A female rector from Cincinnati and three male priests were nominated yesterday for the post of assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in an election to be held at a special convention May 31.
The nomination of the Rev. Mary Chotard Doll, 47, rector of Calvary Church, raises the possibility that the Washington diocese will elect the first woman bishop in the history of Anglicanism.
Other candidates for the post of suffragan chosen by a nominating committee are the Rev. Lawrence Harris Jr., 45, rector of St. Barnabas Church in Leeland, Md.; the Rev. Ronald H. Haines, 52, deputy to the bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina in Black Mountain, and the Rev. John D. Chamblin, 59, rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Silver Spring.
Convention rules allow for additional nominations from the floor.
Some 600 women have been ordained Episcopal priests since the church approved the step in 1976. Canons require that a bishop be an ordained priest. While it is not spelled out in the canons, it is widely accepted that a candidate for bishop must have a number of years of parish experience.
The possibility of a woman bishop in the church was given a massive boost last September when a substantial majority of the church's bishops said they would support the consecration of a woman. In the Episcopal Church, bishops are elected by lay and clerical representatives of a diocese, but the choice must then be sustained by a majority of the existing bishops throughout the church.
There have been women nominees in other dioceses, but Doll, whose father was for many years bishop of Maryland, is the first to be proposed since the House of Bishops resolution last fall.
Election of a female bishop would have worldwide repercussions, particularly in England, where Anglicanism's mother church is locked in heated debate over ordination of women to the priesthood.
Bishop Graham Leonard of London, third-ranking prelate in the British church, has threatened to lead a movement out of the Church of England if it approves ordination of women at its next general synod in July.
But the Church Times, a leading Church of England publication, recently argued that the prospect of women priests or bishops should not justify threats of schism as a weapon in debate over the issue.
Heads of the 28 autonomous national churches that make up the worldwide Anglican communion agreed at a meeting in March that the U.S. church had the right to ordain a woman bishop. But the group counseled the U.S. church to move cautiously in the matter since "a bishop is consecrated for the whole [worldwide] church."