The Church of England's vote today to allow women to become bishops places a roadblock in the path to full communion, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has said.
"For the Catholic Church, the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion," said a statement by Archbishop Bernard Longley, chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. "Such full ecclesial communion embraces full communion in the episcopal office. The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us.
"Nevertheless we are committed to continuing our ecumenical dialogue, seeking deeper mutual understanding and practical cooperation wherever possible," Archbishop Longley said.
The Church of England's General Synod approved the measure at its meeting in York in northern England today. Overall, only 72 members of the synod voted against the proposal, while 351 voted in favor, and 10 abstained. The crucial vote in the House of Laity went 152 in favor, 45 against, and there were five abstentions. In November 2012 the change was derailed by just six votes cast by the lay members. In the house of Bishops, 37 were in favor, two against, and there was one abstention. The House of Clergy voted 162 in favor, 25 against and there were four abstentions.
The vote comes two years after similar legislation failed to reach a two-thirds majority among the General Synod's lay members, despite approval from bishops and clergy, said the Associated Press.
"Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today's result," the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in a statement.
The measure also had the support of Prime Minister David Cameron.
"The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds," Welby said. "Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living (out) more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another."
Lorna Ashworth, a lay member of the General Synod who voted against the measure, warned on BBC television that the vote would not lead to a "smooth road ahead" for the church, but said "we will do what we can to make it work."
The Church of England is part of the Anglican Communion, which has the largest Christian denomination in Britain and a presence in more than 160 countries. Anglicanism already has women serving as bishops in countries such as the United States and Australia.
Below is the complete statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales:
The Catholic Church remains fully committed to its dialogue with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church, the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion.
Such full ecclesial communion embraces full communion in the episcopal office. The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us. Nevertheless we are committed to continuing our ecumenical dialogue, seeking deeper mutual understanding and practical cooperation wherever possible.
We note and appreciate the arrangement of pastoral provision, incorporated into the House of Bishops’ Declaration and the amending Canon passed by the General Synod, for those members of the Church of England who continue to hold to the historic understanding of the episcopate shared by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
At this difficult moment we affirm again the significant ecumenical progress which has been made in the decades since the Second Vatican Council and the development of firm and lasting friendships between our communities. We rejoice in these bonds of affection and will do all we can to strengthen them and seek together to witness to the Gospel in our society.
Archbishop Bernard Longley
Chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales