Scepticism isn’t meant to characterise the Church of England’s parliament. But few here believe that women priests would really knock back bishoprics, having come so far, even if there are men-only dioceses. And if women win the day with a single episcopate and a simple code of practice to protect Catholic conscience, no one seriously expects a mass exodus to Rome of priests and laity who still adore the Anglican Communion, womanly warts and all.
But there is a greater risk to this debate. Never underestimate the Church of England’s capacity for bottling it. On Saturday there was a “take-note” debate, so called because delegates were invited to take note of the Manchester Report on women bishops by doing what Christians do best at conferences ”“ splitting into buzz-groups to discuss their feelings and then coming back for a plenary session.
It was a sort of dry run for today’s proper debate, designed to take some of the sting out of feelings that are running high. Instead, it revealed the Anglican tendency for pulling back from difficult decisions and hoping that God (or the Bishop of Manchester’s working group) comes up with a better idea before the next Synod.