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Women bishops: historic words from Professor Henry Chadwick

By Peter Jennings, Independent Catholic News

“I would like to see the barriers to communion between Canterbury and Rome dismantled. I hope and pray that the 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution on the consecration of women as bishops, may, despite all appearances to the contrary, be over-ruled by the Lord in such a way that we are drawn closer and not driven further apart.”

These were the historic words of Professor Henry Chadwick, one of the most distinguished theologians and historians in the Church of England and a consultant at the 12th Lambeth Conference in 1988, the once-a-decade meeting of bishops from the 27 autonomous Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion, during an exclusive interview with me at the time.

The 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution which paved the way towards the consecration of women bishops was passed on a show of hands by 423-28 votes, with 19 abstentions. In a separate resolution, the Lambeth Fathers rejected a strong call for restraint over the consecration of women bishops. This resolution was defeated 277-187 votes in a secret ballot.

Professor Henry Chadwick, then a member of the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC-One), had emerged disappointed from the hall at the University of Kent, situated about two miles from Canterbury Cathedral, after the Lambeth Fathers had rejected the resolution calling for restraint.

Asked if he thought dialogue between Rome and the Anglican Communion would now be made more difficult as a result of the Lambeth Conference resolution on the ordination of women to the episcopate, Professor Henry Chadwick replied: “The bishops have recognised that provincial autonomy in the world-wide Anglican Communion means that you cannot stop a Province from consecrating women to be bishops if that is considered necessary in their cultural situation.”

Professor Henry Chadwick said: “In Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Brazil, their judgement is that consecrating women bishops is not just something they would tolerate, but is something they would actively promote and foster.

“How soon they will do it l don't know, but it might be by the end of this calendar year 1988. That not only creates great problems for Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, but it is likely to add hundreds of years to the reconciliation process.”

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