Church gags female priest debate

Sydney, Australia - THE Sydney Anglican church tonight emphatically resisted the first challenge to its exclusion of women priests for six years.

The annual synod in Sydney, which brings together more than 600 clergy and laity over five days, voted in a secret ballot against reopening the debate over female ordination.

About two-thirds of lay members and almost 85 per cent of clergy voted against putting the issue back on the synod agenda.

The Reverend Chris Albany, of South Hurstville, was behind the attempt, arguing the opinion of the synod's members might have changed in the years since they last discussed the issue.

The Anglican Church's decision on the matter of women bishops, due later this year, gave the issue currency once again, he said.

Nor should the age of the 30-year-old debate count against returning to it, he said.

"We need to remember that change in the church is often slow and that disagreement is nothing new," he said.

Australia voted for the admission of women into the Anglican priesthood in 1992, but Sydney has previously twice refused to adopt national church law – once in 1996 and again in 2000.

Today the more conservative elements of what is traditionally the most staunchly orthodox, wealthy and influential of the nation's dioceses won out once more.

Opponents of female ordination, which included men and women, said the issue distracted from the mission of the church, divided its followers and there was no compelling reason to go over old ground.

"This is an issue where I believe the Bible does clearly speak, others think it speaks with a muted voice," said Glenn Davies, Bishop of North Sydney, in opposition.

Louisa Pfitzner, of Cammeray parish, told the synod: "No new information has to come to light that shows they (the previous synod) were ill-informed.

"The biblical teachings concerning men and women were the same today as they were (when the decision was made)."

Ms Pfitzner said many women she met through mentoring and youth work "rejoice that the diocese has stood for biblical faithfulness".

In their vote, the synod rejected the arguments of Caroline Bowyer, of St Peters in Cremorne, who seconded Rev Albury's motion.

Ms Bowyer argued many newer members of the synod had not had the chance to hear either side's arguments, and gagging debate on such an important topic was tantamount to censorship.

"If we do not fear the truth, why is there a need for any form of censorship?" Ms Bowyer said.

The Reverend Jacinth Myles, of St Andrews Church in Abbotsford, compared the issue to the church's change in position on female deacons and asked the synod to allow its members the opportunity to follow their conscience.

The opposing view came from Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett, who said that only since the closure of that debate in 2000 has the church been united enough to have the vision to develop women as deacons.

"I felt stressed as soon as this appeared on the papers," she said.

"(Last time it was debated) friendships suffered, we lost trust in one another, we actually moved from being able to talk to one another on this issue, it just became an absolute impossibility."

Of the 351 lay members, 114 voted for and 235 against reopening the debate while of the 198 clergy, 31 voted for and 165 against.