The Anglican Church plans discussions with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches on the ordination of women to the priesthood, Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury revealed in a statement to the winter session of the Church of England's General Synod.

He disclosed that he had private talks on the subject with Cardinal George Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, who would consult with the pope.

The Anglican primate reported that Bishop Robert Runcie of St. Albans would discuss the subject with the Orthodox Churches during an extensive "sabbatical" tour he is now making of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Coggan said that not only the Church of England -- whose Synod voted against the ordination of women to the priesthood -- but the entire Anglican Communion is concerned, so the matter consultative Council at its May meeting.

"The ordination of women raises theological question of fundamental importance," said Coggan. "Discussions have been proceeding for many years with other churches. These reveal a sufficient consensus to give us hope that a new discussion can be profitably pursued."

Cardinal Hume is expected to discuss the issue with Pope John Paul II before Easter. Bishop Runcie, who is Anglican cochairman of official conversations now going on with the Orthodox churches, has visited Istanbul and will visit the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Anexandria and Moscow. He also plans to visit Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia. He will discuss the future direction of the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue and also report on the Lambeth Conference held at Canterbury last summer.

One church observer said the tripartitetalks on the controbersial issueof women priests mean a new era could be opening up in the debate on the subject. This may well embrace the wider ecumenical movement, for Coggan also said that, outof courtesy, contact would be keptwith those other churches which alreadyhave women in their ministries,including the Methodist. Lutheranand other Reformed churches.

At present, the Church of Englandholds to its male-only ministry andthe Roman Catholic and Orthodoxchurches remain steadfastly opposedto the ordination of women.