One of the most sensitive topics on the agenda of the primates of the worldwide Anglican communion as they meet in Toronto this week is the ordination of women.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning is scheduled to report to his fellow heads of Anglican churches the strong resolve of bishops in the United States, expressed at last September's General Convention, to support the election of a woman bishop in this country.

Since the Toronto meeting is strictly consultative, no action can be taken on Browning's report.

Coincidentally, leaders of a half-dozen groups, which have split from the Episcopal Church over the issue of women priests, gathered in Fairfield, Conn., earlier this week. Bishop Graham Leonard of London, chief opponent of ordaining women in the Church of England, said that the possibility of a woman bishop in the United States might be the "last straw" in forcing further splits of the church.

Although recent unity overtures from the Roman Catholic Church have been viewed by some as a further impediment to ordaining women, Presiding Bishop Browning doesn't see it that way.

Browning welcomed last week's announcement of Vatican openness to the possibility of recognizing the validity of Anglican priestly ordinations, but denied that ordination of women presented an "obstacle" to Catholic-Anglican unity.

"What we intend," said Browning in a formal statement commenting on the unity move, "is not to overthrow the traditional catholic doctrine of holy orders but to expand and open it to the other half of the human race. We would regret it if the Roman Catholic Church were to interpret it in any other way."

A black American woman who is a Lutheran missionary in the South Africa tribal homeland of Lebowa, northeast of Pretoria, said she was injured by a whipping at the hands of South African police.

Beth Burris, 31, told reporters that she received 17 bruises, including two serious wounds, in the incident last weekend. The Indianapolis native said police arrived while meetings -- one a parents' committee and the other by the Azanian People's Organization -- were going on at a church center.

She said police struck her with whips as she sat on grass outside the church, as those inside fled from the police.

Officials at the United States Embassy said they are discussing the matter with the South African government.