Bishop Montefiore says in the foreword that given more time the contributions could have been more closely coordinated. "We judge however that the propinquity of the Lambeth Conference and the increasing urgency of decision making requires from us a quick response, and we believe that in this volume we have set before our readers the heart of the matter which we hope will help them in clearing their own minds on this pressing questioe.
In an article on "The theology of priesthood" Bishop Montefiore argues that priests are representatives of the Church but also authorised representatives of God in Christ to the Church.
"How can a woman 'act in the person of Christ?' Om, might as well ask, how can a Gentile act in the person of the Jewish Messiah?" says Bishop Montefiore.
The official Catholic answer is that in human beings sex exercises a more important influence than for example ethnic differences says the Bishop. However "It is not the Christian belief that the priest at the altar impersonates Jesus of Nazareth: rather he represents Our Redeemer in celebrating
the sacrament of our redemp tion, and in his saving significance it seems fair to suggest that Christ's masculinity is irrelevant. What is important is the humanity which men and women share."
The priest does not represent a dead Jesus but a risen Lord "In this risen Christ sex has no significance". It follows from this theological examination of
the priesthood that both men and women need to be admitted to the priesthood says the Bishop.
Bishop Montefiore also examines on what authority a change of policy towards women priests could be made and examines the three acknowledged sources of authority Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
The universal Church has not irrevocably made up its mind on the issue of women's ordination says the bishop. Even the Vatican's "Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood" is by no means final, he says.
"The Roman Church has changed its mind on other matters and could change its mind on this issue whenever it feels guided by the Holy Spirit into a fuller appreciation of the truth".
Other contributions to the book describe the work of women priests in Hong Kong, examine the biblical evidence about women priests, malefemale symbolism, and Canon Mary Simpson describes her own priesthood.
In the final article "Why not Now?", Rev Michael Perry, Anglican Archdeacon of Durham concludes "In the Church of England we stand in the valley of decision. With women amongst our priests 'a great door and effectual' could be opened to us. If in the months ahead, we can come to a common mind, God will be able to do great things through a widened ministry. Let us not fail him for now is the appointed time!"
Entirely contrary views are however expressed in another book "Man, Woman, Priesthood"* also recently published. The contributors are all strongly opposed to the ordination of women.
Mr Louis Bouyer, a Catholic who has twice served on the International Theological Commission of the Roman Catholic Church argues that to accept women's ordination "accepts at least by implication the idea that the founder of Christianity Christ himself, could have been wrong on a central point of his teaching practice."
* Yes to Women Priests, published by Mowbray Co Ltd and Mayhew-McCrimmon, price 95p. • Men, Women, Priesthood, edited by Peter Moore, published by SPCK, price £2.95.