No female priests? No problem!

A long-awaited report from the Church of England proposes ways to accommodate members who oppose the idea of ordaining women.


Catherine Price
April 30, 2008 12:15AM (UTC)

I've got to say, I'm glad I'm not a religious leader. You've got a lot of forces to answer to: your members, your fellow leaders ... God. And I certainly don't envy the Church of England, which is struggling to figure out how to not lose members over its decision to allow women to become priests and bishops. As the Times reports, Monday marked the publication of the Manchester Report (not to be confused with the "Minority Report") -- which lays out several possible options for how to integrate women without pushing disagreeing members away.

According to the Times, the report's preferred structural solution -- if the church decides to go with a structural solution to begin with -- is to create "churches within the church" that would accommodate members who oppose the idea of women being bishops and priests. Translation: The church would provide official ways for people to opt out by creating special dioceses that exclude female priests.

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There are several groundbreaking aspects to the report. First, as the Times points out, it addresses how women can become bishops, rather than whether they should. Second, if these "churches within the church" were created, it would mean breaking the tradition of having dioceses determined by geographical boundaries; instead, you could pick your diocese based on your personal view toward female priests. And last, if this structural solution were to be adopted, it could potentially provide a model for how to deal with the conflict erupting over gay ordination.

I think it's great that the main church has accepted the idea of women as priests -- that's huge! But part of me still thinks it's a cop-out to propose creating special havens for people who can't accept the idea of female priests. Aren't religious followers supposed to, well, follow their leaders? And aren't leaders supposed to unify their constituents, not create built-in factions within the institution? But then again, I see where the church is coming from -- it doesn't want to lose members, and having opposition within the church itself might be better than having separate splinter groups. Perhaps by accommodating those who are not yet ready to accept the idea, heaven forbid, of a female priest, they can help eventually encourage them to change. Thoughts?


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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