Anglo-Catholics have established a new society as the Church of England moves closer to consecration of women bishops.
The Mission Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda was launched this week by nine Anglo-Catholic bishops, including the Bishop of Chichester and the Bishop of Gibraltar, as draft legislation on women in the episcopate was sent out for consideration to dioceses this week.
The new society has been founded as an alternative to leaving the Church of England and joining the Catholic Church under the auspices of an Ordinariate offered by Pope Benedict.
The bishops said the society would provide a place within the Church of England "where Catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater churches of the East and West."
They said they were rallying "to protect and preserve Anglican tradition" as they spoke of the "unanimous condemnation" among Anglo-Catholics of the draft legislation on women bishops.
Women And The Church (WATCH), a group in support of women bishops, hit out at the new society.
"It seems curious if not paradoxical that in proposing to form a Society for those who will not accept women bishops, the bishops concerned should choose St. Hilda of Whitby as one of their patron Saints," the group said in a statement. "As Abbess of a double monastery, with men and women 'under her direction' (Bede), kings and bishops came to her for guidance and advice.
"How sad that the example given by St. Hilda in her obedience to a decision concerning the ordering of her church is ignored by those using her name, who are themselves unwilling to accept the decision made by the Revision Committee and endorsed by the General Synod."
Anglo-Catholics said the unveiling of the society reflected a determination "not to accept a Code of Practice but to work for and create a more realistic approach which allows the integrity of those who cannot accept this innovation to be preserved, to flourish and grow within the Church of England."
Dioceses have until November 14 to debate and vote on the draft legislation, although they are not able to make any substantial changes to it.
If the draft legislation is approved by the majority of dioceses, it will be brought before General Synod for the final drafting stage in 2012, when it could still fall without a majority.
The Church of England does not expect the first women bishops to be consecrated before 2014.