Catholic Leaders Criticize Church of England's Acceptance of Women Bishops, Call It 'Obstacle' to Christian Unity

Pope Francis (R) talks with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during a private audience at the Vatican June 14, 2013.
Pope Francis (R) talks with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during a private audience at the Vatican June 14, 2013. | (Photo: REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool)

Roman Catholic Church leaders have criticized the Church of England's historic vote to allow women to serve as bishops earlier this week, arguing that such a move is an "obstacle" to Christian unity.

"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," read a statement by Archbishop Bernard Longley, Chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

The statement was echoed by the editor of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Giovanni Maria Vian said on Tuesday that the ordination of women bishops will have "an extremely negative impact" on steps to bring together the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

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"Clearly it's a decision that complicates the ecumenical path," Vian said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

"The problem is not only with Rome but also with Orthodox Churches, and that the Anglican Church is itself divided on the issue."

The General Synod of the Church of England voted in favor of approving women bishops for the first time in its history on Monday, after the long-standing proposal that had failed several times before finally received the required two-thirds majority.

A number of Anglican leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, praised the results, but noted that some in the Church of England will have problems with the significant change.

"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. Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living our more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another. As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow," Welby said after the vote.

"My aim, and I believe the aim of the whole church, should be to be able to offer a place of welcome and growth for all. Today is a time of blessing and gift from God and thus of generosity. It is not winner take all, but in love a time for the family to move on together."

Many Catholics, as well as conservative members of the Anglican Communion, maintain that women should not serve as bishops, since Jesus Christ selected only males to serve as his disciples.

Catholic publications, such as Catholic Online, suggested that the vote rejects "the Catholic and Orthodox theology of Apostolic succession" and "the nature of the priesthood."

Catholic Online added: "It also removes any real hopes for institutional and structural reunion of the Catholic, Orthodox and what is now called the Anglican and Episcopal Church."

It is yet to be seen what kind of implications, if any, the vote will have on the relationship between Welby and Pope Francis, who have often spoken about moving forward in unity in their meetings to date.

Following another meeting in June, Francis called the Catholic and Anglican division a "scandal and an obstacle to our proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to the world."

"We cannot claim that our division is anything less than a scandal and an obstacle to our proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to the world," Francis reportedly told Welby. "The goal of full unity may seem distant indeed, [. . .] it remains the aim which should direct our every step along the way."

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