Belfast Telegraph

Women bishops, yes... but female Pope a long way off

By Alf McCreary

Once again it is women who are making the headlines with the news that the Church of England should be able to ordain a woman bishop by Christmas.

This is the result of the so-called fast-track process agreed on Wednesday by the General Synod to pass the necessary legislation after the embarrassing setback in 2012 when the measure was rejected.

Of course, there are still die-hards who believe that women should not become bishops, and these views are based on St Paul's notably unfortunate comment: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

Such historical sexism was acceptable in societies where women were, and still are, treated like chattels, but in the Western World of today, women have equality in all sorts of spheres, except of course in the Church, which ought to know better and to do better for the women who are literally its backbone.

The Church of England seems particularly out of touch with modern society, and it is hard to take seriously most of its stately Bishops gliding along in gorgeous dress-like regalia and funny hats, just like some of the Church of Ireland bishops in the Irish Republic.

The Northern bishops have more sense – living as they do in a no-nonsense and still surprisingly puritanical society which has no truck with the trappings of Popery and Rome – even though the Church of Ireland still remains a child of the Reformation, apart from a few High-Catholic eccentrics.

The final votes in the Church of England will be taken in May and July but hopefully, its General Synod will enter the modern age by deciding to appoint woman bishops, and about time too.

They have been upstaged, of course, by the Church of Ireland which last December ordained the Rev Pat Storey as the first female bishop in the British Isles, and the wrath of God did not diminish the Irish Anglicans.

Even the Irish Methodists were ahead here in appointing the Rev Dr Heather Morris as its first female President.

Last week, the Presbyterians just missed making history when the Rev Liz Hughes became one of the two close runners-up in the election for Moderator.

That was a vote of confidence in Liz Hughes, and also an indication that the Presbyterians at last are prepared to consider a woman Moderator.

The Roman Catholic Church, which venerates Mary, has strict views on women in the church, lay and otherwise. That view will not change in my lifetime or yours, so don't hold your breath for a female Pope, though there are rumours that Francis may soon appoint a token woman as a cardinal.

In the long run, however, the ordination of women as leaders in all the main churches will depend on their limited man-power. One reason for the Church of England's urgent requirement for women bishops is the lack of good male candidates for these key posts – as one Anglican representative pointed out "the shallow pond of male-only candidates has been over-fished".

Does that sound familiar to you? It certainly does to me. It is time that all the churches gave women a bigger role in leadership because they deserve it, and also because it is indisputably the right thing to do.

Many men in the clergy and laity still need to be told this repeatedly, even if they don't want to hear it.

Tribute

A great lesson learnt in quick time

THE distinguished Ulster cleric and former Royal Army chaplain Canon Gerry Murphy, who died recently, was at one time the rector of Sandringham and domestic chaplain to the Queen when she was in residence there.

It is said that one of Gerry Murphy's many gifts was that of delivering a sermon in only seven minutes, which was an unofficial Royal rule in Sandringham. It is something that might be learned with effect by our more long-winded clerics here who never grasp the point that "less is more".

The word of God

Dunlop inspirational at the pulpit

One of the best preachers in Irish Presbyterianism is still former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr John Dunlop, who recently gave one of the most thoughtful sermons I have heard on Communion.

On Ash Wednesday (March 5), he will take part in an inter-church service for the first time at Lough Derg, with Prior Fr Owen McEneaney.

Dr Dunlop said: " I have always found such inter-church occasions to be enriching.

"It has been a long journey to get us to this point."

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