The Church Of England's Divide On Female Bishops Is About To Become Painfully Obvious

The Church of England made headlines in November after allowing female priests to become bishops. But it seems traditionalists within the centuries-old institution are refusing to budge on the issue.

The divide within the church will go on public display during the upcoming consecration of one British priest, who will not be consecrated by bishops who have previously consecrated a woman, Christian Today reports.

Rev. Philip North, currently a team rector at the Parish of Old Saint Pancras in London, is slated to become a suffragan bishop in the diocese of Blackburn on February 2. During the consecration ceremony, it’s a long-held custom for all bishops present to jointly lay hands on the candidate and offer blessings.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and the Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson will be present at North’s consecration ceremony, but neither will be laying hands on the priest, sources told Christian Today reporter Ruth Gledhill.

One week earlier, on January 26, Sentamu and Henderson would have consecrated the Rev. Libby Lane. Lane is set to become the first woman bishop in the Church of England.

The Archbishop of York confirmed the consecration arrangements to the HuffPost in a statement. He will preside as the chief guest and Metropolitan at the ceremony, but when time comes to say the Ordination Prayer and celebrate the Eucharist, he will hold back.

When the bishops gather together for the Ordination Prayer, in close proximity around the candidate, the Archbishop will lead all other bishops present in exercising gracious restraint at the laying-on of hands, permitting two bishops, nominated by the Archbishop . . . to assist in the laying-on of hands . . . All other Bishops will remain in the arc around the candidate.

The two bishops who will be laying hands on North will be those whom the priest "will be able to serve sacramentally."

The archbishop emphasized that he was the one who suggested the unusual change, in order to accommodate North's strong theological conviction that women should not be ordained. Giving traditionalists room to flourish was part of the church's plan all along -- a necessary concession that makes it difficult for either side to claim outright victory.

Sentamu said the problem wasn't "taint" -- or the idea that bishops who consecrated a woman would somehow be blemished by the act.

Some bishops within the church have refused to ordain women since the priesthood opened up to both genders in the 1990s. This refusal, referred to as the "theology of taint," is "deeply resented" by the progressive wing of the church, The Telegraph notes. Critics say the idea that bishops who ordain women are somehow "tainted" by the act turns women into second-class clergy.

"Any suggestion that the arrangements proposed for the consecration of the Bishop of Burnley are influenced by a theology of ‘taint’ would be mistaken," Sentamu said. "These arrangements are for prayer, not politics."

Christian Today reported:

Effectively, it means the Church of England's catholic wing is being allowed to preserve the traditionalist apostolic succession, creating a line of male bishops in perpetuity.

Some within the church are deeply disappointed by the planned spectacle.

Women And The Church (WATCH), an organization promoting women bishops in the Church of England, said they were "dismayed" at hearing the news.

We believe it is unprecedented that an Archbishop should be present at a consecration in his own Province and not lay hands on a candidate, and not preside at the eucharist. We are saddened that there will be such a powerful visual sign of a divided College and House of Bishops at the moment of consecration. The Bishop of Burnley is a suffragan bishop, and not a PEV: he is a minister for the whole Church of England in the Diocese of Blackburn and the people of that diocese are looking forward to working with him across the traditions.

North is a member of the Company of Mission Priests, a community of priests within the Anglican church who have taken vows of chastity.

This isn't the first time North has stirred controversy within the church. In 2012, he was chosen to become the bishop of Whitby, an archdeaconery within the Church of England that has staunchly supported the idea of having women priests. North withdrew from the post after parishioners launched protests, The Guardian reports.